Majority of public want tougher Online Safety Bill that holds tech bosses responsible for child safety

As the Online Safety Bill returns to parliament this month, polling shows overwhelming public support for tougher measures to enforce children’s safety online.1

Four in five (81%2) UK adults want senior tech managers to be appointed and held legally responsible for stopping children being harmed by social media, new polling reveals.

The survey by YouGov also found that two thirds (66%3) of those with an opinion would want senior managers prosecuted for failures that resulted in serious harm to children.

We believe these findings show overwhelming public support for tougher enforcement measures in the Government’s Online Safety Bill.

Currently, the legislation only holds tech bosses responsible for failing to give information to the regulator Ofcom, and not for corporate decisions that result in preventable harm or sexual abuse.

It comes as MPs are calling on the Government to amend the Bill to hold senior managers liable for children’s safety when it returns to Parliament this month (16 January).

A number of Conservative MPs including Sir William Cash and Miriam Cates are backing the amendment which would mean tech bosses would finally be held to account if their platforms contributed to the serious harm, abuse, or death of a child.

The UK risks being out of step as Irish laws passed last month will hold senior tech bosses liable for online safety changes.

Making the suggested changes would cement the UK as a global authority for children’s safety online.

The move is also supported by Ruth Moss, whose daughter Sophie died by suicide after viewing harmful material on social media.

Ruth Moss said:

“As far as I’m concerned, where companies wilfully break the law and put the lives of children like my daughter at risk, of course senior managers should be criminally accountable. The consequences of non- compliance are life changing for children like Sophie.

“Criminal liability drives the right behaviours in those with the most responsibility. It works in other industries and there is no reason in my mind as to why big tech executives should be treated any differently.”

Miriam Cates MP said:

“It’s clear to most people that the big global tech companies are not going to wake up one day and suddenly decide to start protect children from harmful online content.

“We have seen repeated failures of Big tech to protect children from the horrors of sexual exploitation, pornography and content that draws them into self-harm and suicide, and sadly the Online Safety Bill as it stands will not stop this.

“The only way to secure the change we desperately need is to make senior directors personally responsible for failures to protect children and that’s why I urge all MPs to support this amendment to include senior manager liability in the Online Safety Bill.”

The amendment has cross-party support including from the Labour frontbench.

Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell MP said:

"Labour has long called for the online safety bill to be strengthened especially when it comes to the liability - including criminal liability - of social media bosses. Without these sanctions there’s a real risk that a UK regulator will be toothless.

"Yet instead of strengthening the laws, the Government has recently gutted and watered down the bill, letting social media companies off the hook and allowing harms, abuse and hate to continue.

"I welcome the campaigning work of the NSPCC to toughen this Bill."

The Online Safety Bill has been subject to delays amid intense scrutiny in recent months as the Government amended elements relating to adult safety.

The Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has repeatedly said protections for children would be strengthened and campaigners argue holding tech bosses liable for the safety of young users would send a signal of intent to Big Tech.

Almost 40,000 people signed an open letter to Ms Donelan calling for the legislation to properly hold senior managers to account for the safety of sites children use.4

Rachel, 15, who handed the letter into the Culture Secretary with other members of the NSPCC’s Young People’s Board for Change, said:

"Far too much pressure is put on young people from such a young age to keep themselves safe online"

"Too many children are exposed to content promoting self-harm and eating disorders. It's become a norm in our everyday lives."

"We need a Bill that is going to hold big tech firms accountable. Without it, young people are on their own. We've been on our own for so long online – and it’s not working.”

We say that senior managers must also be liable for preventing child sexual abuse that is taking place at a record scale online5.6

We estimate that over 21,000 online child sex crimes will have been recorded by police in the time the legislation was delayed in July until it is likely to finally pass through Parliament on 16 January.7

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC said:


“2022 was the year the Online Safety Bill faced delay after delay. Meanwhile children faced sexual abuse on an industrial scale and tech bosses sat on their hands as their algorithms continued to bombard young users with hugely dangerous material.

“This year must be the year legislation delivers the systemic change for children online that our polling shows families up and down the UK are asking for.
“The Government can do this by delivering bold, world-leading regulation that ensures the buck stops with senior management for the safety of our children.”


  1. 1. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,031 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd - 23rd November 2022. 

  2. 2. Asked ‘Do you think social media and gaming sites should or should not be required by law to appoint a senior manager who would be responsible for preventing their site from harming children?’ 81% said they should have to do this by law.

  3. 3. Asked ‘If a social media site fails to meet its legal duties to protect children resulting in serious harm, do you think the following would or would not be appropriate? A senior manager responsible for children’s safety is prosecuted (charged under criminal law, 52% said it would be appropriate, 27% said it would not, 21% said they did not know. Therefore, of those who gave an opinion 66% said it would be appropriate.

  4. 4. 39,797 people signed an open letter to Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan calling on her to strengthen the Online Safety Bill. This included to properly hold senior managers to account for product safety. It read: “The proposed sanctions in the Online Safety Bill are welcome, but they will not go far enough to embed child safety at tech companies or deliver the cultural change required. Fines won’t always be enough to bring companies in line and could simply be costed into the price of doing business in the UK. The Bill must properly hold to account the senior managers who decide how safely their sites are designed. We are calling on you to introduce arrangements for the introduction of a named Safety Controller, which will make an individual at a tech company personally responsible and liable when they fail to uphold their safety duties. This happens with senior managers in the financial services sector, and protecting children online is no less important. For the most egregious systemic failures that put children at risk of illegal harms, criminal sanctions are needed to act as a strong deterrence.”

  5. 5. The Home Office police-recorded crime open data shows that there were 42,503 combined Sexual Grooming (7,025) and Obscene Publication (35,478) offences recorded by police in England in Wales in 2021/22. This is the equivalent of an average of 3,542 a month.

  6. 6. Published figures do not reveal how many of the Obscene Publication offences involve images of children but results from our previous Freedom of Information requests suggest the vast majority are. For both offences, it is likely the majority of crimes involve the internet considering the role it plays in publishing and sharing images and is easily used by offenders to contact and build relationships with children. This proportion is likely to increase as police forces flag online crimes more consistently.

  7. 7. We calculate that over the 6 months from the time the legislation was in Parliament on 12 July 2022 before being delayed until it third reading on 16 January 2023, an estimated 21,000 crimes would have been recorded by police.