Social media companies should face fines if they cannot demonstrate that they prevent people banned from their platforms for abusive behavior from creating new accounts, according to a report by MPs.
The House of Commons Petitions Committee has called on the government to strengthen its Online Safety Bill to better tackle abusive behaviour.
In addition to fines for companies that fail to prevent repeat offenders from returning to sites, the Committee’s report recommends that platforms be required to give users the option of linking their account to a verified ID on a voluntary.
It also calls on the government to reconsider whether police and prosecutors have the resources they need to effectively investigate and enforce the law on online abuse, including the powers needed to track down those who post anonymously.
The government’s planned Online Safety Bill proposes to introduce substantial regulation over social media and other internet platforms, including site blockings, fines and even criminal liability for senior executives companies that fail to protect users from online harm and abuse.
Two previous reports from MPs and peers have suggested the bill is not strong enough, and last month Culture Minister Chris Philp told MPs during a Commons debate at the start of the months that there were a “number of areas” where the online safety bill can be “improved significantly”.
The Petitions Committee’s latest report follows its inquiry into the issue of online abuse, which has been prompted by a number of e-petitions calling for more action on the issue, including those from the TV star -reality Bobby Norris and Katie Price.
“Online abuse is a silent threat, and this report sets out our recommendations to help tackle the enormous harm it causes and ensure perpetrators face appropriate consequences for their actions,” said committee chair Catherine McKinnell.
“The issue of banned users returning to social media platforms and continuing to send abuse was raised in Bobby Norris’ petition, which prompted our investigation.
“We have heard that social media companies must place a higher priority on preventing this type of recurrence, and the government should ensure this is part of new online safety obligations for companies.
“Even when abuse does not reach a criminal threshold, it can still have a significant impact on those who experience it, not only on their health, but also on their ability to speak freely online.
“Social media platforms should take proactive steps to create safer online spaces for everyone.”
Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, urged the government to make changes to the Online Safety Bill in the wake of the latest report.
“Today’s report details how technology companies repeatedly fail to protect users from abusive content with inaction that is having a devastating impact on vulnerable groups, including children,” it said. .
“This is the third time in less than two months that a group of MPs have warned the government that the Online Safety Bill needs to be strengthened to achieve its fundamental objective of ensuring online safety.
“Ministers must now heed these calls and significantly strengthen legislation to make it fit to protect children and families from entirely preventable harm.”