Amendment 10

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 7:00, 25 April 2023

My Lords, to go back not just to the age question, the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam, reminded us that community-led moderation is not just Wikipedia. What I tried to hint at earlier is that that is one of the most interesting, democratic aspects of the online world, which we should protect.

We often boast that we are a self-regulating House and that that makes us somehow somewhat superior to up the road—we are all so mature because we self-regulate; people do behave badly but we decide. It is a lesson in democracy that you have a self-regulating House, and there are parts of the online world that self-regulate. Unless we think that the citizens of the UK are less civilised than Members of the House of Lords, which I would refute, we should say that it is positive that there are self-moderating, self-regulating online sites. If you can say something and people can object and have a discussion about it, and things can be taken down, to me that is the way we should deal with speech that is inappropriate or wrong. The bulk of these amendments—I cannot remember how many there are now—are right.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said he could not understand why this grouping had happened, which is what I said earlier. I had gone through a number of groupings thinking: “What is that doing there? Am I missing something? Why is that in that place?” I think we will come back to the age verification debate and discussion.

One thing to note is that one of the reasons organisations such as Wikipedia would be concerned about age verification—and they are—is anonymity. It is something we have to consider. What is going to happen to anonymity? It is so important for journalists, civil liberty activists and whistleblowers. Many Wikipedia editors are anonymised, maybe because they are politically editing sites on controversial issues. Imagine being a Wikipedia editor from Russia at the moment—you would not want to have to say who you are. We will come back to it but it is important to understand that Amendment 26, and those who are saying that we should look at the question of age verification, are not doing so because they do not care about children and are not interested in protecting them. However, the dilemmas of any age-gating or age verification for adult civil liberties have to be considered. We have to worry that, because of an emphasis on checking age, some websites will decide to sanitise what they allow to be published to make it suitable for children, just in case they come across it. Again, that will have a detrimental impact on adult access to all knowledge.

These will be controversial issues, and we will come back to them, but it is good to have started the discussion.