Digital activist: Britain’s Online Safety Act is “not ambitious enough—yet”

Digital activist: Britain’s Online Safety Act is "not ambitious enough—yet"

In a groundbreaking move towards safeguarding its citizens from the perils of the digital world, Britain recently unveiled its Online Safety Act. This legislation, which is set to come into effect in 2021, aims to regulate and protect users from harmful content online. However, despite the commendable intentions of this Act, some digital activists are expressing concerns that it is not ambitious enough. This in-depth outline examines the key provisions of the Online Safety Act and assesses its potential impact on digital safety.

Scope and Regulatory Framework

The Online Safety Act applies to platforms that host user-generated content, social media sites, and search engines with significant reach in the UK. The regulatory framework includes Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, which will oversee the implementation of the Act and has the power to impose fines for non-compliance.

Prohibited Content

Child sexual abuse material (CSAM), terrorist content, and content that incites racial or religious hatred are already prohibited under existing legislation. The Online Safety Act extends this to include content that causes “harm” to children, as well as other forms of harmful content. However, defining what constitutes ‘harm’ could prove challenging.

Obligations for Platforms and Duty of Care

The Online Safety Act requires platforms to establish a ‘duty of care’ towards their users, ensuring that they take reasonable steps to protect them from harmful content. This includes conducting regular risk assessments and implementing measures to mitigate harm.

Regulation of Algorithms and Content Moderation

The Act mandates the transparency of algorithms used by platforms to recommend or suggest content, a crucial step in addressing concerns surrounding ‘filter bubbles’ and potential manipulation. However, there is ongoing debate on the extent to which algorithms should be regulated.

Implications for User Privacy

The Online Safety Act raises important questions regarding user privacy and data protection. Enforcing the Act could lead to increased scrutiny of user-generated content, potentially infringing upon privacy rights.

Collaboration with Tech Companies and International Cooperation

The Act encourages collaboration between the government, tech companies, and civil society organizations to ensure that best practices in contact safety are adopted. International cooperation will be essential for addressing cross-border issues and maintaining a level playing field.


Britain’s Online Safety Act represents a significant step forward in online safety regulation. However, as digital threats continue to evolve, it is essential that the Act remains adaptive and ambitious enough to keep pace with these challenges. As digital activists, we must remain vigilant, engage in open dialogue, and advocate for a comprehensive approach to online safety.

I. Introduction

The Online Safety Act (OSA), introduced in the UK, is a legislative initiative aimed at safeguarding children from harmful online content and behaviors. This act builds upon existing regulations such as the link and the link in the US. The OSA signifies a concerted effort to shield young minds from cyberbullying, sexting, and other forms of online threats (link, 2019).

Brief explanation of the Online Safety Act (OSA) and its objectives

The OSA’s primary objective is to ensure that online companies take necessary steps to protect children from harmful content and behaviors. Companies will be obliged to implement measures such as age-verification systems, content moderation policies, and safety educational resources for users (link, 2019). Furthermore, the act empowers the regulator, Ofcom, to enforce these measures and levy fines for non-compliance.

Overview of the current state of online safety legislation

The introduction of the OSA is a significant move to address growing concerns regarding online harms and risks. However, it is essential to acknowledge that more needs to be done (link, 2019). The OSA primarily focuses on child safety, while issues related to adults’ online safety and mental health remain relatively unexplored.

Introduced in the UK to protect children from harmful online content and behaviors

The Online Safety Act (OSA) was introduced to protect children by ensuring that social media companies, search engines, and other online platforms take measures to safeguard users, particularly those under the age of 18.

Builds upon existing regulations like the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in the US

The Online Safety Act builds upon existing regulations like COPA and CIPA, which have been instrumental in addressing online safety issues for children in the US.

Thesis statement:

While the Online Safety Act is a step in the right direction, it falls short of being ambitious enough to effectively address all online safety issues, particularly those related to adults and mental health.

Digital activist: Britain’s Online Safety Act is "not ambitious enough—yet"

Current Limitations of the Online Safety Act

Scope of Protection

The Online Safety Act, a UK legislation designed to protect users from harmful online content and behaviors, has several limitations. One of its most significant drawbacks is the limited scope of protection. Currently, the act primarily focuses on protecting children from online harms, overlooking the unique online safety needs and issues of adults. Although children are undoubtedly vulnerable to online threats, it is essential not to overlook the mental health implications and potential harms that adults face in their digital interactions.

Content Moderation

Another limitation of the Online Safety Act is the content moderation process. The current approach relies heavily on self-regulation by tech companies, which can be inconsistent and ineffective. Tech firms often face significant challenges when it comes to implementing consistent and effective moderation policies. This issue is further compounded by the massive volume of content uploaded daily, making it difficult for companies to keep up with and remove harmful material in a timely manner.


Effective enforcement mechanisms are crucial to ensure the success of any online safety legislation. The Online Safety Act entrusts Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, with overseeing implementation and enforcement of the act. However, there are concerns about the ability of Ofcom to address all online harms given its limited resources and jurisdiction. Moreover, relying on a single regulatory body may not be enough to tackle the global nature of online threats.

Mental Health Implications

Lastly, it is important to recognize that the Online Safety Act must also consider the mental health implications of online harms. Although the act primarily focuses on protecting children from harmful content and behaviors, it is crucial not to overlook the potential negative impact of online harms on adults’ mental health. The constant exposure to hate speech, cyberbullying, and other forms of online harassment can lead to anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues. Addressing these mental health concerns requires a more comprehensive approach that recognizes the unique challenges faced by adults in the digital age.

Digital activist: Britain’s Online Safety Act is "not ambitious enough—yet"

I Recommendations for Making the Online Safety Act More Ambitious

Expanding Protection

The Online Safety Act has made significant strides in protecting children from online harms, but it’s time to expand its scope and address the needs of adults as well. Online harms, such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and harassment, can greatly impact adults’ mental health and overall wellbeing.

Enhanced Content Moderation

To effectively address these issues, we propose improvements to the current content moderation process and its implementation.

Adopting a more proactive approach to content moderation:

Tech companies should not wait for reports of harmful content before taking action. A more proactive approach, including the use of advanced technology and AI, can help identify and remove harmful content before it causes harm.

Encouraging collaboration between tech companies, regulators, and NGOs:

Effective content moderation strategies require a collaborative effort. Tech companies, regulatory bodies like Ofcom, and NGOs should work together to develop best practices for content moderation and enforcement.

Strengthening Enforcement Mechanisms

To effectively enforce online safety regulations, we propose the following enhancements:

Increasing resources and jurisdiction for regulatory bodies:

Regulatory bodies like Ofcom need more resources and jurisdiction to address all online harms, not just those affecting children.

Exploring international cooperation:

Cooperation between countries on enforcing online safety regulations is crucial for a global solution to the problem of online harms.

Holistic Approach

A more ambitious Online Safety Act should:

Address mental health concerns:

Particularly for adults who are most at risk, addressing mental health concerns should be a priority in any online safety legislation.

Encourage public awareness and education:

Public awareness and education on online safety best practices and available resources can help prevent harm before it occurs.

E. Conclusion

The current Online Safety Act is a good start, but it’s not enough to effectively address all online safety issues. A more ambitious act, including the recommendations outlined above, is necessary to protect adults and promote overall online safety.

F. Call to Action

We encourage all stakeholders, including policymakers, industry leaders, civil society organizations, and the public, to engage in further discussions on how to make the Online Safety Act more ambitious and comprehensive.