The Online Safety Bill continued its passage through parliament this week and after some considerable time and much amendment, it now commands substantial support.
The heart of the bill is about protecting children. It will make it illegal for service providers like social media companies to blindly host illegal or harmful content. I have invested quite a bit of time in it too. I was on the Online Safety Bill Committee that was tasked with scrutinising the legislation line-by-line and I clocked 50 hours doing so.
The bill will make providers responsible for the removal of content such as child sexual abuse, controlling or coercive behaviour, cyber bullying, extreme sexual violence, extreme violence against animals or people, fraud, hate crime and speech, inciting violence, illegal immigration and people smuggling, promoting or facilitating suicide, promoting self-harm and revenge porn among many others.
It will also enforce age limits and age-checking measures and help parents monitor their children's online activities.
I have previously supported two amendments to the bill that then received government support. One related to action against Tik Tok ads promoting small boat crossings. The other sought to change the corporate culture of tech platforms by introducing an element of individual criminal liability.
And online protection is an area I have been concerned with now for a decade. One of my first campaigns before the 2015 general election was about raising awareness of free wi-fi in our town that allowed children access to pornography because settings did not bar such sites.
I also supported Zach’s Law - now a bill amendment - outlawing flashing online images that trigger seizures in people with epilepsy.
It is named after Zach Eagling, who suffers from epilepsy. He was sent flashing images on social media while he took part in a charity walk around his garden in 2020 aged only nine. I got to meet him in Parliament. What a champ.
The creation of an online world is undeniably a extraordinary ‘leap’ but with it comes tremendous power for good or evil. Many have liken it to the wild west. In this light, the Online Safety Bill is an endeavour to bring in law and order.
And I have seen first hand the damage inflicted by crime online through my surgeries so this new legislation I see as vital work.