Thank you for contacting me about provisions to tackle suicide and self-harm content online.
It is a tragedy that Devon has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, and I continue to work with the police, the NHS and others to ensure everything possible is being done to help people who are at risk of suicide. The internet is clearly a growing risk factor, and I agree that young people in particular must be protected from criminally abusive behaviour online.
The Online Safety Bill will introduce ground-breaking laws to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society online, particularly children. There is a balance to be struck between protecting free speech and protecting people from harmful content, but I very much agree that we must to everything possible to prevent people coming to serious harm. With that said, I note your concerns around the scope of the Bill, and its application to smaller platforms.
Under the new legislation, in-scope companies will need to remove and limit the spread of illegal content and activity online. This includes illegal content which encourages or incites suicide online, with all companies expected to take swift and effective action against such content. In addition, companies whose services have high-risk functionalities and which have the largest audiences will also be required to take action on content which is legal but which may cause harm, such as material which relates to self-harm or suicide. These companies will need to set out in clear terms and conditions what is acceptable on their services and enforce those terms and conditions consistently and transparently.
The tiered approach to the regulations seeks to protect freedom of expression and mitigate the risk of disproportionate burdens on small businesses. The Government also believes it will ensure that companies with the largest online presence are held to account, addressing the mismatch between companies’ stated safety policies and many users’ experiences online. With that said, I appreciate your concerns and I will be sure to scrutinise the Bill closely as it passes through Parliament to ensure that the right balance is struck.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.