Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries considers plan to stop social media giants from taking down stories by recognised news outlets under new Online Safety Bill

  • Culture Secretary insists her proposed Online Safety Bill will protect journalism 
  • Ms Dorries says after it passes Facebook will no longer delete news ‘willy-nilly’ 
  • Britain’s News Media Association has welcomed her pledge to look at a full exemption for news publishers
  • Minister also warned social media bosses she will speed up criminal action against them and legislate for huge fines over any toxic content

Nadine Dorries today revealed she will consider banning tech giants such as Facebook from removing any content published by news websites to cement freedom of expression online and clamp down on Silicon Valley censorship.

The Culture Secretary insists her proposed Online Safety Bill will protect journalism by preventing social media firms deleting stories ‘willy-nilly’ after years of doing so without punishment – or recourse for recognised publishers.

Her admission that she is willing to consider coming down even harder on tech firms deleting news stories came during questioning by Lord Gilbert of Panteg, who sits on Parliament’s and Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) and today urged the minister to simply ‘tell Silicon Valley that they just cannot take down news content’.

In response Ms Dorries told Lord Gilbert she would seriously consider his recommendations, which would amount to complete publisher exemption from the Online Safety Bill after Facebook, Twitter and Google have all be accused of censoring stories from news websites they don’t like.

Lord Gilbert, a Tory life peer, also asked her to also consider ensuring these US companies are forced to pay news outlets for the content their platforms share for free while raking in tens of millions of pounds in advertising each year. Again Ms Dorries said she would consider it.

It came days after MailOnline and other British publishers accused Google of using ‘woke’ algorithms to bury and downgrade their original content while bumping up stories from organisations they are more sympathetic to.

Nadine Dorries (pictured today) revealed she will consider banning tech giants such as Facebook from removing any content published by news websites during questioning by Lord Gilbert of Panteg (right) who urged the minister to simply ‘tell Silicon Valley that they just cannot take down news content’

Facebook is ‘unquestionably’ making online hate worse because it is programmed to prioritise extreme content, a whistleblower warned MPs last week. 

Frances Haugen told MPs and peers that bosses at the social network were guilty of ‘negligence’ in not accepting how the workings of their algorithm were damaging society.

The American data scientist claimed the tech giant was ‘subsidising hate’ because its business model made it cheaper to run angry and divisive adverts. 

Miss Haugen on October 26 told the joint committee on the draft Online Safety Bill that it was a ‘critical moment for the UK to stand up’ and improve social media. The Bill will impose a duty of care on social media companies to protect users from harmful content and give watchdog Ofcom the power to fine them up to 10 per cent of their global turnover.

Facebook is currently battling a crisis after Miss Haugen, a former product manager at the company, leaked thousands of internal documents that revealed its inner workings.

Its founder Mark Zuckerberg has previously rejected her claims, saying her attacks on the company were ‘misrepresenting’ the work it does.

The committee highlighted how the tech giant had previously claimed it removes 97 per cent of hateful posts on the platform.

But leaked research showed its own staff estimated that it only took down posts that generated around 3 to 5 per cent of hate speech and 0.6 per cent of content that breached its rules on violence and incitement.

A Facebook spokesman said: ‘We’ve always had the commercial incentive to remove harmful content from our sites. People don’t want to see it when they use our apps and advertisers don’t want their ads next to it.’ 

Responding to the Culture Secretary’s pledge to look at a full exemption for news publishers from the scope of the Online Safety Bill during a Draft Online Safety Bill oral evidence session this morning, News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith said: ‘We welcome the commitment given by the Culture Secretary to look at a full exemption for news publishers from the scope of the Online Safety Bill, including a positive duty on platforms not to take down news publisher content.

‘We believe that a full and robust exemption from the regime is the best way to balance the need to protect freedom of speech with the laudable objectives of the legislation to crack down on online harms propagated by the platforms.

‘We look forward to working with Government on how the exemption can be most effectively drafted and implemented.’

Today Ms Dorries named Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg and warned them they could be put in the dock if Facebook and their sites including Instagram continue to share ‘toxic and hateful’ content, particularly encouraging suicide, self-harm and anorexia.

She said that she wants to accelerate the introduction of personal liability sanctions for company managers to spark a faster response to the threat of online harms – cutting it from two years after the bill is passed to three to six months.

During her evidence, the Culture Secretary also criticised Facebook’s recent company rebrand to Meta and its plans to work on the virtual world known as the metaverse, saying that while its boss Mark Zuckerberg and communications chief Nick Clegg want to ‘take off into the metaverse’ they should instead ‘stay in the real world’ because ‘you will be accountable to this Act’.

The draft Bill includes personal criminal liability sanctions for executives which can be introduced two years after the implementation of the Bill.

However, Ms Dorries said it was ‘nonsense’ to give firms two years to change, confirming she was looking at ‘three to six months’ for criminal liability to be introduced.

‘Now I believe we heard that they’re (Facebook) putting 10 or 20,000 engineers on to the metaverse – put those 10 or 20,000 engineers now on to abiding by your terms and conditions and to removing your harmful algorithms because if you don’t, this Bill will be watertight,’ she said.

‘They (social media platforms) have a chance to put that absolutely right now, why would we give them two years? Why would we give them two years to change what they can change today? Remove your harmful algorithms today and you will not be subjecting named individuals to criminal liability and prosecution’.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are trying to stop laws from being rolled out that would force their platforms to pay news publishers for content

Harmful posts such as the one above have been shared on Instagram and seen by children 

Ms Dorries said she believed the Bill was ‘possibly the most important piece of legislation to pass through Parliament’ in her time as an MP, calling it a ‘novel’ piece of legislations that was ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘extremely important’.

‘So, to the platforms, take note now – it will not be two years,’ she told the committee.

‘We are looking at truncating that to a very much shorter timeframe and that’s one of the areas as Secretary of State I want to go further in this Bill.

‘I think it’s just a nonsense that platforms have been given two years to make themselves ready for what would be criminal action.

‘They know what they’re doing now, they actually have the ability to put right what they’re doing wrong now, they have the ability now to abide by their own terms and conditions – they could remove harmful algorithms tomorrow.’

Under the current proposals, tech firms that fail to protect their users from harmful content face fines of up to 10% of their global turnover – which could run into billions of pounds for the largest platforms – as well as having access to their sites blocked.

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