Online hate has “poisoned public life”, the Culture Secretary has said, as she pledged to bring in sweeping reforms in memory of colleague Sir David Amess.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Nadine Dorries said the killing of Tory MP Sir David in his constituency last week may not have been stopped by a crackdown on online abuse, but it had highlighted the threats faced by people in the public eye.
Ms Dorries revealed she had faced horrific abuse, including one person “saying they wanted to see me trapped in a burning car, and watch ‘the flames melt the flesh on my face’”.
She said the Government had been spurred to re-examine its upcoming Online Safety Bill in the light of Sir David’s death.
Ms Dorries wrote: “The police already have the powers, but social media companies need to hand over the data more quickly and rapidly remove the content themselves. Finally, this Bill will force platforms to stop amplifying hateful content via their algorithms.
“And here’s the bottom line. If social media companies fail in any of those duties, they’ll face a financial hammer blow. Ofcom will be able to fine them up to 10% of their annual global turnover.
“But big tech can – and must – do more right now. These are some of the most technologically sophisticated, wealthiest companies in the world. They have the tools to tackle hatred. Too many times, they’ve jeopardised people for profit.
“Enough is enough. Social media companies have no excuses. And once this Bill passes through Parliament, they will have no choice.”
Twitter’s UK boss said the Online Safety Bill needs more clarity.
Katy Minshall, head of UK public policy for the social media network, told the BBC fines would create an “almost existential” threat.
She told the BBC’s Westminster Hour programme the Bill would hand Ms Dorries “unusual powers” to change regulator Ofcom’s code of practice that would be used to regulate the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
She said the Bill had posed important questions such as “how do we define legal but harmful content” and “what sorts of exemptions should we make for journalistic content or content of democratic importance”.
Ms Minshall said: “These are questions that Parliament needs to answer,” and added that banning anonymity online would “fail to deal with the problems of online abuse”.
Earlier this week, Boris Johnson insisted new internet safety laws will impose “criminal sanctions with tough sentences” on firms allowing “foul content” on their platforms.
Mr Dorries said: “If you’re in the public eye, and particularly if you’re a woman, death threats and online abuse are the backdrop to your daily life. It’s a dark, foreboding cloud that follows you everywhere you go.
“David’s death has brought into sharp relief the danger that MPs face on a near-constant basis.
“David was just doing his job and his death was an attack on democracy.
“While our efforts to introduce legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online might not have changed what happened last week, the heinous events have highlighted two awful facts. The online arena remains the home of disgusting, often anonymous abuse, and a place where people are radicalised.”
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