UK government examines online safety as Kate Winslet calls for 'rigorous' checks

Award-winning actress says parents feel 'utterly powerless' to guard their children online

Kate Winslet said the UK government should make social media companies enforce age limits to protect children's mental health. PA
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The UK government’s Online Safety Bill is to return to Parliament following a delay, amid growing pressure from campaigners to prevent the spread of harmful content on social media platforms.

British Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet has become the latest voice to join the chorus of people urging “much more rigorous” security checks to prevent young people from viewing potentially damaging information. The Titanic star, who is mother to Mia, 22, Joe, 18, and eight-year-old Bear, raised concerns about the impact on teenagers’ mental health.

The passage of the bill, the Conservative government’s flagship internet legislation, was pushed back for five months due to the ruling party’s infighting and upheaval caused by changes of prime minister.

The content regulation law will be brought back to parliament on Monday, but rather than a swift passage it will be sent back to committee stage for further scrutiny, digital minister Paul Scully suggested. The bill was originally proposed by Theresa May and is meant to combat online abuse and harassment. Three prime ministers later, the draft legislation focuses on increasing online protection for minors and a “triple shield” for free speech that would allow users to appeal if their posts were moderated.

Ms Winslet, 47, has said the government should make social media firms enforce age limits on account holders to protect children’s well-being.

Many parents feel “utterly powerless” to help their sons and daughters cope with the impact of social media, she said, as she called for change.

“I really do struggle with social media,” she told the BBC. “I struggle with the impact it is clearly having on teenage mental health.

“I do wish that our government would crack down on it. I do wish that there would be certain platforms that were banned before a certain age.

“I wish that security checks would be much more rigorous.”

The Reading-born actress stars alongside her eldest child Mia in the new Channel 4 film I Am Ruth. The feature-length drama explores the concerns of a mother who sees her daughter becoming consumed by the pressures of the online world.

With teenagers, “where there's a will there's a way” and “if they want to get on that platform they will”, the veteran actress said.

However, she stressed there was still a role for authorities to play, adding: “I do believe that there needs to be a lot more protection and accountability because parents are left flailing, going, 'Thank you so much, government, look what just happened to my child'.”

Campaigners had warned that the delay in the passage of the online safety bill meant children were endangered. Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, said every day the draft legislation was held back from becoming law was “another day imagery of children being sexually abused spreads further online”.

Last week it emerged that the government had dropped measures to ban “legal but harmful” web content from its bill.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said including the restriction risked an “erosion of free speech”, but campaigners said the move amounted to a “watering down” of the bill. She said the “strengthened” bill set to return to parliament “will allow parents to see and act on the dangers sites pose to young people”.

“It is also freed from any threat that tech firms or future governments could use the laws as a licence to censor legitimate views,” she said.

“Young people will be safeguarded, criminality stamped out and adults given control over what they see and engage with online. We now have a binary choice: to get these measures into law and improve things or squabble in the status quo and leave more young lives at risk.”

Updated: December 05, 2022, 11:36 AM
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