Rishi Sunak is facing his first defeat in the House of Commons over the online safety bill and plans to fine social media bosses rather than jailing them for failing to protect children from harmful content.
Labour has vowed to back an amendment already supported by nearly 50 Conservative MPs that would see social media company directors facing up to two years in jail if they breach restrictions.
The number of Conservative rebels and Labour support for the amendment provides a “real opportunity” to change the online safety bill said shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell.
Criminal liability is needed to “make those who are responsible for running these platforms sit up and take notice – because they might not otherwise,” said Powell.
In December the government was criticised for watering down the bill by dropping plans to ban content judged “legal but harmful” over concerns about free speech.
On Friday culture secretary Michele Donelan said she is “not ruling out” changes to the bill and will take a “sensible approach” to the ideas of rebel Tory MPs.
The Independent reports that Sunak’s government “has reached out to rebels over the weekend” to try and avoid “an embarrassing defeat in the Commons.”
Former home secretary Priti Patel and former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith are among the 48 Tory rebels who have signed the amendment that could see social media bosses and executives jailed for two years for breaking the law.
Online safety bill – Samaritans warn of risk to young people
Young people will still be at risk by graphic content of self-harm and suicide despite the online safety bill, the Samaritans charity has warned.
Its chief executive Julie Bentley told the Telegraph that such material will not reach the threshold to be classified illegal content for anyone aged over 18.
People do not stop being vulnerable just because they turn 18 and become an adult said Bentley. The Samaritans have heard for suicidal young adults who “describe how easy it was to find information to end their life online,” continued Bentley.
“That makes them more determined to commit suicide. They reported having automated emails that suggested further content for them to look at.”
It is the first time the Samaritans has commented on the online safety bill and comes after a government decision to ditch regulating legal but harmful content for adults relating to self-harm and suicide.
Commenting on the U-turn and its consequences, Bentley said: “One of the reasons we have heard that the legislation has been watered down by the Government is around issues of freedom of speech. We very much want to encourage safe and open conversations about suicide because talking about it can protect people.
“But this is not about freedom of speech. It is about protecting lives by restricting access to this content. When they are vulnerable, they are not able to protect themselves from this content.
“When people are in a vulnerable position, they are not able to make those safe choices for themselves that brings in that protection. Whereas if it wasn’t accessible to them, it would keep people safe.”