Government says new online safety plans give adults the power to block antisemitism

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Government says new online safety plans give adults the power to block antisemitism

Antisemitism Policy Trust director Danny Stone welcomed amendments to long-awaited Online Safety Bill, but says the focus on 'content over systems' is 'disappointing'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Examples of far-right online antisemitism from the CST report in 2018
Examples of far-right online antisemitism from the CST report in 2018

Adult internet users will be offered greater control over online posts they do not wish to see on platforms, including those that are antisemitic, the government has announced.

Social media companies will told they must offer adults tools to help them avoid material such as that which glorifies eating disorders, racism, antisemitism or misogyny, under newly announced amendments to the long-awaited Online Safety Bill.

The government’s new proposals will go further than before to shield children and protect free speech online, it is claimed.

Any incentives for social media firms to over-remove people’s legal online content will be taken out of the legislation, it was announced ahead of the Bill’s return to parliament next week.

Firms will still need to protect children and remove content that is illegal or prohibited in their terms of service, however the Bill will no longer define specific types of legal content that companies must address.

The previous “legal but harmful” measures will be replaced with new duties which strengthen the Bill’s free speech requirements on major online platforms to make them more accountable for their policies.

Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan has confirmed she has decided to remove the harmful communications offence from the Bill to ensure the its measures are proportionate and do not unduly criminalise content that some may find offensive.

Minister Michelle Donelan

Hailing the new proposals Donelan said: “Unregulated social media has damaged our children for too long and it must end.

“I will bring a strengthened Online Safety Bill back to Parliament which will allow parents to see and act on the dangers sites pose to young people.

“It is also freed from any threat that tech firms or future governments could use the laws as a licence to censor legitimate views. ”

Danny Stone MBE, director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, which has campaigned for tough measures to stem anti-Jewish racism online, said he would “welcome” some of the changes.

But Stone added he found an “unhelpful focus on content over systems” to be “disappointing”.

The Trust had urged the government to boost transparency and accountability by giving Ofcom  new powers to make platforms publish details of action it takes.

Baroness Morgan, Danny Stone MBE and Lord Pickles at Antisemitism Policy Trust event at Tory conference

The government claims the changes will offer users a “triple shield” of protection when online: social media firms will be legally required to remove illegal content, take down material in breach of their own terms of service, and provide adults with greater choice over the content they see and engage with.

It says parents and the wider public will benefit from new changes to force tech firms to publish more information about the risks their platforms pose to children so people can see what dangers sites really hold.

Firms will be made to show how they enforce their user age limits to stop kids circumventing authentication methods and they will have to publish details of when the regulator Ofcom has taken action against them.

The first amendments have been tabled to the Bill in the Commons for Report Stage on 5 December.

Further amendments will be made at later stages of the Bill’s passage.

As well as making larger tech companies publish a summary of their risk assessments concerning the dangers their platforms pose to children, other moves to boost transparency and accountability include giving Ofcom a new power to require platforms to publish details of enforcement action it takes against them.

Another set of amendments will aim to boost protections for women and girls online by adding the criminal offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to the list of priority offences in the Bill.

Outspoken campaigner against online  antisemitism Stone added:”Some of the amendments to the Bill are welcome, and we are particularly delighted that one of the Antisemitism Policy Trust’s recommendations has been taken forward.

“Some are the result of the unhelpful focus on content over systems which is deeply disappointing.

“We want to see a regulator operating in this space according to clear parameters, without delay.

“A Bill that delivers that regulation together with enhanced consumer choice and protection is ultimately to be welcomed and viewed as the star of a long-term process.

“Parliamentary minds should now be resolutely focused in getting the Bill over the line.”

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: “Replacing the prevention of harm with an emphasis on free speech undermines the very purpose of this Bill, and will embolden abusers, COVID deniers, hoaxers, who will feel encouraged to thrive online.”

Sanjay Bhandari, chair of football anti-racism body Kick it Out, added:“Users of social media have benefitted from a right that does not exist in the real world.

“Not only do they have freedom of speech but they have the freedom to force you to hear it. People who play, watch and work in football are often the victims of such vicious trolling

“We welcome the principle of extending the user empowerment provisions in the Bill to close this loophole.

“Social media companies will need to make available technology that enables each of us to have the online experience we desire. We shall review the amendments to the Bill in detail but encourage parliamentarians to move quickly.”









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