The Global Online Safety Regulators Network: An inaugural year of growth, building trust, and collaboration

In the transformative digital landscape of 2023, the Global Online Safety Regulators Network has sought to achieve unity and leadership across the domain of online safety regulation. 

As we reflect on our first year, I wanted to highlight three elements that have defined our Network’s early success: growth, effective and meaningful partnership, and a joint commitment from members to deepen trust and achieve lasting progress in shaping a safer global internet.

Network growth: Embracing diversity and expertise

As the lone online safety regulator in 2015, our vision was to build the foundations for a collaborative global network to guide international online safety efforts as governments around the world established independent regulators in the same domain. In its foundational year, the Network has achieved steady and impressive growth since its inception.

The original group of four has expanded to seven with five observers. Observer applications continue to pour in and we expect both an increase in Network membership as well.

A primary goal has always been a diversity of membership and today, five continents are now represented: North America, Africa, Europe, Australia and the Pacific, and Asia. This diverse group of 13 entities combines decades of experience in child safety and media regulation, with some members bringing more than 20 years in the field.

UK founding member Ofcom saw its Online Safety Act come into force, while the Fijian Online Safety Commission grew from strength-to-strength. New members this year include Coimisiun na Mean from Ireland (noting the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland was a founding member); the Korea Communications and Standards Commission; the Film and Publications Board from South Africa; and Arcom from France.

We also welcomed new observers, including The Canadian Centre for Child Protection; the Department of Canadian Heritage from Canada; the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Multimedia-Diensteanbieter from Germany; and Netsafe and the NZ Classification Office (Te Mana Whakaatu) from New Zealand. 

Yet our growth is not just in numbers.

The Network’s profile is rapidly expanding, attracting international interest from those working in online safety. This includes government agencies, multistakeholder entities, privacy bodies, industry associations, and a broad range of civil society organisations.

Building trust and understanding: Advocacy in action

This year, our advocacy has been forward-thinking and forthright.

Online safety, also known in the industry as “trust and safety,” is a burgeoning discipline which is building credibility and maturity vis-à-vis our security, privacy and competition counterparts.

Therefore, we worked to build trust and understanding of online safety as a pivotal domain, emphasising how it upholds a range of fundamental human rights. The Network issued a position statement on human rights and online safety regulation, reconfirming our commitment to bolstering human rights.

Speaking from a regulatory vantage point of experience, we joined our collective voices on UNESCO’s Internet for Trust, emphasising our dedication to forging a secure and trustworthy online environment.

The Network also shared insights to support parallel regulatory developments, and jointly navigated global challenges. 

For example, the Israel-Hamas conflict demanded a consistent response. The Network coordinated and supported members, sharing content and insights to make sure their engagements with industry were effective in reducing user exposure to violent – or terrorist and violent extremist – content.

In response to this take up of how to protect global users from distressing online content, the Network formed an Education and Prevention Working Group, so that best practices can be shared around the globe in real time.

We’ve been cited in international forums and relationships within the Network have allowed members to leverage each other’s expertise, respond to global challenges and better support online safety in home jurisdictions.

Strengthening partnerships: The art of collaboration 

The Network has laid strong foundations for collaboration, allowing for effective and timely exchanges of information and insights. One day, we at eSafety hope this can lead to joint regulatory action.

We set up bilateral engagements between members to support each other’s needs. And we also established a Technology Working Group, chaired by Ofcom, to ensure we are learning from each other in terms of sharing best practices on purpose-built systems and processes.

We undertook deep dives on global challenges such as age-verification, which contributed to policy and regulatory developments in Australia, the UK, Ireland, and beyond. While we may take different tacks, we’re always trying to chart a consistent course forward to achieve similar safety outcomes for our respective constituencies.

Meeting face-to-face in London turned virtual relationships into real-life connections, laying the foundation for deeper engagement. We shared information on regulation, enforcement, important milestones, and areas of focus or concern, such as generative AI, immersive technologies and novel challenges posed by convergence.

The aim was to leverage our combined knowledge and avoid duplication, increasing our individual and collective impact in areas such as regulatory enforcement. We also set the strategy for 2024.

Future priorities: Navigating challenges, embracing opportunities 

The coming year will see a change in leadership, with Ofcom taking the reins as Network Chair and the Film and Publications Board of South Africa stepping in as Vice-Chair. This leadership transition will bring a wealth of experience and fresh perspectives to our collective efforts.

And, while 2023 represented a year of building, we expect under this fresh leadership, there will be an important trajectory of growth.

In addition, the Digital Services Act (EU) will come into full effect in early 2024. This landmark legislation will undoubtedly shape our work in the coming year, and will mean that Europe will see the establishment of independent Digital Services Coordinators in every member state.

Our goal remains clear: to create a safer digital ecosystem through coherent and interoperable approaches to online safety across jurisdictions. This means seeking to harmonise regulations and ensure cohesion, wherever possible.

It means building further capacity and capability to effectively regulate a broad range of systems and processes, to increase tech transparency and accountability and  grapple with complex challenges such as end-to-end-encryption and differing views and approaches to AI safety.

Enforcement is another area where we anticipate challenges. As regulators, we must make sure our policies are not just well-intentioned, but also practical. The impact of the tech industry, for good or for ill, is truly global though laws will continue to be local. So, it’s important to make sure technology companies cooperate and continue to comply, despite the challenges of jurisdictions and borders.

Regardless, we are optimistic. 

Engaging with the tech industry, working with civil society, and collaborating with multilateral and multistakeholder forums will help keep the Network at the forefront of online safety regulation.

I’d like to acknowledge the work of my international team at eSafety as well as that of our colleagues across the Network in achieving the fantastic successes we’ve already had.

Our unity has been our strength, and together, we can set global standards that let us reap the vast benefits of technology while also making the online world safer for future generations.