- Further strengthening protections for journalists in world-leading internet safety laws
- Requirement to keep news articles even when they are reviewed by moderators
- Platforms must notify news publishers and offer a right of appeal before taking any action
People’s access to reliable, high-quality journalism online will be further expanded as the Government adds stronger protections for the press to its ground-breaking Internet Safety Bill.
The amendment to the bill, tabled by ministers last night, is designed to protect against the arbitrary removal of articles by journalists in recognized news outlets when they are shared on social media platforms.
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 frequently used platform for news consumption among 16-24-year-olds and ethnic minorities.
But 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 abruptly removed the TalkRadio channel, then reinstated it 12 hours later, admitting that the move was a mistake.
These measures will help address this situation and are an additional layer of protection to the safeguards already enshrined in the Internet Journalism Bill.
As it stands, the bill would not prevent platforms from removing content from news publishers or making it less prominent if they choose to review it for potential violations of their terms, even if they ultimately find nothing wrong with it.
Under the new amendment, Category 1 companies – including the largest and most popular social media platforms – will now be required to make articles from recognized news publishers viewable and accessible on their sites, even when 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 will reduce the risk of platforms making arbitrary or random decisions to moderate content from news publishers, which play an invaluable role in UK society and democracy. News publishers will benefit from greater awareness and advance warning of possible action taken against their content, as well as greater transparency in the decision-making behind it.
Digital Affairs Secretary Nadine Dorries said:
“Our democracy depends on people’s access to high-quality journalism, and our world-leading Internet Safety Act introduces tough new safeguards for freedom of speech and the press online.
“However, we have seen technology firms arbitrarily remove legitimate journalism with a complete lack of transparency, and this can have a serious impact on public discourse. These additional safeguards will prevent that from happening.”
The amendment follows concerns from the news industry and the Joint Committee that the bill could indirectly encourage platforms to be overzealous in removing or moderating content from news publishers for fear of sanctions from regulator Ofcom. This could damage the commercial viability of news publishers, many of whom depend on the advertising revenue they receive through people accessing their content on social media.
The government has listened to these concerns and strengthened safeguards to prevent this from happening. The new requirement means that unless it is illegal under the bill, or unless the platforms face criminal or civil liability for hosting it, content from recognized news publishers will remain online even during a review by moderators and any subsequent appeal.
Platforms can still take immediate action against content posted by ordinary users, who can appeal the removal of their content after it has been removed under the existing complaint procedures in the bill.
Instead of being notified after their content has been removed for review, news publishers will be notified in advance while it remains in users’ news feeds, giving them time to file an appeal.
The government has taken steps to stop RT and Sputnik spreading disinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the UK, and sanctioned news outlets will not enjoy such protection. Ministers intend to change the criteria for determining which organizations qualify as recognized news publishers to explicitly exclude sanctioned organisations.
Existing protections for journalism in the Internet Safety Bill
The Internet Safety Bill is ground-breaking legislation that makes technology companies accountable to the independent regulator Ofcom for keeping their users safe.
The exception for news publishers’ content in the bill includes news articles on the publishers’ own websites, as well as the comment sections below them, as well as articles when they are shared on social media platforms.
The exemption for news publishers only applies to organizations that meet the strict criteria set out in clause 50 of the Bill.
This means that the companies participating in the study are not required to consider or act on whether the content of the news publishers may harm their users at all
In addition, Category 1 companies will be required to introduce safeguards for all journalistic content shared on their platforms.
These safeguards ensure that platforms consider the importance of journalism in moderation, by clearly stating in their terms of service how they consider the importance of journalism, and by consistently doing so. This ensures that platforms can be held accountable for the decisions they make, including decisions made by automated moderation tools.
Platforms will also need to introduce expedited appeals procedures for producers of journalistic content.
Another amendment to the bill on the protection of journalism
In addition to the temporary enforcement amendment, the government introduced three more amendments to the bill to further strengthen protections for online journalism.
The Government will strengthen the exemption for “below the line” comment sections on news publishers’ websites, making sure the incoming secretary of state cannot use so-called “Henry VIII powers” to remove the exemption. Henry VIII powers are clauses of primary legislation that allow ministers to change or repeal provisions through secondary legislation.
The amendment, tabled yesterday, will strip Henry VIII of his powers over comments below the line. This will mean that the exemption can only be removed through an Act of Parliament, which requires full debate and scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament. This will reassure press industry stakeholders that the exemption cannot be easily overturned.
Another amendment adds a requirement for Category 1 companies to conduct and publish an assessment of the impact of their security obligations under the bill on journalistic content, including content from news publishers. They will be required to publish this impact assessment as soon as the Bill comes into force and update it continuously to reflect the impact of the changes on their policies and practices.
Similarly, Ofcom will have a new duty to review and publish a report on the impact of online security regulation on news publishers’ content and the effectiveness of journalistic content protection. Ofcom will be required to carry out a review within two years of the relevant provisions of the Bill coming into force.