A former Conservative leader is urging Rishi Sunak to adopt a change that would allow social media bosses to “face punishment” for failing to protect children on their platform.
The Prime Minister is facing a massive backbench revolt as Tory lawmakers push to hold social media bosses criminally liable for failing to prevent minors from viewing harmful content online.
Nearly 50 rebels, including former interior minister Priti Patel and former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan-Smith, named the proposed amendment to the Online Security Bill.
Sir Iain said the current protection offered by the draft law was “weak” and urged ministers to accept the change as far as the Lords were concerned.
He said they needed more protection from children seeing “excessive pornography” and material about suicide.
It came amid a report in The Sun On Sunday that Altar and Culture Minister Michelle Donelan were “closer to a deal” with the rebels as more people joined their ranks.
Senior Tory MP Sir Bill Cash said in an article for The Daily Telegraph that the change leaders are “currently engaged in serious and constructive talks with the Secretary of State” and called for a “decisive breakthrough”.
With Labor backing the amendment, the failure to find a consensus would see the Prime Minister see his first defeat in the House of Commons if put to a vote on Tuesday at the reporting stage.
Speaking to LBC, Sir Iain said: “It is possible to do it.
“From suicide to extreme levels of child pornography and general harassment, there is all sorts of horrible, damaging crap on the internet.
“The time has come for all of us to coordinate together and make sure they don’t get away with this very loose system of de facto protecting children.”
He added: “If the government agrees with this, and I hope they agree, they’ll probably want to change that in Lords and do it to cover some of the technical bits and pieces that could go right. It could go wrong.
“I think it’s entirely possible for that to happen, and they (social media companies) shouldn’t be so big that they’re not penalized for failure.”
The former cabinet minister said criminal liability has been brought for senior social media managers elsewhere in Europe, including Ireland.
He described Dublin as having a “much tougher regime” when it comes to internet security, despite being the European headquarters for a number of major tech giants.
The riotous amendment aims to introduce a new clause in the Online Safety Act to “criminalize a user-to-service provider’s failure to comply with security duties that protect children” as outlined in the draft law.
Ms Donelan said last week that she would not “reject” such a proposal, but said she would consider the 10th Amendment Bill before returning.
In its current form, the new internet safety law will require tech companies to remove illegal material from their platforms, with a particular emphasis on protecting children from viewing harmful content.
Social media platforms and other user-generated content-based sites that break these rules will face major penalties from Ofcom, the industry’s new regulator.
But the proposed law would only hold tech bosses responsible for not providing information to the watchdog.
Children’s charity NSPCC and parents of children who took their own lives after viewing harmful content supported the change to expand this responsibility.
Molly Russell was 14 when she committed suicide in 2017 after seeing harmful material on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide.
His father, Ian Russell, said incorporating senior executive responsibility into the bill is a way to “focus the minds of tech bosses to ensure their platforms are safe online spaces for kids.”