Insights Government announces tougher protections for journalism to be added to Online Safety Bill

The Government has tabled an amendment to the Online Safety Bill to guard against the arbitrary removal of articles from journalists at recognised news outlets when shared on social media platforms.

The Government notes that, according to Ofcom, half of UK adults use social media for news, with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram being the most popular platforms for this purpose. The internet is the most-used platform for news consumption among 16–24-year-olds and people from minority ethnic groups. However, news content has been removed or made less visible by social media moderators or algorithms for unclear reasons, often at the height of news cycles. For example, last year YouTube suddenly removed TalkRadio’s channel, then reinstated it 12 hours later, admitting the move had been a mistake.

The Government says that the new measures will help address this situation and are an extra layer of protection to the safeguards already written into the Bill for online journalism.

The Bill currently would not stop platforms from removing news publishers’ content or making it less visible if they decided to review it for potential breaches of their terms and conditions, even if they eventually found no fault with it.

Under the new amendment, Category 1 companies, including the largest and most popular social media platforms, will be required to ensure recognised news publishers’ articles remain viewable and accessible on their sites even if they are under review by moderators. They will be required to notify news publishers and offer them a right of appeal before removing or moderating their content or taking any action against their accounts. This is aimed at reducing the risk of platforms taking arbitrary or accidental moderation decisions against news publisher content.

The Government explains that the amendment follows concerns raised by the news industry and the Joint Committee that the Bill could indirectly incentivise platforms to be overzealous in removing or moderating news publishers’ content due to fear of sanctions by the regulator Ofcom. This could damage the commercial sustainability of news publishers, many of which rely on the advertising revenue they receive through people accessing their content on social media channels.

Essentially, the new requirement means that unless it is illegal under the Bill or platforms would have a criminal or civil liability for hosting it, content from recognised news publishers will remain online even while a review by moderators and any subsequent appeal takes place.

Platforms can still take immediate action on content posted by users, who can appeal the removal of their content after it has been taken down under the Bill’s existing complaints procedures.

Instead of being informed after their content has been taken down for review, news publishers will be told in advance while it remains up on users’ news feeds, giving them time to lodge an appeal.

Sanctioned news outlets, such as RT and Sputnik, will not benefit from these protections. Ministers intend to amend the criteria for determining which organisations qualify as recognised news publishers to explicitly exclude organisations that are subject to sanctions. To read the Government’s press release in full, click here.