Amendment 10

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Allan of Hallam Lord Allan of Hallam Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health) 6:45, 25 April 2023

My Lords, I will speak to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on moderation, which I think are more important than he has given himself credit for—they go more broadly than just Wikipedia.

There is a lot of emphasis on platform moderation, but the reality is that most moderation of online content is done by users, either individually or in groups, acting as groups in the space where they operate. The typical example, which many Members of this House have experienced, is when you post something and somebody asks, “Did you mean to post that?”, and you say, “Oh gosh, no”, and then delete it. A Member in the other place has recently experienced a rather high-profile example of that through the medium of the newspaper. On a much smaller scale, it is absolutely typical that people take down content every day, either because they regret it or, quite often, because their friends, families or communities tell them that it was unwise. That is the most effective form of moderation, because it is the way that people learn to change their behaviour online, as opposed to the experience of a platform removing content, which is often experienced as the big bad hand of the platform. The person does not learn to change their behaviour, so, in some cases, it can reinforce bad behaviour.

Community moderation, not just on Wikipedia but across the internet, is an enormous public good, and the last thing that we want to do in this legislation is to discourage people from doing it. In online spaces, that is often a volunteer activity: people give up their time to try to keep a space safe and within the guidelines they have set for that space. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has touched on a really important area: in the Bill, we must be absolutely clear to those volunteers that we will not create all kinds of new legal operations and liabilities on them. These are responsible people, so, if they are advised that they will incur all kinds of legal risk when trying to comply with the Online Safety Bill, they will stop doing the moderation—and then we will all suffer.

On age-gating, we will move to a series of amendments where we will discuss age assurance, but I will say at the outset, as a teaser to those longer debates, that I have sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. He mentioned pubs—we often talk about real-world analogies. In most of the public spaces we enter in the real world, nobody does any ID checking or age checking; we take it on trust, unless and until you carry out an action, such as buying alcohol, which requires an age check.

It is legitimate to raise this question, because where we fall in this debate will depend on how we see public spaces. I see a general-purpose social network as equivalent to walking into a pub or a town square, so I do not expect to have my age and ID checked at the point at which I enter that public space. I might accept that my ID is checked at a certain point where I carry out various actions. Others will disagree and will say that the space should be checked as soon as you go into it—that is the boundary of the debate we will have across a few groups. As a liberal, I am certainly on the side that says that it is incumbent on the person wanting to impose the extra checks to justify them. We should not just assume that extra checks are cost-free and beneficial; they have a cost for us all, and it should be imposed only where there is a reasonable justification.