Online Harms legislation delayed until next year despite rise in offences

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Online Harms legislation delayed until next year despite rise in offences

Laws to tackle racism and hatred on the internet stalled once again despite Boris Johnson having pledged to introduce 'world-leading' legislation 'before Christmas'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Antisemitic tweets
Antisemitic tweets

Government legislation aimed at tackling online harms, including antisemitic abuse, has been delayed again – despite a huge rise in recorded offences taking place over the internet.

More than 200, 000 online crimes were recorded by police over the past year –  an increase in the 114,000 number from 2019.

Boris Johnson has pledged to introduce “world-leading” legislation to combat online harms – with former Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden promising action to protect the Jewish community who he said “routinely find themselves subjected to hateful posts and poisonous conspiracy theories on Twitter, Facebook and beyond. ”

But the government has now confirmed that the Online Safety Bill will now not be introduced into parliament until next year.

The Online Harms White Paper had first been published in April 2019 setting out a package of “online safety measures.”

In October the Prime Minister told MPs in the Commons that the Bill would be introduced to parliament “before Christmas.”

Under the proposals social media companies will have a duty of care to protect users safe from abuse. Criminal sanctions could be introduced on online media chiefs who fail to act in such instances.

A parliamentary committee has scrutinised the Bill – and last week its report called for  “major changes” to ensure it was effective.

Danny Stone, of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, who gave evidence to the committee, later said:” Anti-Jewish racism on social media is widespread. Some of it is illegal, while some is harmful, but within the law. 

“The Bill, if well designed, could have a significant impact on both. The harm needs to be addressed not where it is deployed but by the systems which should capture it upstream. ”

Confirmed the delay to the Bill, a government spokesperson said: “We are encouraging companies to take steps now and do not expect platforms to wait for the legislation.”

Labour’s Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, said: “This government is weak on tackling online crime… Ministers have promised to introduce laws to regulate the internet but they have not delivered.”

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