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Online Platforms: Extremist Content

Volume 655: debated on Monday 25 February 2019

8. What recent discussions he has had with online platform providers on taking down extremist content. (909394)

The Government have been clear that there should be no safe spaces online for terrorists and extremists to operate in. We work closely with industry to encourage them to develop innovative solutions to tackle extremist content, but there is still more to do. A White Paper will be published shortly setting out measures to tackle online harms, including terrorist content.

I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. I understand that his Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently met Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and was quoted as saying after the meeting that

“the UK Government wants to keep its citizens safe online”.

Mr Zuckerberg refuses to come before the House’s Select Committee. Can the Home Secretary update the House on what discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleague as a result of that meeting, particularly in relation to what will be introduced to make people safe on social media and online?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I am meeting the Culture Secretary later this afternoon, and then I will get a briefing on the meetings he has had in the US. If she will allow me, I will write to her after that. She makes an important point. It may help if I share with the House the fact that Facebook has announced that it has taken action to take down some 9.4 million pieces of Daesh and al-Qaeda content in the second quarter of 2018. That is a substantial rise on what it has achieved in the past, and most of that is due to its own technology and internal reviewers. There is still more to do, but some progress is being made.

The evidence strongly suggests that much more needs to be done to tackle this growing issue. What penalties does the Home Secretary envisage imposing on the internet giants, which have so far proved reluctant to help stamp out extreme content online?

Again, the hon. Lady raises an important point. I know that she, like other Members, has suffered from vile content being directed at her on the internet, which is unacceptable, and that is why more needs to be done. We are working closely across Government—especially my Department with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—on the online harms White Paper. I do not want to prejudge or announce now what is in that paper, but I can assure her that we are taking this issue very seriously, and if it is helpful, I am happy to meet her to discuss it further.

I urge the Secretary of State to take action. I have not had half the vile stuff that my female colleagues have had, but it is disgusting. I get threats and have had people arrested for things they have posted on my website. Can we have action now? There is a culture we have to change of people making horrible threats anonymously and disgusting stalking. Let us put an end to it now.

I very much share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment. As he pointed out, there is some action that the police and law enforcement could take today, but it is not enough. I do not think that there are enough rules and laws in place to tackle this. That is why we are working across Government to see what more needs to be done, but I very much share his concerns, and I hope he will welcome the White Paper when it is published.

Until now, the approach even of the more responsible internet companies has been that somebody else has to report something first, and then they will consider taking it down. Surely they should be proactive. If people can search for vile material and find it, why can the companies not search for it proactively and then take it down?

My right hon. Friend is right. We have seen some good examples. As I mentioned, Facebook is starting to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to track down this material and, in some cases, even prevent it from being uploaded in the first place. Given that this challenge is caused by technology—much of which we embrace—we should be using more technology to tackle it.

Campaigners against the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation have highlighted how young girls are often coerced into undergoing the procedure through using online platforms. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government’s online harms White Paper includes measures to prevent FGM victims being targeted in this way?

I would like to give my hon. Friend that assurance. This House and hon. Members across the House have done a huge amount in recent years to fight the abhorrent practice of FGM. My hon. Friend is right to highlight how the internet has been used to promote this vile practice, and I can give her the assurance that it is one of the harms being looked at in the White Paper.

Mr Speaker, you will have heard, as we all have over the weekend, of the vile extremism that has spread over the internet and has encouraged many people to join groups such as ISIS. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the opportunity has really come to change the law, and to look at how we can charge people with treason? Will he look at the espionage Bill, which is coming before this House soon, and see whether the Policy Exchange report written by me and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) could be used as an inspiration for some amendments to that law?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will know that this House recently passed the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill and made it into an Act that gives the Government some new powers on fighting terrorism. He has also raised the issue of further potential powers, including in relation to treason. I am taking these issues very seriously. We are looking at this, and I would be happy to meet him and discuss this further.

I worked with the Security Minister on what is now the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 to update our laws to deal with those who access online extremist content, but platform providers have to take responsibility too. The Home Secretary says he is concerned about it, indicates he has spoken to the tech giants about it and has promised a White Paper, but what excuse does he have for not acting now?

The Government are acting now. For example, last year I made two visits to meet the online giants in the United States. One of those was for the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which the UK Government sponsor, as the hon. Gentleman will know. It is an industry body, but it works both with the large platforms and with the small platforms. We are working with it to see what more can be done to use technology, especially with auto-detection. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support—he did support the measures in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, and I thank him and his colleagues for that—and I look forward to working with him even more closely.