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Public Life: Intimidation

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons on 6th February 2019.

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Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

What assessment he has made of trends in the level of intimidation faced by those in public life.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

The increasing prevalence of intimidation in public life can seriously damage our democracy, which is why the Government have consulted on a new electoral offence of intimidating candidates and campaigners. We are currently analysing the contributions to the consultation, with a response due to be published soon.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

What progress is the Department making with online platform providers to ensure that they develop and implement automated techniques for content removal and address take-down times for offensive material?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

My hon. Friend makes a good point that he has made strongly before, which is to his huge credit. We have been clear that much more needs to be done to tackle online harm. Too often, online behaviour fails to meet acceptable standards, with many users powerless to address such issues. A joint Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Home Office White Paper is expected to be published in the near future and will set out legislative and non-legislative measures detailing how we can tackle online harm and set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe. We want to ensure that we do that in a fair and proper way.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar

Are the Government looking at the effects of social media intimidation on our democracy? A wide number of pieces on social media, involving both misuse of data and funding of unclear origin, are intimidating and influencing political debate in this country.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

The hon. Lady makes a good point. We are looking at exactly that, because we must ensure that people have a clear view of what is true, fair and appropriate online.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Someone came to my surgery this week and clearly made an implied threat to me, a number of Members of this House and a former Prime Minister. However, if I report any of that, I am breaching the confidentiality of the person who came to see me, so I want to know the Minister’s advice.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

I do not think that my hon. Friend would have been breaching confidentiality, because if such conversations are happening, that represents a threat that he would be well within his rights to report to the police.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I have been subjected to online intimidation. Does the Minister agree that we need to drive home the message that the secrecy of the iPhone or keyboard is not protection enough for people to spew vile, intimidatory statements and messages to anybody in public life?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. All of us in public life should call out such things when we see them. We must be clear about what is unacceptable and report it to the authorities where appropriate, so that people feel able to engage online in a proper and fair way without intimidation or abuse.