Wednesday 11 August 2021
Just before the start of the parliamentary summer recess I was elected to chair a special Joint Select Committee composed of members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, to scrutinise the Government’s proposed Online Safety Bill. The committee will hold hearings in the autumn and present its findings to the government before the 10th of December.
This new draft law proposes to put a legal framework around hate speech and harmful content and empower an independent regulator to hold the tech giants to account for their role in hosting and promoting its. Creating a legal framework around what constitutes harmful content online is extremely challenging, not least because freedom of speech is at the heart of our democracy and must be protected. This new joint parliamentary committee is charged with examining this Bill line by line to make sure it is fit for purpose and can both tackle harmful content as well as preserving people’s right to freedom of expression. However, I need your help with this work.
Our social media feeds are personalised to hold our attention by reflecting the type of content we have previously taken an interest in. One of the ways the public can help this committee is to tell us what you see on your feeds that you think might be harmful. This could be something that is recommended to you by, for example, the ‘For You’ feature on TikTok, the ‘next up’ film on YouTube, or content ranked near the top of your Facebook ‘news feed’.
Unless harmful content is reported, whether it is terrible images of self-harm, violent or extremist content or anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, it can otherwise be unknowable to regulators and governments. This is part of the problem of creating new laws in this area, that the tech companies don’t always allow independent researchers or regulators to access this content, and to understand how it spreads. So, if you see harmful content in your recommendations, take a screenshot and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The committee won’t share your identity, or any personal information, but it will help our research into this problem.
Last Saturday I attended Folkestone Invicta’s final pre-season friendly match at Cheriton Road, against Maidstone United, which resulted in an impressive 3-1 victory for the home team. It’s good to see the club in such a strong position for the start of the new campaign. I wish them an all our local sides the best for the season ahead, hopefully one that will be completed undisturbed by the coronavirus.
On Sunday along with my family, I enjoyed the Elham Food and Craft Festival, held in The Square in the village. Despite the summer rain, a good crowd came out to support the many local businesses who had taken stalls. It’s great to see events like these returning now that the lockdown restrictions have ended.
Finally, I would like to send my congratulations to all students who have received the results for their A levels and vocational qualifications this week. It has been a challenging year for all teachers, as well as for the students and their families, and I hope everyone receives the grades that fairly reflect the hard work they have put in.