Carla Lockhart welcomes Ofcom powers to tackle online abuse

Carla Lockhart delivering her maiden speech at Westminster in January 2020.
Carla Lockhart delivering her maiden speech at Westminster in January 2020.

New powers enabling Ofcom to tackle online abuse and other harmful content have been welcomed by DUP MP Carla Lockhart.

The Upper Bann representative, who has been subjected to extremely personal abuse by anonymous social media users over a number of years, said that “self regulation has failed”.

Firms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Snapchat have repeatedly defended their own rules regarding the removal of unacceptable content, however, pressure has been building in support of government intervention.

It is not yet clear what impact any Ofcom enforcement action will have on the powerful social media companies if they are slow to act against examples of cyber-bullying, child abuse images or anyone encouraging self-harm.

“For too long the world of social media has been like an online ‘Wild West’, with no regard for what little rules exist, restricted enforcement of the inadequate rules, and an increasing culture that there is no accountability for what is said and done on these sites for either to perpetrator or the platform,” Mrs Lockhart said.

“Effectively, self regulation has failed.

“My own experience of keyboard warriors is well known. For many years I have been the target of personal attacks online, mainly by anonymous accounts but also by those who happily use their own identity safe in the knowledge that nothing will be done.

“I am far from alone in being subjected to such abuse. These people seem empowered to say things online that they wouldn’t say on the street. That culture has to end.”

The new legislation will give Ofcom the power to direct that the tech firms remove potentially harmful content without delay.

They will also be their responsibility to “minimise the risk” of such content appearing on their sites at all.

Digital Secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan said there was an awareness among social media companies that “regulation is coming”.

Mrs Lockhart said the social media companies have reacted slowly, and “falling well short” of what would be expected, in response to her own complaints.

“This complacency has to end,” she added.

“Key to the success of this move will be the sanctions that Ofcom will be able to apply. A token slap on the wrist will not be enough to protect users and it is vital that regulators are empowered with the ability to impose serious fines and penalties on social media companies.

“I will be pursuing this with the government in the coming days”.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless has also welcomed the new Ofcom powers.

He said: “For far too long the safety of children has been an inconvenience for social media companies who have left them exposed to...grooming and abuse. Tech giants will only do all that they should to stop groomers abusing children on their sites if the penalties for failure are game-changing.

“Ministers must now move urgently to get a proactive duty of care onto the statute books that gives Ofcom the powers to...impose hefty fines on rogue companies and hold named directors criminally accountable for putting children at risk.”