Online Harms director warns of ‘deeply problematic' niche social platforms

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee is told some smaller sites ‘simply will not talk to governments about anything'.

Some smaller, niche social platforms are “deeply problematic” and refuse to engage with the Government, a director behind the Online Harms measures has said.

MPs questioned policy advisers from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) about efforts to tackle disinformation around coronavirus vaccines.

Alex Davies-Jones MP asked Sarah Connolly, director of security and online harms at DCMS, whether they had considered how to tackle the problem of niche social media platforms such as Gab, 4Chan and Telegram, that she said are disproportionately spreading anti-vaccination information.

“There are platforms out there that are niche, that are small, that are deeply problematic, both in the way that they behave and the content that they have,” Ms Connolly told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation.

“Just to be crystal clear, anything that has user generated content is in scope, so they will not be exempted and if it is available in the UK, it is also in scope, so even if they’re based elsewhere.

“You are quite right that they are problematic and some of them take a view that they simply will not talk to governments about anything and others will take the view that they will talk to governments and they will seek to remove things that are clearly illegal but not issues that are sort of legal but harmful – and I would include disinformation obviously in that space.”

Online platforms that fail to protect users or remove harmful content face multimillion-pound fines and being blocked in the UK under new laws, which the Government will bring forward in an Online Safety Bill next year.

Ofcom – in its new confirmed role as regulator – will have the power to fine companies up to £18 million or 10% of global turnover, whichever is higher, for failing to abide by a duty of care to their users – particularly children and the vulnerable.

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