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We cannot afford yet another delay to the Online Safety Bill

We cannot afford yet another delay to the Online Safety Bill

(Alamy)

4 min read

As Rishi Sunak starts his second week as Prime Minister, we estimate more than 800 sex offences against children online will likely have been reported to police in England and Wales since he walked into No 10.

And just weeks after a coroner concluded that social media contributed to the tragic death of Molly Russell, sites are still awash with the type of dangerous content that was bombarding a vulnerable 13-year-old girl in the privacy of her bedroom.

Social media representatives from Meta and Pinterest had to give evidence under oath for the first time at the inquest, but no executive has been held responsible for the harm caused by their platforms.

The Online Safety Bill which has been four years in the making, hangs in parliamentary purgatory

We still have no answer to why in the United Kingdom, Meta platforms are used in two fifths of grooming and child abuse image offences where platforms are recorded.

Meta is not alone. NSPCC research found at the last count that more than 70 different apps and games were being used by offenders to contact and abuse children.

The scale of preventable harm and abuse being felt by families up and down the UK because of a failure to design basic safety into the sites where children spend so much of their lives is unquestionable.

The legislation that can and must radically change this so further young lives are not ruined was due back in the House of Commons yesterday.

Instead, the Online Safety Bill which has been four years in the making, hangs in parliamentary purgatory after being delayed in July and once again last week.

The intent from Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan is welcome. She has consistently said passing a strengthened Online Safety Bill that protects children is her number one priority.

It is now crucial the bill becomes law without delay which is why almost 50,000 NSPCC campaigners have written to Rishi Sunak urging him to make that his mission.

One of them was Louise (pseudonym). Louise was groomed and sexually abused on social media from the age of 11. She told the Prime Minister that children are still not safe from grooming and sexual abuse online. 

“You can change this”, she wrote. “You have the power to stop this happening to other young people.”

The Online Safety Bill is first and foremost a child protection measure. It will put a duty of care on companies for their users and mean they would have to put measures in place to disrupt child abuse on their sites.

It will aim to stop children from being bombarded with material promoting suicide and self-harm by aggressive algorithms, and make firms act to remove intimate (but not necessarily illegal) images of children that serve as an organising tool for child sex offenders.

The need for legislation to protect children is clear, commands overwhelming support from MPs and the public and has its roots in the UK’s global leadership position in tackling harm online.

Without it, too many families continue to suffer the deep and painful wounds inflicted by online child abuse.

Online child abuse costs the economy an estimated £2bn every year but the unimaginable trauma suffered by those behind the 100 daily police reports cannot be calculated.

Freedom of speech is a precious cornerstone of our society, which is why when more and more of our future is online, the ability for everyone to engage equally and safely in digital spaces is paramount. I am confident this regulation can be delivered in way that focusses on child protection while enhancing freedom of speech and protecting privacy.

Now is the time for the new Prime Minister to see this bill over the line, keeping the promise his Party made to families that they would make the UK the safest place for a child to be online.

It is the time to tackle the avoidable harm that Molly Russell experienced and protect the children who pay the human cost of the horrifying number of child sex offences reported to police each week.

It is the time to deliver the Online Safety Bill.

 

Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive NSPCC.

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