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New laws to tackle internet’s ‘wild west’ will be drawn up – Culture Secretary

Proposals were outlined by the Government last year on imposing an industry-wide levy on social media firms.

New laws will be introduced to tackle the internet’s “wild west” that will make Britain the “safest place in the world” to be online, the Culture Secretary has said.

Work with social media companies to protect users has seen some positive steps taken but the performance of the industry overall has been mixed, according to Matt Hancock.

Proposals were outlined by the Government last year on imposing an industry-wide levy on social media firms like Facebook and Twitter to fund measures tackling online harm.

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Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock (David Parry/PA)

It is understood the move will be subject to a further round of consultation with the sector and charities before any decision is made on pushing ahead with it.

A new code of practice to tackle bullying, intimidating or humiliating online content and a regular internet safety transparency report to keep tabs on online abuse could be included in new legislation.

Mr Hancock said: “Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better.

“At the same time I have been clear that we have to address the wild west elements of the internet through legislation, in a way that supports innovation. We strongly support technology companies to start up and grow, and we want to work with them to keep our citizens safe.

“People increasingly live their lives through online platforms so it’s more important than ever that people are safe and parents can have confidence they can keep their children from harm.

“The measures we’re taking forward today will help make sure children are protected online and balance the need for safety with the great freedoms the internet brings just as we have to strike this balance offline.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office are  jointly working on a white paper that is expected to be published in the autumn.

A consultation carried out following the Internet Safety Green Paper in October found users felt powerless to deal with online safety concerns, with four in ten experiencing abuse online and 60% witnessing inappropriate content.

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Home Secretary Sajid Javid (PA)

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Criminals are using the internet to further their exploitation and abuse of children while terrorists are abusing these platforms to recruit people and incite atrocities.

“We need to protect our communities from these heinous crimes and vile propaganda, and that is why this Government has been taking the lead on this issue.

“But more needs to be done and this is why we will continue to work with the companies and the public to do everything we can to stop the misuse of these platforms. Only by working together can we defeat those who seek to do us harm.”

Alex Holmes, deputy chief executive officer at young people’s charity The Diana Award, said: “We look forward to seeing government, industry, businesses, schools and the wider children and charity sector workforce continue to work together to make the internet a safer place for all.”

Barnardo’s chief executive officer Javed Khan said: “We have long seen the harm that online can bring to children’s lives, our own child sexual abuse services saw a 38% increase last year in children referred. Online can be a force for good but the ease of exploitation of children must be tackled.

“We urge government in the white paper to consider legislation that ends the era of technology self-regulation and puts children’s safety at the heart of the online world. Taking action now is vital to protect the next generation of children.”

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