Draft Online Safety Bill Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:07 pm on 13th January 2022.

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Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking 3:07 pm, 13th January 2022

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend on that, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that he will include this in the legislation.

The second issue I wish to raise relates to anonymity. No one wants to undermine anonymity—we all recognise that it is crucial for whistleblowers, for victims of domestic violence or child abuse, and for others—but we do want to tackle anonymous abuse. Sadly, most of the vile abuse that appears online is anonymous, as we have seen in the spreading of disinformation, particularly in relation to the pandemic. I have seen it in my experience, and it really undermines my right to participate in democratic debate. If people paint someone online as being a terrible person, as a hypocrite or as a hateful, wicked woman, which is what they do with me, that person is then not trusted on anything and therefore their voice is shut down in the democratic debate.

What we are all after is not tackling anonymity but ensuring third party verification of the identity of people so that they can be traced if and when they put abusive content online. The proposals that came from the Law Commission, and which one of the four ex-Culture Secretaries who has worked on this issue has diligently pursued, to introduce a new offence to tackle serious online harms more effectively is very important. It is about shifting from content to the effects of the online harm.

My third point relates to director liability. All my experience in working in the field of tackling illicit finance and economic crime demonstrates to me that if we do not introduce director liability for when wrongdoing occurs in the actions of individuals associated with a company, we do not change the behaviour of those companies. Even fines of £50 million are not significant against Facebook’s gross revenue of more than £29 billion. I do not understand why we have to wait for two years to implement director liability, as it could be done immediately. I would be grateful to the Minister if he said that he will implement that.

The last thing I should say, in my final seconds, is on anonymity. I would like the Minister simply to confirm this afternoon whether he will tackle anonymous abuse and put in place the Law Commission’s proposals. When is the timeframe for that? I very much welcome the report and commend all those who worked so hard to put it together, and I hope we can make progress swiftly on a problem that is growing in British society and that is undermining, not supporting, democracy.