Online Harms

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:59 pm on 19th November 2020.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 2:59 pm, 19th November 2020

The Prime Minister reminded us today that the first duty of Government is to protect their citizens from harm. Our children need and deserve to be kept much safer from online harm, so I urge the Government not to let the best be the enemy of the good. They committed to producing an online harms Bill to comprehensively address online harms and acknowledged that such a Bill was critically urgent, but they have failed to do so expeditiously. Specifically, the Government have failed to implement age verification, legislation on which was actually passed in part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. I urge the Government to implement age verification, and join colleagues in doing so today. We will never make the internet safe, but we can make it safer by implementing measures quickly to give children some protection from commercial pornography sites, pending the introduction of a more comprehensive Bill.

We need to do so much more to protect children from being drawn into producing material themselves. There is growing concern about self-generated indecent images of children, made when a child is tricked or coerced into sending sexual material of themselves. I commend the work of my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid, who, with the Centre for Social Justice, has launched an investigation into child sexual abuse, and I commend his op-ed in The Sun on Sunday last week. It is not often that I commend something in The Sun, but in his op-ed he highlighted the increase in livestreamed abuse in which sex offenders hire traffickers in countries such as the Philippines to find children for them to violate via a video link. I also thank the International Justice Mission for its effective work in highlighting this despicable trade and consumption, in respect of which the UK is the world’s third largest offender. As the IJM says, we need to do more than highlight this; the Government need to improve prevention, detection and prosecution.

Yes, we have made great strides as a country in detecting and removing child sexual abuse material from UK-hosted websites, but livestreamed abuse is not being detected or reported and much more needs to be done by tech companies and social media platforms to rectify the situation. Legislation must require them to act. For example, they could adopt a safety-by-design approach so that a camera cannot be flipped to face a child. Regulation of the online space is needed to ensure that companies take swift and meaningful action to detect the online sexual exploitation of children, and there must be more accountability for offenders who commit this abuse. We should not distinguish the actions of those offenders from the actions of those who prey on children in person. Every image depicts a real child being hurt in the real world. Communities of online offenders often ask for original videos and images as their price of admission, prompting further targeting and grooming of vulnerable children.

The Government need to act urgently to help better to protect vulnerable children—indeed, all children—and to promote greater awareness, including through education. Children need to know that it is not their fault and that they can talk to someone about it, so that they do not feel, as so many teachers who have talked to Childline have said, “I can’t deal with this anymore. I want to die.”