Oliver Dowden MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has briefed the Molly Rose Foundation’s Chair of Trustees, Ian Russell, about progress on the forthcoming Online Safety Bill (following the initial, April 2019 publication of an Online Harms White Paper).
Speaking to Ian on Safer Internet Day, 9th February 2021, Mr Dowden explained current DCMS thinking following the Full Government Response to the White Paper, published in December 2020. Their meeting followed previous conversations between Ian and DCMS Minister Caroline Dineage MP.
The Molly Rose Foundation submitted its own response to the Online Harms White Paper and during his February meeting with Mr Dowden Ian Russell raised a number of specific points. These included his concerns about the timescale of the proposed legislation’s introduction to parliament, as well as the potential lack of criminal sanctions for senior tech company managers over duty-of-care failures.
He also pressed the Secretary of State over data provision from social media platforms, saying it should be more accessible for official reasons such as law enforcement requests and coroners’ inquests. Ian additionally asked Mr Dowden about the availability of reliable independent research on the effects of the Internet on young people’s mental health.
Following the meeting Mr Dowden responded to the MRF with this written statement:
“I was pleased to discuss with Mr Russell our shared ambition for an internet that future generations will be able to enjoy safely.
“I assured him we are working at pace to bring forward our Online Safety Bill to usher in a new age of accountability for social media platforms. They will have to protect their users through a duty of care, with tough criminal sanctions for senior managers failing to do so.
“With these ground-breaking new regulations, and alongside the Molly Rose Foundation and others’ valuable work on suicide prevention, I am confident we will achieve that vision and give young people in the UK the best possible protections and support when online.”
The Molly Rose Foundation is pleased that the Secretary of State is working at pace to pass this legislation as soon as possible, which is vital as official statistics show an average of four school-age children die by suicide each week.
MRF also hopes that Mr Dowden may be reconsidering making criminal sanctions for senior managers an active part of the new legislation from the outset, as we believe a significant impulse such as this is required to bring about a much needed change of corporate culture at these big tech companies.
MRF fully backs the Secretary of State’s aim to give young people in the UK the best possible protections and support when online and we urge him to do this both efficiently and speedily. We also offer our support to help stop the increasing rate of suicide in the 10-24 age group, particularly among females.