Thursday 29 July 2021 12:01 am

MPs and peers launch ‘super committee’ to scrutinise online harms laws

A joint committee of MPs and lords has been launched today to scrutinise controversial government plans to tackle online harms.

The new super committee will be tasked with seeking views on the online safety bill, which was published in draft form in May.

The bill is designed to hold tech giants such as Facebook and Google responsible for the content posted to their platforms by establishing a duty of care over users.

Companies will also face hefty fines if they fall foul of the laws, which will be enforced by media regulator Ofcom.

But the plans have sparked a backlash among campaigners who warn the crackdown could harm freedom of speech and lead to censorship by platforms.

A Lords committee last week slammed proposals to clamp down on “lawful but harmful” material and instead called for tougher enforcement of existing laws and tighter competition rules.

Former cabinet minister David Davis has previously branded the bill a “censor’s charter” and warned it will be “catastrophic” for freedom of speech.

Two parliamentary committees have also hit out at the government’s failure to include paid-for adverts in the upcoming laws.

The new joint committee, led by former culture select committee chair Damian Collins, will ask the public for views on the draft law, including comparisons with legislation in other countries and whether there is a threat to freedom of expression.

It will report its findings to the government before 10 December.

Collins has previously spoken out against tech giants such as Facebook over disinformation and fake news, calling for tougher action on online hate speech and tighter regulation of social media firms.

“The Online Safety Bill is about finally putting a legal framework around hate speech and harmful content, and ultimately holding the tech giants to account for the role their technology plays in promoting it,” he said.

“We now have a super committee of MPs and peers, highly experienced in this area who will work together to go through this Bill line by line to make sure it’s fit for purpose. Freedom of speech is at the heart of our democracy, but so is fighting against movements that seeks to harm and dehumanise people. In the social media age we have not yet got that balance right, and now is the time to fix it.”