Data Driven Futures

MPs demand role in choosing online harms regulator

Written by Hannah McGrath

A committee of MPs is calling on the UK government to commit to a six month deadline to pass a law which would monitor online electoral interference and give lawmakers new powers over an online harms regulator.

The digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee used its report into the government’s Online Harms White Paper to set out recommendations which would demand a statutory veto over the appointment of a new online harms regulator.

In April, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published a paper detailing plans to introduce a statutory duty of care for bosses of tech firms, which would include fines and sanctions.

It would be overseen by a new regulator and the paper suggested that the scheme could be funded by a levy on media companies. It proposed that broadcast regulator Ofcom could step in to oversee the system until a permanent regulator could be established.

In its final report into the issue of disinformation and fake news, the committee called for urgent government action to tackle interference in elections through viral social media campaigns.

It called for a new category of ‘digital’ spending on political campaigns, a new searchable public repository that would ensure all online political advertising material is accessible to the public, and asked for the government to acknowledge the risk posed by foreign investment in elections – for example via digital payments.

It also called on the government to acknowledge the role and power of unpaid campaigns and Facebook Groups in influencing elections and referendums, inside and outside the designated period.

The MPs also urged the government to ensure public trust in the proposed online harms regulator by giving the DCMS committee a statutory veto over the appointment and dismissal of the chief executive of the new regulator.

The committee has given the government until 24 July to respond to their calls for legislation to bring electoral law into line with digital campaigning techniques and has suggested that the government respond by the end of July to its calls for the DCMS’ role in the appointment process for a new regulator.

Damian Collins, chairman of the DCMS committee, said: “We’re calling on the government to bring in urgent legislation before the end of the year to protect our democracy against online electoral interference.

“We know that our electoral laws are not fit for purpose - political campaigns are fought online, not through the letter box and our laws need to be brought up to date with the digital age - we’ve repeatedly highlighted threats to our electoral system and it’s essential that public confidence is restored.”