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Photo Credit: Dominic Lipinski/ PA Wire/ PA Images
Photo Credit: Dominic Lipinski/ PA Wire/ PA Images
Photo Credit: Dominic Lipinski/ PA Wire/ PA Images
Photo Credit: Dominic Lipinski/ PA Wire/ PA Images
UK News

Fines for social media giants not enough, Christian campaigners demand more from Govt's Online Harms Bill

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian public policy charity has commended the Government for being a world leader in trying to protect internet users from harm, but has warned that it has more to do. 

James Mildred from CARE told Premier: "We've been arguing for some time now children are exposed online to a wide variety of harms, from cyberbullying to explicit content that they'll come across on social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and so on. 

"And while it's good that the Government is proposing to introduce tough new measures, and duty of care on tech companies, we need to see the draft bill and carefully scrutinise every part of it to make sure that the protections they're introducing are actually going to work."

His comments come after the Government published its full response to the Online Harms White Paper this week. 

The Government described new proposals to protect people against online harm as a "new age of accountability".

Under the planned laws, platforms which fail to remove damaging content will face multi-million pound fines and risk being blocked in the UK. Their progress will be monitored by the communications regulator Ofcom.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday: "To hold them to their responsibilities, I can also announce to the House today that major platforms will be required to publish annual transparency reports to track their progress - this could include the number of reports of harmful content received and the action taken as a result."

The proposals include punishments for non-compliant firms such as large fines of up to £18 million or 10 per cent of their global turnover - whichever is higher. 

The Government has published interim codes around how to identify, monitor and remove terrorism content and child sexual exploitation and abuse, which it says set out the actions it expects firms to begin taking now, ahead of the legislation being introduced and Ofcom publishing full codes.

Mildred told Premier CARE is extremely concerned that a strategy to protect children from online commercial pornography is missing from the proposals.

"The big concern that we have is that the Government should have introduced age verification to protect children from commercial online pornography. And in their response published yesterday to the Online Harms White Paper consultation, it was very, very vague what they're intending to do in respect to online pornography from pornographic websites. That's a big area of concern. And we'll be continuing to keep the pressure up on the Government to make sure that they take action as sooner rather than later."

CARE has long campaigned for age verification on online commercial pornography. It was included in the Digital Economy Act, passed by MPs and peers and ready for launch, but the Government dropped it last October. It instead said it was going to tackle the issue within a wide range of online harm laws.

"Realistically, what that means is that children are still being exposed to harmful, even violent, adult pornography," Mildred added. 

"They're still being exposed to that with all of the damage that does to their understanding of what constitutes genuine consent and what a healthy relationship actually looks like. And the Government is going to wait and bring in this new bill, it's going to be scrutinised by MPs, scrutinised by peers and will then go through many stages of debate. 

"And by the time it's passed, and then by the time everything in it is implemented, realistically, it's going to be another two to three years before any of the new measures are going to be enforced. And that means that children will remain exposed to online pornography."

Recent polling from CARE showed that 63 per cent respondents think age verification should be introduced now, rather than delaying it until the new Online Harms Bill.
 

Listen to Premier's interview with James Mildred here: 

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