Labour warn watered-down online safety bill ‘will allow antisemitic hate to flourish’

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Labour warn watered-down online safety bill ‘will allow antisemitic hate to flourish’

Shadow tech minister Alex Davies-Jones and Danny Stone of the Antisemitism Policy Trust urge the government not to jeopardise legislation aimed at tackling online hate, including anti-Jewish racism

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

Labour have warned that watered-down online safety legislation “will allow abuse and harassment, including antisemitic hate, to continue to flourish”.

Reports this week claim that Rishi Sunak will bring back the long-awaited online safety bill this month, but only after ordering culture secretary Michelle Donelan to make a series of amendments so as to “not limit free speech.”

The prime minister is said to want to make promised new laws, a 2019 manifesto commitment, a “priority” for his new government.

The legislation was designed to regulate the internet and social media platforms with the threat of criminal sanctions, including jail terms and fines, if they do not moderate content, especially that viewed by children.

But it is now claimed that in order to satisfy the criticisms of free speech campaigners the government is prepared to ditch the “legal but harmful” clause for adults, meaning firms would not have to make crucial decisions on what is or isn’t illegal.

These rules required social media companies to address content that is not illegal but is dangerous – including some forms of antisemitic messaging and imagery.

Shadow minister for tech, Alex Davies Jones MP, told Jewish News:“After repeatedly delaying the online safety bill and jeopardising the entire bill, the Government is now set to water it down significantly.

“Removing ‘legal but harmful’ sections will allow abuse and harassment, including antisemitic hate, to continue to flourish online.

“Not to mention the self-harm and suicide content, foreign state sponsored disinformation, revenge porn and other types of content that will remain untouched.

“The Government must urgently bring the bill back to the Commons, with strong measures to reign in the business models and algorithms of social media companies which cause serious harms.”

Alex Davies-Jones MP

Danny Stone, MBE, chief executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, has been at the forefront of calls by campaign groups for the government to implement watertight legislation that forces the tech giants to act over hate online.

He told Jewish News:”At present, the online safety bill provides some limited address for harmful but legal content. If that element of the legislation is stripped out entirely, with no alternative in place, the Bill will not be fit for purpose.

“We have put this to the Secretary of State and we hope she will consider our views favourably.

“In the meantime, the Government must be focused on getting the Bill back into parliament.

“We are in danger of it being timed out. If it is, everyone will lose – be that the Jewish community, children, or other groups. The harm online isn’t stopping, Government needs to get a move on.”

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

Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, had earlier told Times Radio in September that the online safety bill was a “priority” adding that “nothing will change in terms of online safety for children.”

But she added there “is rebalancing that needs to be done within the bill in terms of free speech.”

The bill, which needs to go back to Lords, needs to be completed by May 2023, or it will run out of time in parliament.




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