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UK’s top digital minister vows ‘tougher and stronger’ Online Safety Bill

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LONDON — Britain’s forthcoming Online Safety Bill will be “much tougher and stronger” in protecting against abuse and harassment, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has promised.

Dorries, who recently became responsible for the U.K.’s flagship content moderation bill, said the draft legislation was in a “different place” since a revamped ministerial team arrived in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) eight weeks ago.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson either moved or sacked all his digital ministers in a reshuffle in May, moving Dorries, a former health minister, to lead DCMS.

“I don’t think the bill in the form that it was, the draft form, would have been something that I would have wanted to take to parliament,” she told MPs on the Commons digital committee.

The bill will impose a legal duty of care on big tech companies to protect users from both illegal and legal but harmful content. They will face big fines if they fail to comply.

Dorries told lawmakers she had sought to beef up measures around “protecting children and young people,” as well as efforts to tackle so-called social media “pile-ons,” abuse and harassment which is often focused on women.

“I’m probably the only secretary of state who is as aware of that — totally aware of that — having been subjected to it myself,” Dorries said.

And she added: “The online platforms have the ability to stop that now. They just choose not to. This bill will ensure that they do.”

Dorries was also pressed on the timeline for the bill, and admitted fulfilling Johnson’s promise of a second reading in the House of Commons by Christmas will be “impossible” if legislators are going to “do justice” to a joint parliamentary committee which is due to make recommendations about the law next month. She said her objective is therefore to bring the bill before MPs in March.

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