Examination of Witnesses

Online Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:22 pm on 26th May 2022.

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Eva Hartshorn-Sanders and Poppy Wood gave evidence.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 2:48 pm, 26th May 2022

We will hear oral evidence first from Eva Hartshorn-Sanders, who is the head of policy at the Centre for Countering Digital Hate. We shall be joined in due course by Poppy Wood. Without further ado, I call the shadow Minister.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Q Thank you for joining us this afternoon. I have quoted a lot of the stats that the Centre for Countering Digital Hate has produced on online abuse directed at individuals with protected characteristics. In the previous panel, I mentioned that the vast majority is done via direct messaging, sometimes through end-to-end encryption on platforms. What are your concerns about this issue in the Bill? Does the Bill adequately account for tackling that form of abuse?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

That is obviously an important area. The main mechanism to look at are the complaints pathways and ensuring that when reports are made, action is taken, and that that is included in risk assessments as well. In our “Hidden Hate” report, we found that 90% of misogynist abuse, which included quite serious sexual harassment and abuse, videos and death threats, was not acted on by Instagram, even when we used the current pathways for the complainant. This is an important area.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Q Part of the issue is that the regulated service providers have to rely heavily on the use of AI to facilitate monitoring and take down problematic content in order to comply with the Bill, but, as several stakeholders have said, algorithmic moderation is inadequate for recognising the nuance and subtleties, in order to actively and effectively take down the content. What more would you like to see in the Bill to counteract that issue?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

There has to be human intervention as part of that process as well. Whatever system is in place—the relationship between Ofcom and the provider is going to vary by platform and by search provider too, possibly—if you are making those sorts of decisions, you want to have it adequately resourced. That is what we are saying is not happening at the moment, partly because there is not yet the motivation or the incentives there for them to be doing any differently. They are doing the minimum; what they say they are going to do often comes out through press releases or policies, and then it is not followed through.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

You mentioned that there is not adequate transparency and openness on how these things work. What systems would you like to see the Bill put the place to ensure the transparency, independence and accountability of Ofcom, but also the transparency and openness of the tech companies and the platforms that we are seeking to regulate?Q

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

I think there is a role for independent civil society, working with the regulator, to hold those companies to account and to be accessing that data in a way that can be used to show how they are performing against their responsibilities under the Bill. I know Poppy from Reset.tech will talk to this area a bit more. We have just had a global summit on online harms and misinformation. Part of the outcome of that was looking at a framework for how we evaluate global efforts at legislation and the transparency of algorithms and rules enforcement, and the economics that are driving online harms and misinformation. That is an essential part of ensuring that we are dealing with the problems.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

May I say, for the sake of the record, that we have now been joined by Poppy Wood, the UK director of Reset.tech? Ms Wood, you are not late; we were early. We are trying to make as much use as we can of the limited time. I started with the Opposition Front Bencher. If you have any questions for Poppy Wood, go ahead.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I do—thank you, Sir Roger. I am not sure if you managed to hear any of that interaction, Poppy. Do you have any comments to make on those points before I move on?Q

Poppy Wood:

I did not hear your first set of questions—I apologise.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

That is fine. I will just ask you what you think the impact is of the decision to remove misinformation and disinformation from the scope of the Bill, particularly in relation to state actors?

Poppy Wood:

Thank you very much, and thank you for having me here today. There is a big question about how this Bill tackles co-ordinated state actors—co-ordinated campaigns of disinformation and misinformation. It is a real gap in the Bill. I know you have heard from Full Fact and other groups about how the Bill can be beefed up for mis- and disinformation. There is the advisory committee, but I think that is pretty weak, really. The Bill is sort of saying that disinformation is a question that we need to explore down the line, but we all know that it is a really live issue that needs to be tackled now.

First of all, I would make sure that civil society organisations are on that committee and that its report is brought forward in months, not years, but then I would say there is just a real gap about co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour, which is not referenced. We are seeing a lot of it live with everything that is going on with Russia and Ukraine, but it has been going on for years. I would certainly encourage the Government to think about how we account for some of the risks that the platforms promote around co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour, particularly with regard to disinformation and misinformation.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

We have heard a lot from other witnesses about the ability of Ofcom to regulate the smaller high-risk platforms. What is your view on thatQ ?

Poppy Wood:

Absolutely, and I agree with what was said earlier, particularly by groups such as HOPE not hate and Antisemitism Policy Trust. There are a few ways to do this, I suppose. As we are saying, at the moment the small but high-risk platforms just are not really caught in the current categorisation of platforms. Of course, the categories are not even defined in the Bill; we know there are going to be categories, but we do not know what they will be.

I suppose there are different ways to do this. One is to go back to where this Bill started, which was not to have categories of companies at all but to have a proportionality regime, where depending on your size and your functionality you had to account for your risk profile, and it was not set by Ofcom or the Government. The problem of having very prescriptive categories—category 1, category 2A, category 2B—is, of course, that it becomes a race to the bottom in getting out of these regulations without having to comply with the most onerous ones, which of course are category 1.

There is also a real question about search. I do not know how they have wriggled out of this, but it was one of the biggest surprises in the latest version of the Bill that search had been given its own category without many obligations around adult harm. I think that really should be revisited. All the examples that were given earlier today are absolutely the sort of thing we should be worrying about. If someone can google a tractor in their workplace and end up looking at a dark part of the web, there is a problem with search, and I think we should be thinking about those sorts of things. Apologies for the example, but it is a really, really live one and it is a really good thing to think about how search promotes these kinds of content.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Q I want to touch on something we have not talked about a lot today, which is enforcement and the enforcement powers in the Bill. There are significant enforcement powers in the Bill, but do our two witnesses here which those enforcement powers are enough. Eva?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

Are you specifically asking about the takedown notices and the takedown powers?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

No, I am talking about director liability and the enforcement on companies.

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

Right. I think the responsibility on both companies and senior executives is a really critical part of this legislative package. You see how adding liability alongside financial penalties works in health and safety legislation and corporate manslaughter provisions to motivate changes not only within company culture but in the work that they are doing and what they factor into the decisions they make. It is a critical part of this Bill.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Q Is there more that could or should be added to the Bill?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

I think it is a good start. I would want to have another look at it to say more. There is a review after two years, as set out in clause 149, so there could be a factor that gets added into that, as well.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Poppy, do you have anything to add?

Poppy Wood:

Yes. I think we could go much further on enforcement. One of the things that I really worry about is that if the platforms make an inadequate risk assessment, there is not much that Ofcom can do about it. I would really like to see powers for Ofcom to say, “Okay, your risk assessment hasn’t met the expectations that we put on you, so we want you to redo it. And while you’re redoing it, we may want to put you into a different category, because we may want to have higher expectations of you.” That way, you cannot start a process where you intentionally make an inadequate risk assessment in order to extend the process of you being properly regulated. I think that is one thing.

Then, going back to the point about categorisation, I think that Ofcom should be given the power to recategorise companies quickly. If you think that a category 2B company should be a category 1 company, what powers are there for Ofcom to do that? I do not believe that there are any for Ofcom to do that, certainly not to do it quickly, and when we are talking about small but high-risk companies, that is absolutely the sort of thing that Ofcom should be able to do—to say, “Okay, you are now acting like a category 1 company.” TikTok, Snapchat—they all started really small and they accelerated their growth in ways that we just could not have predicted. When we are talking about the emergence of new platforms, we need to have a regulator that can account for the scale and the pace at which these platforms grow. I think that is a place where I would really like to see Ofcom focusing.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Q I have a question for the Centre for Countering Digital Hate. I raised some of your stats on reporting with Meta—Facebook—when they were here, such as the number of reports that are responded to. They basically said, “This is not true any more; we’re now great”—I am paraphrasing, obviously. Could you please let us know whether the reporting mechanism on major platforms—particularly Facebook—is now completely fixed, or whether there are still lots of issues with it?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

There are still lots of issues with it. We recently put a report out on anti-Muslim hatred and found that 90% of the content that was reported was not acted on. That was collectively, across the platforms, so it was not just Facebook. Facebook was in the mid-90s, I think, in terms of its failure to act on that type of harmful content. There are absolutely still issues with it, and this regulation—this law—is absolutely necessary to drive change and the investment that needs to go into it.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Q I have a quick question for Poppy, although I am afraid it might not have a quick answer. How much of an impact does the algorithmic categorisation of things—the way we are fed things on social media—have on our lives? Do you think it is steering people towards more and more extreme content? Or is it a totally capitalist thing that is not harmful, and just something that sells us things every so often?

Poppy Wood:

I think it goes without saying that the algorithmic promotion of harmful content is one of the biggest issues with the model we have in big tech today. It is not the individual pieces of content in themselves that are harmful. It is the scale over which they spread out—the amplification of them; the targeting; the bombardment.

If I see one piece of flat-earth content, that does not necessarily harm me; I probably have other counter-narratives that I can explore. What we see online, though, is that if you engage with that one piece of flat-earth content, you are quickly recommended something else—“You like this, so you’ll probably like that”—and then, before you know it, you are in a QAnon conspiracy theory group. I would absolutely say that the algorithmic promotion of harmful content is a real problem. Does that mean we ban algorithms? No. That would be like turning off the internet. You have to go back and ask, how it is that that kind of harm is promoted, and how is it that we are exploiting human behaviour? It is human nature to be drawn to things that we cannot resist. That is something that the Bill really needs to look at.

In the risk assessments, particularly for illegal content and content that is harmful to children, it explicitly references algorithmic promotion and the business model. Those are two really big things that you touched on in the question. The business model is to make money from our time spent online, and the algorithms serve us up the content that keeps us online. That is accounted for very well in the risk assessments. Some of the things around the safety duties do not necessarily account for that, just because you are risk assessing for it. Say you identify that our business model does promote harmful content; under the Bill, you do not have to mitigate that all the time. So I think there are questions around whether the Bill could go further on algorithmic promotion.

If you do not mind, I will quickly come back to the question you asked Eva about reporting. We just do not know whether reporting is really working because we cannot see—we cannot shine a light into these platforms. We just have to rely on them to tell us, “Hey, reporting is working. This many pieces of content were reported and this many pieces of content were taken down.” We just do not know if that is true. A big part of this regime has to be about transparency. It already is, but I think it could go much further in enabling Ofcom, Government, civil society and researchers to say, “Hey, you said that many pieces of content were reported and that many pieces of content were taken down, but actually, it turns out that none of that is true. We are still seeing that stuff online.” Transparency is a big part of the solution around understanding whether reporting is really working and whether the platforms are true to their word.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

May I ask a follow-up question on that? Poppy, you referenced risk assessments. Would you value and welcome more specifics around quality standards and minimum requirements on risk assessments? My main question is about privacy and anonymity, but I would appreciate a word on risk assessments.Q

Poppy Wood:

Absolutely. I know that children’s groups are asking for minimum standards for children’s risk assessments, but I agree that they should be across the board. We should be looking for the best standards that we can get. I really do not trust the platforms to do these things properly, so I think we have to be really tough with them about what we expect from them. We should absolutely see minimum standards.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

Q Do you think Ofcom has the resources that it would require to push for an independent audit of risk assessments?

Poppy Wood:

Obviously Ofcom is growing. The team at Ofcom are fantastic, and they are hiring really top talent. They have their work cut out in dealing with some of the biggest and wealthiest companies in the world. They need to be able to rely on civil society and researchers to help them to do their job, but I do not think we should rule out Ofcom being able to do these things. We should give it the powers to do them, because that makes this regime have proper teeth. If we find down the line that, actually, it is too much, that is for the Government to sort out with resourcing, or for civil society and researchers to support, but I would not want to rule things out of the Bill just because we think Ofcom cannot do them.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

Q What are your thoughts on the balance between privacy and anonymity?

Poppy Wood:

Of course, the Bill has quite a unique provision for looking at anonymity online. We have done a big comparison of online safety regulations across the world, and nobody is looking at anonymity in the same way as the UK. It is novel, and with that comes risk. Let us remember that anonymity is a harm reduction mechanism. For lots of people in authoritarian regimes, and even for those in the UK who are survivors of domestic abuse or who want to explore their sexuality, anonymity is a really powerful tool for reducing harm, so we need to remember that when we are talking about anonymity online.

One of my worries about the anonymity agenda in the Bill is that it sounds really good and will resonate really well with the public, but it is very easy to get around, and it would be easy to oversell it as a silver bullet for online harm. VPNs exist so that you can be anonymous. They will continue to exist, and people will get around the rules, so we need to be really careful with the messaging on what the clauses on anonymity really do. I would say that the whole regime should be a privacy-first regime. There is much more that the regime can do on privacy. With age verification, it should be privacy first, and anonymity should be privacy first.

I also have some concerns about the watering down of privacy protections from the draft version of the Bill. I think the language was “duty to account for the right to privacy”, or something, and that right-to-privacy language has been taken out. The Bill could do more on privacy, remembering that anonymity is a harm-reducing tool.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

Q Eva, there is just one reference to anonymity in the Bill currently. Do you think there is an opportunity to express a fuller, more settled opinion and potentially expand on that juxtaposition?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

I heard the advice that the representative of the Information Commissioner’s Office gave earlier—he feels that the balance is right at the moment. It is important to incorporate freedom of speech and privacy within this framework in a democratic country. I do not think we need to add anything more than that.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

Q Thank you to the witnesses for joining us this afternoon. May I ask for your views on the clauses on journalistic content exemption and democratic content exemption? Do you think that these measures are likely to be effective?

Poppy Wood:

I know you have spoken a lot about this over the past few days, but the content of democratic importance clause is a layer of the Bill that makes the Bill very complicated and hard to implement. My concern about these layers of free speech—whether it is the journalistic exemption, the news media exemption or the content of democratic importance clause—is that, as you heard from the tech companies, they just do not really know what to do with it. What we need is a Bill that can be implemented, so I would definitely err on the side of paring back the Bill so that it is easy to understand and clear. We should revisit anything that causes confusion or is obscure.

The clause on content of democratic importance is highly problematic—not just because it makes the Bill hard to implement and we are asking the platforms to decide what democratic speech is, but because I think it will become a gateway for the sorts of co-ordinated disinformation that we spoke about earlier. Covid disinformation for the past two years would easily have been a matter of public policy, and I think the platforms, because of this clause, would have said, “Well, if someone’s telling you to drink hydroxychloroquine as a cure for covid, we can’t touch that now, because it’s content of democratic importance.”

I have another example. In 2018, Facebook said that it had identified and taken down a Facebook page called “Free Scotland 2014”. In 2018—four years later—Facebook identified it. It was a Russian/Iranian-backed page that was promoting falsehoods in support of Scottish independence using fake news websites, with articles about the Queen and Prince Philip wanting to give themselves a pay rise by stealing from the poor. It was total nonsense, but that is easily content of democratic importance. Even though it was backed by fake actors—as we have said, I do not think there is anything in the Bill to preclude that at the moment, or at least to get the companies to focus on it—in 2014, that content would have been content of democratic importance, and the platforms took four years to take it down.

I think this clause would mean that that stuff became legitimate. It would be a major loophole for hate and disinformation. The best thing to do is to take that clause out completely. Clause 15(3) talks about content of democratic importance applying to speech across a diverse range of political opinion. Take that line in that subsection and put it in the freedom of expression clause—clause 19. What you then have is a really beefed-up freedom of expression clause that talks about political diversity, but you do not have layers on top of it that mean bad actors can promote hate and disinformation. I would say that is a solution, and that will make the Bill much easier to implement.

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

I think the principle behind the duty is correct and that they should consider the democratic importance of content when they are making moderation decisions, but what we know from our work is that misinformation and disinformation on social media poses a real threat to elections and democracies around the world. As an international organisation, we have studied the real harms caused by online election disinformation in countries like the US. We saw websites like The Gateway Pundit profit from Google ads to the tune of over $1 million while spreading election disinformation. That has led to real-world death threats sent to election officials and contributed to the events of 6 January. It is not something we want to see replicated in the UK.

The problem with the democratic importance duty is that it is framed negatively about preventing platforms from removing content, rather than positively about addressing content that undermines elections. That is concerning because it is the latter that has proved to be damaging in the real world. I think where we are getting to is that there should be a positive duty on platforms to act on content that is designed and intended to undermine our democracy and our elections.

To add to that, the Joint Committee on the draft Bill looked specifically at having misinformation and disinformation on elections and public health on the face of the Bill rather than leaving it to secondary legislation. That is a position that we would support. The type of harm we have seen over the last couple of years through covid is a known harm and it is one that we should be addressing. It has led to the deaths of millions of people around the world.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

Q That is really helpful; thank you. You raised the point about the abuse that was directed at election officials in America. Do you think it should almost be a stand-alone offence to send harmful or threatening communications to elected people—MPs, councillors, mayors or police and crime commissioners—or possibly even election officials, the people who are involved in the democratic process, because of the risk that that abuse and threats could have on democracy?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

Obviously abuse is unacceptable, and there have been real issues with that globally and I know in the UK from the work we have done with MPs here, including through the misogyny research. I guess this is the balance—if people have concerns about legitimate political decisions that are being made—but that is why you have an independent regulator who can assess that content.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

Q Poppy, do you have any thoughts on that?

Poppy Wood:

We are seeing people who put themselves forward in public life receiving all sorts of horrible abuse, which was cited as a big reason for women and people of colour removing themselves from public life in recent elections. My understanding is that the threatening communications offences brought in under the illegal duties will probably cover quite a lot of that. The idea that Eva just gave of an election risk assessment or something might, coupled with the threatening communications offences, mean that you are accounting for how your platform promotes that sort of hate.

One of the things that you would want to try to avoid is making better protections for politicians than for everyone else, but I think that threatening communications already covers some of that stuff. Coupled with an elections risk assessment, that would hopefully mean that there are mitigating effects on the risks identified in those risk assessments to tackle the sorts of things that you were just talking about.

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

Just to add to that, from our work on “Don’t Feed the Trolls”, we know that a lot of these hate campaigns are quite co-ordinated. There is a whole lot of supporting evidence behind that. They will often target people who raise themselves up in whatever position, whether elected or a different type. The misogyny report we have just done had a mix of women who were celebrities or just had a profile and a large Instagram following and who were, again, subject to that abuse.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

Q Should there be more in the Bill with a specific reference to violence against women and girls, abuse and threats, and misogyny?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

There are definitely parts of the Bill that could be strengthened in that area. Part of that relates to incels and how they are treated, or not, as a terrorist organisation; or how small sites might be treated under the Bill. I can elaborate on that if you like.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Q Thank you for joining us this afternoon and for giving us your evidence so far. At the beginning of your testimony, Ms Hartshorn-Sanders, I think you mentioned—I want to ensure I heard correctly—that you believe, or have evidence, that Instagram is still, even today, failing to take down 90% of inappropriate content that is flagged to it.

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

Our “Hidden Hate” report was on DMs—direct messages—that were shared by the participants in the study. One in 15 of those broke the terms and conditions that Instagram had set out related to misogynist abuse—sexual abuse. That was in the wake of the World cup, so after Instagram had done a big promotion about how great it was going to be in having policies on these issues going forward. We found that 90% of that content was not acted on when we reported it. This was not even them going out proactively to find the content and not doing anything with it; it was raised for their attention, using their systems.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Q That clearly illustrates the problem we have. Two parts of the Bill are designed to address this: first, the ability for designated user representation groups to raise super-complaints—an issue such as the one you just mentioned, a systemic issue, could be the subject of such a super-compliant to Ofcom, in this case about Instagram—and, secondly, at clause 18, the Bill imposes duties on the platforms to have proper complaints procedures, through which they have to deal with complaints properly. Do those two provisions, the super-complaints mechanism for representative groups and clause 18 on complaints procedures, go a long way towards addressing the issue that you helpfully and rightly identified?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

That will depend on transparency, as Poppy mentioned. How much of that information can be shared? We are doing research at the moment on data that is shared personally, or is publicly available through the different tools that we have. So it is strengthening access to that data.

There is this information asymmetry that happens at the moment, where big tech is able to see patterns of abuse. In some cases, as in the misogyny report, you have situations where a woman might be subject to abuse from one person over and over again. The way that is treated in the EU is that Instagram will go back and look at the last 30 historically to see the pattern of abuse that exists. They are not applying that same type of rigorousness to other jurisdictions. So it is having access to it in the audits that are able to happen. Everyone should be safe online, so this should be a safety-by-design feature that the companies have.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Q Meta claimed in evidence to the Committee on Tuesday that it gave researchers good access to its data. Do you think that is true?

Eva Hartshorn-Sanders:

I think it depends on who the researchers are. I personally do not have experience of it, but I cannot speak to that. On transparency, at the moment, the platforms generally choose what they share. They do not necessarily give you the data that you need. You can hear from my accent that I am originally from New Zealand. I know that in the wake of the Christchurch mosque terrorist attack, they were not prepared to provide the independent regulator with data on how many New Zealanders had seen the footage of the livestream, which had gone viral globally. That is inexcusable, really.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Q Ms Wood, do you want to comment on any of this before we move on?

Poppy Wood:

On the point about access to data, I do not believe that the platforms go as far as they could, or even as far as they say they do. Meta have a tool called CrowdTangle, which they use to provide access to data for certain researchers who are privileged enough to have access. That does not even include comments on posts; it is only the posts themselves. The platforms pull the rug out all the time from under researchers who are investigating things that the platforms do not like. We saw that with Laura Edelson at New York University, who they just cut off—that is one of the most famous cases. I think it is quite egregious of Meta to say that they give lots of access to data.

We know from the revelations of whistleblowers that Meta do their own internal research, and when they do not like the results, they just bury it. They might give certain researchers access to data under certain provisions, but independent researchers who want to investigate a certain emergent harm or a certain problem are not being given the sort of access that they really need to get insights that move the needle. I am afraid that I just do not believe that at all.

The Bill could go much further. A provision on access to data in clause 136 states that Ofcom has two years to issue a report on whether researchers should get access to data. I think we know that researchers should have access to data, so I would, as a bare minimum, shorten the time that Ofcom has to do that report from two years to six months. You could turn that into a question of how to give researchers access to data rather than of whether they should get it. The Digital Services Act—the EU equivalent of the Bill—goes a bit further on access to data than our Bill. One result of that might be that researchers go to the EU to get their data because they can get it sooner.

Improving the Bill’s access to data provisions is a no-brainer. It is a good thing for the Government because we will see more stuff coming out of academia, and it is a good thing for the safety tech sector, because the more research is out there, the more tools can be built to tackle online harms. I certainly call on the Government to think about whether clause 136 could go further.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Thank you. Last brief question, Minister.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Sorry, we are running out of time.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Q I appreciate that; thank you, Sir Roger. Ms Wood, you mentioned misinformation in your earlier remarks—I say “misinformation” rather than “state-sponsored disinformation”, which is a bit different. It is very difficult to define that in statute and to have an approach that does not lead to bias or to what might be construed as censorship. Do you have any particular thoughts on how misinformation could be concretely and tangibly addressed?

Poppy Wood:

It is not an easy problem to solve, for sure. What everybody is saying is that you do it in a content-neutral way, so that you are not talking about listing specific types of misinformation but about the risks that are built into your system and that need to be mitigated. This is a safety by design question. We have heard a lot about introducing more friction into the system, checking the virality threshold, and being more transparent. If you can get better on transparency, I think you will get better on misinformation.

If there is more of an obligation on the platforms to, first, do a broader risk assessment outside of the content that will be listed as priority content and, secondly, introduce some “harm reduction by design” mechanisms, through friction and stemming virality, that are not specific to certain types of misinformation, but are much more about safety by design features—if we can do that, we are part of the way there. You are not going to solve this problem straightaway, but you should have more friction in the system, be it through a code of practice or a duty somewhere to account for risk and build safer systems. It cannot be a content play; it has to be a systems play.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Thank you. I am sorry, but that brings us to the end of the time allotted to this session. Ladies, if either of you wishes to make a submission in writing in the light of what you have not answered or not been able to answer, please do. Ms Wood, Ms Hartsholm-Sanders, thank you very much indeed for joining us.