Government to expedite Online Harms legislation

Opposition leader Keir Starmer warned that the interest offers ‘a safe space for terrorists’

Credit: Descrier/CC BY 2.0

Boris Johnson has said the government “will have criminal sanctions with tough sentences” for those who do not tackle harmful content on their platforms after Labour leader Keir Starmer said there was still a “safe space for terrorists” online.

The prime minister also welcomed calls from opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer for the government’s Online Harms legislation to be brought forward, and committed to a second reading of the bill in parliament before the end of the year.

In a subdued Prime Minister’s Questions following the killing of Conservative MP Sir David Amess last week, the Labour leader also warned that “the damage caused by harmful content online is worse than ever” as he urged the PM to bring forward the second reading of the Online Harms Bill.

“We do need to get on with this,” Starmer told the Commons on Wednesday, adding that the encrypted messaging platform Telegram has become the “app of choice for extremists”.

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“If you can believe it, as we were paying tribute to Sir David on Monday, Telegram users could access videos of murders and violent threats against politicians, the LGBT community, women, and Jews — as we were paying our respects, he said. “Some of these posts are illegal. All of them are harmful. Hope Not Hate and the Board of Deputies have said that telegram has enabled, facilitated and nurtured a subculture that cheerleads for terrorists. Tough sanctions are clearly needed. Yet under the government’s current proposals, directors of platforms failing to crack down on extremism would still not face criminal sanctions.”

Johnson said the government would “continue to look at ways in which we can toughen up” provision to tackle online hate and pledged to “come down hard on those who irresponsibly allow dangerous and extremist content to permeate the internet”.

“We will have criminal sanctions with tough sentences for those who are responsible for allow this vile content to permeate the internet,” the prime minister said. “But what we hope for also is, that no matter how tough the proposals we produce, that the opposition will support it.”

The two leaders also clashed over the tone of the PM’s questioning in the days after the death of Amess, with Starmer calling for a “collegiate spirit”.

“After the week we’ve just had I really don’t want to descend to that kind of knockabout,” he said.


Sam Trendall

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