Sir Keir Starmer calls for urgent government action to “clean up the cesspool” of online extremism.
The Labor leader has offered to work with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to quickly follow the new online safety laws.
Mr. Johnson has promised to get the first phase of the long-awaited Online safety bill through the municipalities by Christmas.
And he promised “criminal penalties with harsh sentences for those responsible for allowing this repulsive content to permeate the Internet.”
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Speaking to Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir said it’s been three years since the government promised a crackdown on online extremism and hate speech, but the proposals have yet to begin their passage into law.
“Meanwhile, the damage caused by malicious content online is worse than ever,” he told lawmakers.
He criticized “dangerous algorithms” on Facebook and Instagram and said he was shown examples of “violent Islam and far-right propaganda” on TikTok, a social media site popular with teenagers.
But he added: “Telegram has been described as the extremists’ favorite app.”
Power to fine
Telegram, which has half a billion users, is a messaging app, which also has “channels” that allow people to broadcast to an unlimited audience.
Telegram has become world famous as a favorite app for coordinating global protest movements; but he was also accused of not doing enough to eliminate extremist channels run by those involved with the so-called Islamic State group and the Capitol Hill riots.
The Hope Not Hate campaign group and the Board of Deputes of British Jewish both said the free encrypted messaging service has “facilitated and nurtured a subculture that encourages terrorists,” said Sir Keir.
Messages shown to Sir Keir by Hope Not Hate, published by anonymous Telegram users, include threats to “kill all women”, “kill politicians” and homophobic, Islamophobic and racist abuse.
Sir Keir said “tough sanctions” are needed, but the government’s proposed legislation does not include criminal sanctions against the directors of online platforms.
Johnson said the government will look at ways to “enforce” the law and “hit hard on those who irresponsibly allow dangerous and extremist content to permeate the Internet.”
He added: “What we also hope is that no matter how tough the proposals we produce, the opposition will support him.”
Regulator Ofcom would have the power to impose fines of up to £ 18 million or 10% of global profits, whichever is greater, on social media platforms that do not comply with new online safety laws.
The regulator would also be provided with lockdown services from the UK if they are deemed to present a significant risk of harm to UK citizens.
The bill also includes an option to introduce a new criminal offense for executives if further action is needed to ensure compliance, which Labor has called for.
Asked whether Johnson is now advocating criminal sanctions, a Downing Street spokesperson said the government is “alive” to the matter, adding, “We will continue to listen and work with the companies involved.”
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