Online Harms - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:55 pm on 8th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench 5:55 pm, 8th April 2019

My Lords, I too welcome this White Paper. We have heard it heralded from the Front Bench week after week, and it is great to see it arrive. However, it deals with only part of the problem. That is, it is a paper about the private harms that may be done—for example, by cyberbullying, fraud or extremist material. All of those matter, but there is another set of harms: harms to public goods, democracy, culture and the standards of the media. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the other place recently had an interesting report on disinformation and fake news which discussed some of those harms—including those which I can loosely indicate by referring to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

We are beginning to understand that there are people campaigning within democracies that our regulation cannot reach. The electoral commissioner cannot reach those harms. Is the proposal to reach those harms as well, or is that for another day? I fear that if we do not deal with those harms relatively soon, we will regret it. Political campaigning may be undertaken not only by legitimate, registered political parties and individuals, but also by non-citizens, other states, businesses and the security apparatuses of other states. I believe these public, online harms to democracy should be of the utmost concern to us, but they are little discussed in this White Paper.