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Further delay to online harms legislation ‘unjustifiable’ says DCMS Committee Chair

14 October 2020

DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight has expressed disappointment that the Government has confirmed it is delaying the publication of new legislation to tackle online harms until next year.

MPs had expressed concern to Ministers about the slow pace of legislation throughout the Committee’s inquiry into Misinformation in the COVID-19 Infodemic. In a response published today to the Committee’s Report, the Government acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic had increased reliance on the internet and highlighted the ‘importance of introducing a new regulatory regime to enable us to protect users and adapt to new challenges online.’ However it said legislation would not be ready until early next year following on from plans to publish the full consultation response to the Online Harms White Paper consultation later this year.

The Committee had called for the new online harms regulator to be named by the Government in the response, warning that a continued delay would bring into question how seriously ministers were taking this policy area, however the identity of the regulator will not be identified until the publication of the White Paper’s Full Government Response. The Committee’s Report had noted Ofcom’s track record of research and expedited work on misinformation in other areas of its remit in this time of crisis as arguments in its favour.

The Government’s response failed to address a key recommendation from MPs which called for the new regulator to be empowered to go beyond ensuring that tech companies enforce their own policies, community standards and terms of service, and instead would allow social media companies themselves decide what constituted ‘harmful but legal content’.

Chair's comment

DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP said:

“The government has accepted the evidence this committee presented to it about the unstoppable spread of online misinformation during the pandemic and the harms involved. However,  instead of acting with urgency, we’re now being told we have to wait until next year to see the legislation to tackle online harms legislation being published.

People need that protection against online harms now and further delay is unjustifiable.

We’re also disappointed that the government has failed to take this opportunity to identify the body that will be carrying out the crucial role of online harms regulator. We warned in our Report that a continued delay would bring into question the seriousness of intention in this area but once again we’re told we have to wait.”

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