Social media firms ‘should be fined if they don't prevent repeated abuse online'
Social media companies should face fines if they cannot demonstrate that they are stopping people banned from their platforms for abusive behaviour from setting up new accounts, a report from MPs has said.
The House of Commons Petitions Committee has called for the Government to strengthen its draft Online Safety Bill to better tackle abusive behaviour.
As well as fines for those companies which fail to stop repeat offenders returning to sites, the Committee’s report recommends that platforms should be required to give users the option to link their account to a verified form of ID on a voluntary basis.
It also calls for the Government to re-examine whether the police and prosecutors have the resources they need to effectively investigate and enforce the law on online abuse, including the powers needed to trace those who post anonymously.
The Government’s planned Online Safety Bill proposes introducing substantial regulation around social media and other internet platforms, including blocks on sites, fines and even criminal liability for senior managers at firms who fail to protect users from harm and abuse online.
Two previous reports from MPs and peers have suggested the Bill is not robust enough, and last month culture minister Chris Philp told MPs during a debate in the Commons earlier this month that there were a “number of areas” where the Online Safety Bill can be “improved substantially”.
The latest report from the Petitions Committee follows its inquiry into the issue of online abuse, which was prompted by a number of e-petitions calling for more action on the issue, including those from reality star Bobby Norris and Katie Price.
“Online abuse is a silent menace, and this report sets out our recommendations to help tackle the enormous harm it causes and ensure perpetrators face appropriate consequences for their actions,” committee chairman Catherine McKinnell said.
“The problem of banned users returning to social media platforms and continuing to send abuse was raised in Bobby Norris’ petition, which prompted our inquiry.
“We heard that social media companies need to put a higher priority on preventing this kind of repeat offending, and the Government should ensure this is part of companies’ new online safety obligations.
“Even where abuse may not reach a criminal threshold, it can still significantly impact people who receive it, including not just their health but also their ability to express themselves freely online.
“Social media platforms should be taking proactive steps to create safer online spaces for all.”
Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, urged the Government to make changes to the Online Safety Bill in the wake of the latest report.
“Today’s report sets out how tech firms are repeatedly failing to protect users from abusive content with inaction that has a devastating impact on vulnerable groups, including children,” he said.
“It is the third time in less than two months a group of MPs have warned the Government that the Online Safety Bill must be bolstered to achieve its fundamental goal of delivering safety online.
“Ministers must now listen to these calls and significantly strengthen the legislation to make it fit for the purpose of protecting children and families from entirely avoidable harm.”