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UK Parliament OKs Online Safety Bill and Metaverse Protections

The United Kingdom has passed its Online Safety Bill, and with it, new metaverse protections.

The long-discussed bill concluded its final Parliamentary debate Tuesday (Sept. 19) and is now ready to become law, according to a British government press release.

“This major milestone means the government is within touching distance of delivering the most powerful child protection laws in a generation, while ensuring adults are better empowered to take control of their online lives, while protecting our mental health,” the release said. “The bill takes a zero-tolerance approach to protecting children and makes sure social media platforms are held responsible for the content they host.”

Under the law, platforms that fail to act swiftly to block and remove illegal content and keep kids from seeing harmful material face fines, with executives subject to jail time, per the release.

The law also requires social media companies to enforce age limits and age-verification measures, the release said. Companies must also make sure the dangers posed to children are clearer, including by publishing risk assessments.

In addition, the law forces platforms to give kids and their parents an easy way “to report problems online when they do arise,” the release said.

The law also applies to the metaverse, something its proponents made sure of in preparing the legislation.

“Technology companies can’t use the metaverse to escape regulation,” Lorna Woods and William Perrin, co-authors of the Online Safety Bill, said last year. “The feeling is that Meta has moved the debate on to a new type of service that avoids regulation. But that isn’t the case at all in our view. The Online Safety regime applies.”

The law, which still needs approval from Great Britain’s King Charles, comes as other world governments look to pass new online child safety measures.

For example, China’s internet regulator introduced rules last month to prevent kids from spending too much time online. The regulations from the Cyberspace Administration of China amount to some of the toughest restrictions on internet use on the planet, barring “non-adult” children from accessing the internet via mobile devices from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Meanwhile, a California bill aimed at holding platforms accountable for social media addiction died in committee earlier this month, the second consecutive year that has happened.