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Harmful Content Online

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

4. What progress she has made on introducing legislative proposals to establish a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online. (904205)

The draft Bill was published in May 2021. Pre-legislative scrutiny is under way, but we expect the Joint Committee to report by 10 December. This scrutiny is a vital part in ensuring that the Bill delivers what we need to protect people online. I look forward to hearing the Committee’s recommendations, which we will consider fully.

A Facebook whistleblower recently revealed that hateful political ads are five to 10 times cheaper for customers in what has been referred to as subsidising hate. Facebook has since banned companies from targeting ads based on users’ political beliefs, sexual orientation or religion, but these decisions should not be left to tech billionaires who could change their mood at any time. It is the Government’s job to regulate, so what proposals can they come up with to take account of the views of the whistleblower in calling for further action to end subsidising hate online?

I take this opportunity to thank the Joint Committee for the work that it has undertaken, particularly gathering the evidence from Frances Haugen and others. We have taken a huge body of evidence. The Joint Committee is doing that very work at the moment. I am confident that every one of the examples that the hon. Gentleman has just highlighted will be legislated for in the regulatory framework, which will be given to Ofcom, to regulate those online platforms once the Bill becomes law. I appreciate his interest. I would also appreciate his input when the Bill passes through the House.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the key principle of the online safety Bill should be that offences that exist offline should be applied online—not only to those who post content with the intent of harming others, but to the platforms that host such content—and that we need to have ongoing close parliamentary scrutiny of which offences should apply and how?

This is a novel and groundbreaking Bill that will legislate in a way that has never been done before, in a new sector and a new environment. Ongoing scrutiny on a regular basis once the Bill becomes an Act will be extremely important. We will look at how we are going to manage that within the Bill.