Sanjay Bhandari, Kick It Out Chair, and Edleen John, The FA’s Director of International Relations, Corporate Affairs and Co-partner for EDI, share their thoughts on the Joint Committee’s report on the Online Safety Bill, which was published yesterday.

We were grateful to be among the first witnesses, alongside Rio Ferdinand, to give evidence on day one of the Joint Committee’s review back in September on behalf of English football. The report released yesterday is thorough, thoughtful and practical. We commend the Committee for its diligence and dedication in producing a very detailed and substantial report. We will continue to digest the full detail of the Committee’s Report but we strongly endorse the heart of the recommendations. We urge the government to act swiftly in adopting these recommendations as soon as possible.  We look forward to working with them to make this a reality.

For too long, social media has profited from the hate directed at people, including those who play, watch and work in football. We know that social media companies were amongst those giving evidence to the Joint committee. The committee’s experiences over the last three months evidently mirrors football's frustrations over the last few years. Social media has half-heartedly tried self-regulation, effectively setting and marking its own homework. That system has completely failed and has left a trail of psychological damage along the way. Social media organisations simply cannot be trusted to regulate themselves and keep all users safe, and instead robust independent oversight is required. If implemented, these recommendations could have a massive impact in forcing social media to move from platitudes to impactful action. The very tools they have used to generate eye-watering revenues, should now be repurposed to protect users and create a safe environment. 

We particularly welcome the following recommendations, which reflect our submissions to the Committee:

  • To restructure the Bill around core safety objectives that puts safety at the heart of the Bill and sets the mission and tone for regulatory oversight by Ofcom
  • To move the focus from individual content to systems and processes - this should put the onus on the platforms to have safe systems rather than on the victims to complain or change their settings away from the default
  • To deal with anonymous accounts - which we know is a massive problem for victims of abuse in football. The recommendations neatly balance freedom of expression with freedom from hate. As we had requested, the focus is on traceability of individual perpetrators, adding more friction to prevent easy creation and disposal of accounts by trolls, and enabling users more choice in the accounts with which they interact
  • To completely replace the sections dealing with legal but harmful content to take control of that away from social media and give it back to parliament. For too long, social media has consistently set itself low standards which it has then consistently failed to meet. They will now be required to have in place reasonably proportionate systems and processes to identify and address reasonably foreseeable risks of harm. These are tried and trusted legal concepts which give confidence that these obligations can be properly overseen by Ofcom
  • To require robust and adequate transparency reporting
  • To give Ofcom more enforcement powers and to seek to mirror the powers given to the Financial Conduct Authority 

In all of this, it will be crucial that Ofcom is given the financial and human resources to regulate effectively and efficiently. We urge the government to make that happen. 

We will continue to review the report in detail. We need to be confident that the people who play, watch and work in football can connect on social media and begin to feel safe. It is time for the era of lawlessness to end.