MPs to probe Government approach to tackling online harms

MPs are to examine the Government’s approach to tackling harmful online content and its draft Online Safety Bill in a new inquiry.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Sub-Committee on Online Harms and Disinformation said it will look into concerns the draft legislation is too narrow and may fail to address a number of key issues.

Under the Government’s proposals, Ofcom will become the regulator for the sector, and platforms that fail to follow a new duty of care to protect users from harmful content will face fines of up to 10% of annual global turnover and have their site blocked.

The biggest platforms will also be expected to identify content they regard as “legal but harmful” and clearly outline how they would police it.

Concerns have been raised about the definition of harm within the draft legislation, and the committee said it wishes to examine suggestions this could mean some forms of online abuse such as election interference, self-harm and suicide content, and racist abuse could end up not being within the draft Bill’s immediate scope.

The committee said it also wants to explore “key omissions” from the draft Bill, such as powers to deal with urgent security threats.

“The Online Safety Bill has been long overdue, and it’s crucial that the Government now gets it right,” said DCMS Committee chairman Julian Knight.

“As a subcommittee we look forward to conducting scrutiny work prior to legislation being introduced.

“We’re seeking evidence on what the Bill doesn’t currently address and how improvements can be made to better serve users now and in the future.

“We’re concerned about how the regime will respond to new dangers, which must be a priority in a fast-changing digital environment, and that critical issues such as online racist abuse could fall out of scope.”