I beg to move,
That this House
recognises the need to take urgent action to reduce and prevent online harms;
and urges the Government to bring forward the Online Harms Bill as soon as possible.
The motion stands in my name and those of Dame Diana Johnson and my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce. I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for finding time for what I hope the House will agree is an important and urgent debate. I am conscious that a great number of colleagues wish to speak and that they have limited time in which to do so, so I will be brief as I can. I know also that there are right hon. and hon. Members who wished to be here to support the motion but could not be. I mention, in particular, my hon. Friend Julian Knight, the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, who is chairing the Committee as we speak.
I hope that today’s debate will largely be about solutions, but perhaps we should begin with the scale of the problem. The term “online harms” covers many things, from child sexual exploitation to the promotion of suicide, hate speech and intimidation, disinformation perpetrated by individuals, groups and even nation states, and many other things. Those problems have increased with the growth of the internet, and they have grown even faster over recent months as the global pandemic has led to us all spending more time online.
Let me offer just two examples. First, between January and April this year, as we were all starting to learn about the covid-19 virus, there were around 80 million interactions on Facebook with websites known to promulgate disinformation on that subject. By contrast, the websites of the World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention each had around 6 million interactions. Secondly, during roughly the same period, online sex crimes recorded against children were running at more than 100 a day. The online platforms have taken some action to combat the harms I have mentioned, and I welcome that, but it is not enough, as the platforms themselves mostly recognise.