Iain Duncan Smith welcomes the Government’s White Paper setting out proposals to make the internet a safer place and calls on the Secretary of State to look at legal constraints to the idea that social media companies are responsible for the content on their website and also liase with the United States to identify commonality of purpose.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on producing something that clearly binds all parts of the House together. There is much to be welcomed. I want to make two quick points. First, at the heart of the problem is the business model for such businesses. Because they are so light touch and therefore bear no responsibility for what they publish, they have in a sense been able to build up companies on the cheap. Making them publishers of their content is the quickest way to achieve our No. 1 purpose, which is to break up what Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” called “cartelling”. May I direct the Secretary of State, as he looks at the legal constraints, to the idea that such businesses should be responsible, as publishers are, for the content on their websites? That would radically change everything. Has he had conversations with his counterparts in the United States to see whether there is commonality of purpose in what he requests?
The argument about whether such businesses are publishers or platforms takes up a great deal of time, and not necessarily to great purpose. It is better to ask how we can keep the focus on ensuring that online platforms take responsibility for what they do. We believe that the duty of care is the right method. It will not be sustainable any longer for online companies to say, “We have no responsibility for the harms that may appear on our platforms.” They will instead be required—by law if necessary—to look at what they can do to keep their users safe in any reasonably practicable way they can. If they do not do that, they will find that the regulator imposes sanctions upon them. That seems the right way forward.
I said earlier that it is appropriate for the United Kingdom to lead on this matter, and we should be proud that we are doing so, but I hope that other countries, including the United States, will see how we are approaching common challenges that the United States faces, too, and will seek to adopt similar proposals.