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Labour slams government for delay to Online Harms Bill

‘It’s time government took the safety of internet users as seriously as the needs and influence of the big tech firms’ Jo Stevens MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport .

Labour has slammed the government for delays to the Online Harms Bill after yet another failure by social media giants to tackle accounts spreading hate speech.

This weekend, inaction by Twitter to remove grime star Wiley’s account after he posted a slew of anti-Semitic messages demonstrates exactly why legislation is needed.

It comes after:

  • Racist abuse faced by Wilfried Zaha and David McGoldrick on social media led the Professional Footballers Association to urge the Government to fast-track the bill.
  • Analysis has shown that Labour MP Diane Abbott received more than half of all the abuse on social media aimed at female MPs. Women MPs are far more likely to receive abuse than their male counterparts.
  • The anti-vaxx movement has been allowed to grow to dangerous levels, spreading misinformation that is putting lives at risk.

But attempts to take action have been hampered by the government’s delays. In June Lord Puttnam, Chair of the Lords Democracy and Digital Committee, called the delay on the Online Harms Bill – which may not come into force until 2023 or 2024 – “unacceptable”.

Just last week the Commons DCMS select committee warned that the lack of effective regulation had allowed misinformation about coronavirus to spread “virulently”. Tory chair of the select committee Julian Knight said the pandemic had demonstrated that “without due weight of the law, social media companies have no incentive to consider a duty of care to those who use their services” and urged the government to act and name a regulator now.

Jo Stevens said “The failure to tackle these high-profile examples of hate speech shows why we so desperately need proper legislation to force the social media companies to keep people safe online.

“Social media companies have had repeated opportunities to show they can police their sites effectively. But when high profile individuals are allowed to keep their platforms after spreading vile anti-Semitic abuse – and then doubling down when challenged – it’s clear that self-regulation isn’t working.

“The government promised this bill more than a year ago – it’s high time they showed they take the safety of those who use the internet as seriously as the needs and influence of the big tech firms.”