Insights Government announces that foreign interference to be designated a priority offence under Online Safety Bill

The Government says that social media platforms will have to proactively tackle Russian and other state-sponsored disinformation aimed at undermining the UK under changes ministers are making to new internet safety laws in the Online Safety Bill.

The Government will table an amendment to link the National Security Bill with the Online Safety Bill. A new Foreign Interference Offence created by the National Security Bill will be added to the list of priority offences in the Online Safety Bill. It means that social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites allowing people to post their own content will have a legal duty to take proactive, preventative action to identify and minimise people’s exposure to state-sponsored or state-linked disinformation aimed at interfering with the UK. This includes tackling material from fake accounts set up by individuals or groups acting on behalf of foreign states to influence democratic or legal processes, such as elections and court proceedings, or spread hacked information to undermine democratic institutions.

Platforms will need to do risk assessments for content which is illegal under the Foreign Interference Offence and put in place proportionate systems and processes to mitigate the possibility of users encountering this content. This could include measures such as making it more difficult to create large scale fake accounts or tackling the use of bots in malicious disinformation campaigns. When moderating their sites, the firms will need to make judgments about the intended effect of content or behaviour which they have reasonable grounds to believe is state-sponsored disinformation and whether it amounts to misrepresentation. These judgements could be based on patterns of behaviours and tactics used or aided by relevant knowledge of the political and geopolitical context, e.g., narratives from state-backed media being amplified online.

To help platforms in carrying out this duty, companies will also be able to draw on the regulator Ofcom’s codes of practice. Ofcom will have the power to fine companies failing to act up to 10% of their annual global turnover, force them to improve their practices and block non-compliant sites. To read the Government’s press release in full, click here.