Online Harms White Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:31 pm on 8th April 2019.

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Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 5:31 pm, 8th April 2019

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. Although it is disappointing that the White Paper was delayed, I commend the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary on the sensible and robust plans, which the Scottish National party absolutely supports. The devil will, however, be in the detail.

The extended Ofcom or the new regulator that is created will have a big and serious job on its hands. Will the Secretary of State reassure us that any regulator will be properly resourced and have the full weight of the law behind it? The protection of vulnerable children is of particular concern to many of the stakeholders and schools I have spoken to in my Livingston constituency.

The Secretary of State made some important points about people closing their social media accounts because of abuse. The reality is that online abuse has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, who face sexism and misogyny, and are readily silenced online. I am sure that he will be aware of the work of Caroline Criado Perez and her book on this issue. In a world designed for men, women and girls are being rendered invisible. That cannot continue.

Just because a regulator is appointed does not mean it will be effective. The 2008 financial crash had to happen before the Financial Conduct Authority started to regulate effectively. Any regulator, the Secretary of State says, will be paid for by the online companies. Will he say more about how that will be levied? He also mentioned that the Home Secretary will publish an interim code of practice. Will he give us a sense of when that is to happen because, as we know, it is desperately needed?

I understand—we understand—that a balance needs to be struck with free speech. The tech companies seem to take the issues of terrorism, child abuse and paedophilia a bit more seriously, but the everyday abuse of people in public life and young people, particularly girls in schools, is a serious concern. I commend to the Secretary of State “The Burning” by Laura Bates, a brilliant book that draws on Laura’s own experience of talking to students in schools. It is about a young woman who is forced to move school and country because of the vitriolic abuse that she faced online.

The Secretary of State talks of a national media literacy strategy. That is welcome. I am sure that he is aware of the SNP-led Government’s child internet safety plan, and I hope that he will co-ordinate and work closely with the Governments in Scotland and the devolved nations.

Finally, it is imperative that any new regulation or legislation addresses the funding of political advertising online. The illegal activity of the leave campaign is a dark stain on our democracy. We must ensure that our democracy is not interfered with or damaged any further. We must get this right. For the sake of the family of Molly Russell and the victims of Christchurch, we must work together across this House to ensure that social media and tech companies are properly held to account.