The Online Safety Bill has received Royal Assent in Parliament, bringing the new rules into effect.
Following five years in the drafting, the legislation will impose new legal duties on big tech companies and service providers and is overseen by the regulator Ofcom.
Social media platforms will have to enforce age limits and use age-checking measures to stop children from seeing harmful material including bullying or self-harm content, and prevent and quickly remove illegal content, such as non-consensual image sharing and terrorism.
The rules also allow adults more control over what they see online, clear ways for users to report problems and require sites to publish risk assessments.
Molly Rose Foundation Chair of Trustees Ian Russell, said: “This is a vital, well considered step towards online safety.
“The baton is now firmly in the hands of Ofcom who must waste no time using their new powers to separate young users from harmful content – content must be more effectively moderated and algorithms must not amplify harm as they currently do.
“This is just the start, not the end. To be successful the Act must be constantly monitored and swiftly improved whenever possible, if it is to keep up with emerging technologies. We’re already hearing about the potential dangers of AI but we’re not yet doing much about the AI harms that are already with us. We need to do better than we did with conventional digital tech. Lost lives should have taught us all lessons.
“When we look back in years to come, the test will be whether harmful content, like Molly saw, remains online and is pushed to users by algorithms. The success of the Online Safety Act will be judged by how much these dangers have been reduced and how many of our young people grow up unaffected by them.”
Companies which fail to comply with the rules could face fines of up to £18m or 10% of their annual global revenue, and tech bosses could face prison in the most extreme cases.
While some critics have raised concerns about the Bill’s implications for privacy, Mr Russell added: “There’s nothing divisive or controversial about protecting children’s lives.”
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