Sunak under pressure over online trolls as voters put web safety first

Techne UK chief executive Michela Morizzo explains this week's polls

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A new poll has revealed that voters in the UK are more concerned about internet safety than free speech by a margin of almost two to one. It comes as MPs today debate the remaining stages of the Online Harms Bill with controversy over measures which waters down the ability to police trolls on the internet.

The Techne UK poll of 1,624 voters for revealed that 58 percent put internet safety first while 32 percent prioritise free speech.

Even younger voters aged 18-to-34-year-old, who use social media more, 50 percent in favour of internet safety first.

It comes as former children’s minister Sir John Hayes will today challenge Rishi Sunak’s Government to do more about the ability for internet trolls to hide behind anonymous accounts.

He and many members of his influential Common Sense Group of Tory MPs had been pushing for an amendment which would make social media companies publishers in the event of anonymous accounts.

This would have made them liable for defamation or criminal threats in the same way that newspaper, news websites and broadcasters are liable.

He also suggested a compromise that anonymous accounts would have to register with social media companies and then their details would be available to police if they were being investigated.

Ahead of the debates today, Sir John told he would be intervening again on the issue.

He said: “The boast of social media companies was that they were going to make everyone a publisher.

“What they have succeeded in doing is making every bigot and idiot a publisher.

“Sadly many of them are able to hide behind anonymoity. They have been given a licence to bring spite into public discourse a d make it toxic.

“They have also been alowed to spread forms of extremism and we need to tackle this problem properly.”

The Government has provoked controversy by watering down some of the language in the bill because of concerns over the impact on freedom of speech.

Ministers removed the “legal but harmful” clause which tackled social media content which would not be illegal in normal society.

Free speech campaigners such as the journalist Toby Young feared that it would massively increase the policing of Tweets based on various interpretations of alleged hate crimes and make some political or religious opinions illegal.

Labour have said that were they in government they would reintroduce the clause to limit what people can say online.


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