Social Media and the Online Safety Act 2023

22nd January 2024

Two things came into my sphere last weekend.

Firstly, I fell into a discussion about user identification on LinkedIn.  See here.  I also read the heart-warming article on the BBC about a throw-away statement on University Challenge about the nascency of Jungle music. This got me to thinking about social media and the Online Safety Act 2023 (OSA or Act).

Once the rubber hits the road implementing the requirements of the OSA, there will be a lot of heat arising from the systems and processes that user to user platforms implement to meet their duties under the Act. In the case of LinkedIn, it is asking users to verify their identities with a passport but don’t be surprised when other platforms go further; asking users for credit card details or to complete facial recognition checks. This is because the Act places duties on such platforms to prevent and protect  users from illegal and (in the case of children under 18 years) harmful content. There are also some duties to support crime enforcement and as such the platforms need to be certain who their users are. The duties have all been put into place because social media technology has allowed certain dangerous and toxic tools and environments to grow and thrive and the platforms have not voluntarily taken steps to stop them when it became evident that the platforms were being used that way. After much debate and scrutiny, the Act has been drafted to place the burden of addressing the problems back on the platforms; and user identification is where most platforms are choosing to start.

And this is where Amol’s article contains a really important reminder. He says:

Similarly, this week has made me reappraise social media. For six years, as media editor for BBC News, I reported on the threat social media posed to Western civilisation. Doubtless it is profound, and my recent experience of Twitter/X has been dreadful. But then I work in the media, at the BBC, and cover politics, in an era of toxic culture wars.

This week reminded me of the original vision of social media, which was more social and less media. Those of us in my trade should remember it can generate communities and pullulate with kindness and creativity rather than conspiracy and contempt.

Whether requirements to verify identities will achieve the goal of saving social media’s fabulous positives  whilst  abating the negatives remains to be seen. Of particular concern to many is the impact that the duties on platforms may have on free speech and privacy rights.

Our team are preparing a series of articles about the OSA at the moment and will be publishing these over the coming weeks, but if you’d like any advice on the Act in the meantime, please get in touch. And remember (even though Amol restrained himself from the obvious cliché, I am a lesser being and I am going to say it) with regards to social media: “it’s a jungle out there!”