YOUNG people, abuse survivors and bereaved families have celebrated the Online Safety Act becoming law at an NSPCC reception in Parliament.
The legislation was given Royal Assent on 26 October after years of campaigning.
It will put a legal duty on tech companies to protect children from sexual abuse and harmful material on social media sites, gaming apps and messaging services.
The group Bereaved Families for Online Safety was integral in achieving stronger protection for children in the legislation.
Ruth Moss, a member of the group, joined fellow campaigners, politicians, civil society and regulators to welcome the legislation.
Ruth’s daughter Sophie Parkinson tragically took her own life in March 2014 when she was only 13-years-old after she was exposed to harmful content online.
Sophie was self-harming and viewing self-harm and suicide content from the age of 12.
She had also had online relationships with older men and looked at violent pornography.
Ruth, a nurse from Dalkeith near Edinburgh, said: “For at least two years, we struggled to keep Sophie safe online.”
Ruth said that she had removed devices, restricted internet use, implemented parental controls and had conversations about internet safety with Sophie.
“These were not enough to prevent her from being exposed to content that promoted self-harm, suicide and dark, graphic, harmful material.
“She managed to view violent pornography and have online conversations with adult male strangers.
“Complaining to internet and social media companies was either impossible or futile.
“As parents, it felt like one step forward and two steps back, especially when balancing her need to use the internet for school and controlling her use.
“We quickly realised that parents alone can’t control what their child sees on the internet.
“The impact of Sophie viewing this harmful material was a deterioration in her existing mental health struggles, with devastating consequences.
“We will never truly recover from her death, and it is rightly every parent’s worst nightmare.
“This legislation is a good first step,” Ruth added.
“It sends a message to tech companies that safety should not be compromised for the sake of profit and that tech companies can’t deny responsibility for keeping their service users safe on their websites.
“In my opinion, the enforcement of the bill is key. This will be challenging.
“It will require Ofcom going up against some of the most powerful and influential organisations in the world. Ofcom will have a difficult job.”
Young people who campaigned with the NSPCC and a mum whose daughter was sexually abused on social media, spoke at the event.
They joined the NSPCC Chief Executive Sir Peter Wanless and Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes who will be responsible for the Act’s implementation.
The event was chaired by Sajid Javid MP who was Home Secretary when regulation to help protect children online was first promised by the Government in 2018, following the launch of the NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign.
At the reception there was a clear focus on ensuring young people’s voices and experiences are central to the implementation of the Online Safety Act, so it results in meaningful change for children as soon as possible.
The event came as Ofcom prepares to set out the rules which tech companies will have to follow to tackle child sexual abuse and protect children from harmful material.
The codes of practice will be consulted on before being implemented.
However, those at the event were united in their expectation that tech companies should not wait to begin putting concrete measures in place to make their sites safe by design for children.
Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “It was an honour to bring together so many people from different walks of life whose campaigning and dedication has helped make the Online Safety Act possible.
“I want to particularly thank everyone who has been impacted by online abuse and unimaginable harm who have campaigned selflessly to help protect others.
“While we rightly celebrated today, it was also a catalyst towards working together to ensure the legislation results in the protections online children desperately need.
“We look forward to seeing the landmark Act implemented with bold ambition to ensure there is a rigorous focus on children as regulation comes into force.”
Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, said: “We’re grateful for all the hard work that went into getting these new laws onto the statute books.
“It means we now have regulation that will make a real difference in creating a safer life online for people – particularly children – in the UK.
“This is a big job, and we’re ready, but we won’t be doing it alone.
“Young people’s voices have shaped the foundations, and now we want to hear from them again to make sure we get the technical detail right.
“Next week, we’ll be consulting on the specific measures that tech firms can take to protect their users from illegal harms online, including child sexual abuse and grooming, and pro-suicide content.”
Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “I am immensely proud of the work that has gone into the Online Safety Act from its very inception to it becoming law.
“At the heart of this Act is the protection of children.
“I would like to thank the campaigners, parliamentarians, survivors of abuse and charities including the NSPCC, that have worked tirelessly, not only to get this Act over the finishing line, but to ensure that it will make the UK the safest place to be online in the world.”
Many volunteers with lived experience of abuse who have campaigned with the NSPCC for robust legislation also joined the reception.
The NSPCC set up an installation outside the Houses of Parliament thanking the over 147,000 campaigners who backed the legislation.
The charity has released a video with young people welcoming the Online Safety Act.