Online tech giants must remove “harmful” algorithms directing young people to “suicidal chat rooms” or risk steep fines and criminal prosecution, the Culture Secretary has said.
Nadine Dorries has told social media companies to act now before the Online Safety Bill comes before MPs in the New Year.
His remarks came after Labour’s Richard Burgon highlighted the case of Joe Nihill, a 23-year-old former army cadet from Whinmoor, Leeds, who ‘committed suicide after accessing so-called forums on the suicide”.
The MP for Leeds East praised Mr Nihill’s family for leading an ‘inspirational campaign’ to ensure others do not experience a similar tragedy, adding that a ‘strong message’ must be sent to the giants of technology that “they will now have to take action to remove these suicide forums that prey on the vulnerable”.
Ms Dorries responded to the Commons: “These online platforms, these online giants, they have the ability right now today to take down these harmful algorithms that direct children and young people to suicide chat rooms.
“I’m asking them to start this work now because if they don’t, this bill will be here in the new year and then they will be subject to huge fines and possibly criminal charges.”
The legislation is expected to require the biggest tech companies, such as Meta – formerly Facebook – and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users, overseen by Ofcom as the new industry regulator.
SNP MP Owen Thompson (Midlothian) said earlier: “A Facebook whistleblower recently revealed that hateful political ads are five to ten times cheaper for customers in what is known as the subsidized hatred.
“Facebook has since banned companies from targeting ads based on users’ political beliefs, sexual orientation or religion.”
Mr Thompson noted that it was ‘the government’s job to regulate’, adding: ‘So what proposals could the government take to take account of the views of the whistleblower calling for further action to end the online hate subsidy?”
Ms Dorries replied: “The examples he has just highlighted, I am very confident that each of them will be legislated within the regulatory framework that will be given to Ofcom to regulate these online platforms once the bill will become law.”