Earlier today I spoke in the debate in Parliament on a motion on Regulation and Prevention of Online Harms.
My own focus was around the need for this legislation to have sufficient teeth and for clear definitions of what constitutes an online harm, which many residents have been in touch with me about.
Whilst I hear the criticism and concern that an online Harms Bill could be overreaching and damage freedom of expression, that should not stop the Government going ahead and trying to make the internet a safer place.
Some examples that have been raised with me by residents include:
- almost a quarter of children and young people who sadly lost their lives to suicide had previously searched the internet for suicide-related content;
- one in five children had reported being victims of cyber-bullying;
- social media companies not just ignoring but refusing to take down content from so-called “conversion therapy” organisations, which leads so many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to consider self-harm or even suicide;
- one in 14 adults experiencing threats to share intimate images of themselves;
- one in 10 women being threatened by an ex-partner and going on to feel suicidal;
- a higher prevalence of abuse among those with protected characteristics, be they women, religious minorities, LGBT+, black and minority ethnic or disabled people;
- the issue of distorted body image among girls; and so much more.
We have seen the unwillingness of social media companies to act, which is why further regulation is necessary in this area, but it must be backed up not only by a regulator that has the teeth to act, but by proper education on safe and proper internet use, as regulation alone will not solve the problem.
If the Government do get this right, they have the opportunity, probably a once-in-a-generation one, to make the internet a safer but no less free place to be.
You can watch my contributions to the debate above, or read the entire transcript here.