Nadine Dorries hopes her Online Safety Bill will force online giants such as Facebook to act on illegal content.
Up until now, social media platforms were supposed to take down harmful and threatening content only if users previously reported it. However, the tables have turned, and now the government will expect them to proactively prevent people from being exposed if the bill passes.
The issue was raised as a result of recent racist abuse of football players, revenge porn, and cyber flashing, as well as Covid disinformation that’s been circling around for the past year.
The culture secretary warned that Mark Zuckerberg could end up behind bars if Meta fails to comply with the new online safety laws. She urges all tech giants to start making changes right now before the bill comes into force.
In her BBC Breakfast interview, Ms Dorries said: “They can start doing what they need to do to remove those harmful algorithms and to remove much of the damage that they do, particularly to young people and to society as a whole”.
The new extra priority illegal offences to be written on the face of the bill include:
- Hate crimes
- Revenge porn
- Sale of illegal drugs or weapons
- Promotion or facilitation of suicide
- People smuggling
- Sexual exploitation
Ofcom, the proposed regulator, will be able to issue fines of up to 10% of annual worldwide turnover to non-compliant sites or block them from being accessible in the UK.
When it comes to messages and communication, three new criminal offences have been added to the bill:
- “Genuinely threatening communications” — threats to rape, kill or cause financial harm. The aim is to protect celebrities and public figures who face online hate and bullying daily. People found guilty of this offence could face up to five years in prison.
- “Harmful communications” — examples include a domestic abuser sending their ex-partner pictures of their front door or car to frighten them. With this offence, the government hopes to better address forms of violence against women and girls and make it easier to prosecute online abusers. If found guilty, the defendant could get a maximum sentence of two years.
- “Knowingly false communications” — messages deliberately sent to cause harm, where the sender knows the message is not true, such as a bomb threat. Someone found guilty would face up to 51 weeks in jail.
“The government said it would make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while enshrining free speech, and that’s exactly what we are going to do”, Ms Dorries said.
“Our world-leading bill will protect children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online”.