‘Super committee’ created to examine draft Online Safety Bill

·3-min read
The icons of social media apps, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp, are displayed on a mobile phone screen, in London. (PA Archive)
The icons of social media apps, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp, are displayed on a mobile phone screen, in London. (PA Archive)

A new joint “super committee” of Parliament has been created to scrutinise the Government’s proposed Online Safety Bill and is calling for public views on the draft legislation.

It will be chaired by Damian Collins the former chairman of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee, who said MPs and peers would go through the Bill “line by line” to make sure it was “fit for purpose”.

The announcement comes after the Commons DCMS Committee confirmed on Tuesday it was launching a separate, new inquiry into the Government’s approach to tackling harmful online content and the Online Safety Bill.

Under the Government’s proposed legislation, online platforms such as social media sites and search engines can be punished for failing to protect their users from harmful content, with fines of up to 10% of annual global turnover among the potential penalties, with the regulation overseen by Ofcom.

This is a once in a generation piece of legislation that will update our laws for the digital age

Damian Collins, MP

But some concerns have been raised over the current scope of the draft Bill and range of harms within its scope, with some campaigners warning some types of abuse could currently be overlooked.

“The Online Safety Bill is about finally putting a legal framework around hate speech and harmful content, and ultimately holding the tech giants to account for the role their technology plays in promoting it,” Mr Collins said.

“The next step in this process is the detailed scrutiny of the draft Bill.

“This is a once in a generation piece of legislation that will update our laws for the digital age.

“We now have a super committee of MPs and peers, highly experienced in this area who will work together to go through this Bill line by line to make sure it’s fit for purpose.

“Freedom of speech is at the heart of our democracy, but so is fighting against movements that seeks to harm and dehumanise people.

“In the social media age we have not yet got that balance right, and now is the time to fix it.”

The Joint Committee on the Online Safety Bill will report its findings to the Government by December.

Unacceptable and appalling harm will continue unless the Bill is made bolder in tackling the ways in which children are groomed and abused at scale

Andy Burrows, NSPCC

Responding to its creation, Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC said: “This committee has a crucial role to play in ensuring the Online Safety Bill delivers on the welcome rhetoric to protect children from preventable abuse, but legislation needs to be more ambitious to respond to the scale of the challenge.

“Unacceptable and appalling harm will continue unless the Bill is made bolder in tackling the ways in which children are groomed and abused at scale.

“While this is a welcome step towards online safety legislation for which the NSPCC has long campaigned, it’s important there’s no further delay in getting comprehensive regulation on the statute book.”

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