Online Harms

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:18 pm on 19th November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 3:18 pm, 19th November 2020

Through this pandemic, we have seen what a saving grace the online world has proved to be to us. It is a window, and it has connected us to family and friends, and it has provided important information and services. In fact, I have worked hard to bring together different providers and trainers to close the digital divide that so disadvantages those who are not online. However, at the same time as being a saving grace, it is also a serious threat to our health and wellbeing, our security and our democracy—all of these things. I hope that, through this experience, we have now come to a place where we recognise that there is no longer this distinction between the offline and the online worlds.

That question was very much put at the trial of the man who threatened to kill me in 2017. I can assure hon. Members and all watching that it was real and it hurt. The same pain, the same suffering and the same frustration was felt by one of my constituents in 2016, where again the same question was posed: is there a difference between our online and offline experiences? She was a victim of revenge porn, a really dark and sinister crime. Her frustration and her powerlessness at not being able to bring down images that directed people from across the country to find her and rape her—and how the law did not reach her—was just something extraordinary to me. I therefore hope that that distinction is very much gone. We need a levelling up in our online and offline worlds

I want to focus on children. I applaud the work done to date and I welcome the online harms Bill to come, but unfinished business is my point in this debate. We made a commitment to introduce statutory age verification on porn websites. We supported that in 2016 and we supported it in 2017. It is still supported now. The most recent survey suggested that 83% of parents urged it as mission critical to protect their children. We know that early exposure to porn is harmful. I understand that there are technical issues, but surely these can be overcome. Other countries have shown the way, when we were previously world leading—France, for example, most recently.

More must be expected of our social media giants to maintain safe online environments, but I urge the Minister: we have the legislation, let us use it.