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MPs probe the Government’s approach to tackling harmful online content

27 July 2021

The DCMS Sub-Committee on Online Harms and Disinformation launches a new inquiry into the Government’s approach to tackling harmful online content, outlined in its draft Online Safety Bill.

The draft legislation would compel social media sites and search engines to remove harmful content such as terrorist content, child sexual exploitation and abuse and disinformation that causes individual harm.

The Sub-Committee will investigate how focus has shifted since the introduction of the Online Safety Strategy Green Paper in 2017, including concerns that the definition of harm is now too narrow and may fail to address issues such as non-state intervention in elections, racist abuse and content that contributes to self-harm and negative body image.

It will also explore key omissions of the draft Bill, such as a general duty for tech companies to deal with reasonably foreseeable harms, a focus on transparency and due process mechanisms or regulatory powers to deal with urgent security threats and how any gaps can be filled before the Bill is finalised. Another focus will be on where lessons can be learnt from international efforts to regulate big tech, such as in France, Germany and Australia.

Send us your views

Terms of Reference

The DCMS Sub-Committee is inviting written submissions by close of play Friday 3 September addressing the following areas:

  • How has the shifting focus between ‘online harms’ and ‘online safety’ influenced the development of the new regime and draft Bill?
  • Is it necessary to have an explicit definition and process for determining harm to children and adults in the Online Safety Bill, and what should it be?
  • Does the draft Bill focus enough on the ways tech companies could be encouraged to consider safety and/or the risk of harm in platform design and the systems and processes that they put in place?
  • What are the key omissions to the draft Bill, such as a general safety duty or powers to deal with urgent security threats, and (how) could they be practically included without compromising rights such as freedom of expression
  • Are there any contested inclusions, tensions or contradictions in the draft Bill that need to be more carefully considered before the final Bill is put to Parliament?
  • What are the lessons that the Government should learn when directly comparing the draft Bill to existing and proposed legislation around the world?

Chair's comment

DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP said:

“The Online Safety Bill has been long overdue, and it’s crucial that the Government now gets it right. As a Sub-Committee we look forward to conducting scrutiny work prior to legislation being introduced.

We’re seeking evidence on what the Bill doesn’t currently address and how improvements can be made to better serve users now and in the future.

We’re concerned about how the regime will respond to new dangers, which must be a priority in a fast-changing digital environment, and that critical issues such online racist abuse could fall out of scope.”

The inquiry

This inquiry by the House of Commons DCMS Sub-Committee is distinct from any work by the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, established by the House of Lords and the House of Commons on 23 July. This inquiry will take a broad approach to scrutinising the Bill, and may cover areas such as: how the changing circumstances of its introduction from the Online Safety Strategy Green Paper and Online Harms White Paper to now have shaped its development and how it will interlock with other areas of government policy.

Further information

Image: Unspalsh