A NEW LAW proposed by MP Lucy Powell would ban 'secret' online groups and make "administrators and moderators" of "certain online forums" explicitly responsible for content.
The Online Forums Bill, proposed under the Ten-Minute Rule, would require internet companies such as Facebook to publish information about privately run forums on its platform.
The Bill is supported by a cross-party collection of MPs, including Nicky Morgan, Bob Neill, Robert Halfron, David Lammy, Ruth Smeeth, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Anna Soubry, Luciana Berger, Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips.
The MPs claim that such a law is required because of the amount of abuse they receive in online forums, such as Twitter and Facebook, from members of the public, which is being coordinated online. Powell also claimed that secret groups spread ‘fake news' and hate.
I will shortly be presenting my Online Forums Bill in Parliament (you can watch on Parliament tv from 12.30pm if you really want!) pic.twitter.com/VNVtLXoOUo— Lucy Powell MP (@LucyMPowell) September 11, 2018
You don't "tackle hate" by stopping people having private conversations.— Big Brother Watch (@bbw1984) September 11, 2018
Lucy Powell's 10-min Rule Bill is being discussed in Parliament right now. It has support from David Lammy to Jacob Rees-Mogg. It doesn't have ours.https://t.co/ClJky0yz26
Lucy Powell is an idiot https://t.co/Hkfciv3nAN— Clarissa (@MisanthropeGirl) September 11, 2018
"It's a little bit personal but it's mainly what I've seen develop over the last couple of years. I think the power and penetration of some online forums, these closed groups of platforms like Facebook are so powerful - much more powerful than some of our national newspapers in terms of their reach and penetration - yet they have no accountability, no responsibility for what gets posted in them," claimed Powell in an interview on Sky News.
She added that they are often "set up by people who have a malign agenda who are knowingly misleading people".
"They are normalising extremism, normalising hate. We as MPs are on the receiving end of that. We know when something has been posted in one of these groups because we suddenly get loads of people coming after you on social media based on story that's completely wrong that's been posted in a group."
Introducing the Bill in Parliament on Tuesday, Powell claimed that the internet was spreading "hate, racism, misogyny, anti-semitism or misinformation, knowingly and, without any accountability, is dangerous and is having a profound effect on our society".
She continued: "Our newspapers, broadcasters and other publishers are held to high standards, yet online groups, some of which have more power and reach than newspapers, are not held to any standards, nor are they accountable. It is about time the law caught up."
Powell cited research by the charity Hope Not Hate about a racist Facebook group called the Young Right Society and an ex-Servicemen's group called Marines United, which supposedly shared nude photos of servicewomen, which were characterised by a whistleblower as revenge porn or "stalker-like".
However, the proposed Bill has been slammed by online commenters, who have accused the MPs of being both ignorant and authoritarian. Some also pointed out that such laws might also endanger their lives or privacy.
I'm part of a closed Facebook group for intersex people. The level of prejudice, discrimination, and ignorance re: intersex means it's vitally important for our group to remain closed. For many people, access to this online safe space is a life or death issue. Please rethink.— Dr. Richard Ingram 🌹☮🌈 (@ringram4mad) September 11, 2018
Government encroachment on our right to privacy is for our own good right? Of course it is.— Curtis Mann (@curtistmann) September 11, 2018
"You don't 'tackle hate' by stopping people having private conversations. Lucy Powell's 10-minute Rule Bill is being discussed in Parliament right now. It has support from David Lammy to Jacob Rees-Mogg. It doesn't have ours," tweeted over-worked pressure group Big Brother Watch.
It's also unclear exactly what is meant by 'secret online groups' and how far the law might be extended. For example, whether information about every Slack, Skype or WhatsApp group should also be published.
While the Bill is expected to fail due to a lack of Parliamentary time, it could well be adopted by the government, given the cross-party support the Bill enjoys. µ
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