Culture secretary

Online Safety Bill: Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries vows to crack down on tech companies – as leaders could be jailed for breaches | Scientific and technical news

The minister responsible for the new law regulating online behavior has told social media bosses to ‘remove your harmful algorithms today’ – or face swift criminal prosecution.

Nadine Dorries said she worked with officials to do the project Online security bill harder to go after tech companies that she says “have the ability to fix what they’re doing wrong now.”

Plans include accelerating controversial moves that could see tech executives face jail time.

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Boris Johnson has said the government will deliver the second reading of the Online Safety Bill by the end of this year.

Under the proposals, which are currently in draft form, tech companies would have two years after the bill’s passage to prepare for the introduction of criminal penalties.

Ms Dorries said the delay was ‘nonsense’, adding that she wanted the grace period reduced to ‘three to six months’.

She said of social media companies, “They know what they’re doing wrong.”

His deputy minister, Chris Philp, added: “The platforms have little or no respect for the protection of people…this is completely unacceptable and irresponsible.”

Ms Dorries, who was unexpectedly promoted to culture secretary by Boris Johnson in last month’s reshuffle, also confirmed that the bill would use an expanded definition of online harm, going as far as “psychological harm” caused by abuse.

The government has found the exact nature of “online harm” difficult to pin down and critics – including tech company lobbyists – say it has still not been properly defined in legislation.

The government is urged to use its upcoming online safety bill to give more powers to police and prosecutors.  File Picture
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The government is urged to use its upcoming online safety bill to give more powers to police and prosecutors. File Picture

Ms Dorries said she thought the definition was ‘pretty clear’, saying: ‘If it causes physical or psychological harm, then of course it wouldn’t be allowed.’

However, she said the concept of “societal harm”, which some called for inclusion in the bill, was “too complex” to enshrine in law.

This harsh rhetoric from ministers will worry tech companies, which have raised concerns about the details of the bill.

Twitter’s chief policy officer recently said he needed “much more clarity”, wondering if it gave ministers too much power to decide what was said online.

Britain's Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain October 27, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
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Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said of social media companies: ‘They know what they’re doing wrong’

Yet attempts by tech companies to oppose sweeping legislation have been undermined by recent revelations increasing pressure on the government to regulate big tech.

Ms Dorries, who like many MPs has been the victim of online abuse, was speaking to the same parliamentary committee which last week heard testimony from Facebook Alert launcher Frances Haugen.

Ms Haugen, who has released documents detailing the social media giant’s struggles to secure its platform, told MPs and Lords that Facebook “unquestionably escalates hate” – a claim the company vehemently denies.

Last week, Facebook has renamed itself Metaa move that many interpreted as an attempt to deflect criticism of his services, including WhatsApp and instagram.

Ms Dorries told Facebook that ‘rebranding doesn’t work’, saying: ‘When harm is done, we pursue it.’

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaves Parliament in London
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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaves Parliament in London

She said the company should instead put the 10,000 engineers who would work on “the metaverse” on stopping the damage online.

Ms. Dorries’ comments were welcomed by the NSPCC.

Its child safety online policy manager, Andy Burrows, said it sent “a clear message that tech companies will have to clean up their act and have no excuse to wait for the regulator to demand it”. .