Nadine Dorries: The UK must become the safest place in the world to go online

MPs must make Britain the “safest place in the world to go online” by passing duty of care laws, says Nadine Dorries in an appeal to Tory rebels.

In a joint article with Dame Rachel De Souza, the Children’s Commissioner, the Culture Secretary said it was “incumbent” on MPs to pass the legislation because of the failure of tech firms to enforce age limits on social media platforms and protect children online.

Her appeal comes on the eve of Tuesday’s historic second reading of the Online Safety Bill when some Tory MPs are expected to warn companies could allow their “woke” prejudices to stifle free speech under moves to crack down on legal but harmful content.

In an attempt to head off the Tory rebels, Ms Dorries will confirm that “woke” tech giants will be barred from “arbitrarily” removing content they regard as controversial to protect freedom of speech.

Ministers will instead draw up a list of “priority” harms to be approved by Parliament which will be the only “legal but harmful” material the firms will be required to tackle. This is expected to include exposure to self-harm, harassment, eating disorders, bullying and racist hate.

‘Harmful content’

But Ms Dorries said the bill was not about restricting freedoms – which will be enshrined in law – but safeguarding children who were being harmed by the tech giants’ algorithms that bombarded them with harmful content from suicide posts to dangerous diets playing on anorexic fears.

“The Online Safety Bill is the legislation our children have been waiting for. They and their parents have made it clear just how important it is to them,” said Ms Dorries and Dame Rachel. “Now it’s incumbent on MPs to pass the legislation and make the UK the safest place in the world to go online.” 

Praising the Telegraph’s “tireless” campaign for an online duty of care, the pair said they would no longer tolerate any excuses from the tech firms for failing to stop underaged children from being on social media – as they would face multi-million pounds if they did not block them.

“Under the bill, for the very first time, platforms will be required under law to protect children and young people from all sorts of harm, from the most abhorrent child abuse to cyberbullying to accessing pornography,” they said. 

“Those tech companies will be expected to use every possible tool to do so, including age assurance tech. Right now, platforms claim they have strict age limits for their sites and apps. 

“But ask most parents with any inkling of what their child is up to online, and they’ll tell you those age limits are rarely enforced. Under this bill, that won’t wash. Platforms will need to use technology to work out how old a user is, and limit their access to certain content.”

Tech firms that allowed under-aged children online could be liable for fines worth up to 10 per cent of their global turnover – and executives would face up to two years in jail if they fail to cooperate with the watchdog Ofcom.

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