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Conservative Parliamentarians express support for Board of Deputies’ Online Harms proposals

October 5, 2020 - Board of Deputies - Share: Twitter Facebook

Conservative Party politicians have today backed the Board of Deputies’ proposals for combating hatred online, describing them as “common sense” and calling for the proposed measures to be “expedited as quickly as we can.”

At the Board of Deputies’ first ever fringe event at Conservative Party conference, Robert Halfon MP, Victoria Atkins MP, Saqib Bhatti MP and Lord Popat – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Hindu Parliamentarians respectively – discussed potential ways to make the online sphere safer for users.

As the Board has detailed in the past, the three main proposals it believes are key to confronting Online Hate are:

1) Ensuring that any regulator appointed to oversee social media companies adopts the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism as the standard by which it will judge whether such companies are discharging their obligations around the safety of Jewish users.

2) Ensuring Social Media companies appoint a UK moderating team to moderate UK users (we believe an in-country team will be more likely to have political, cultural and linguistic context for cases than a team based elsewhere would – and will help with accountability).

3) That the German model of heavy fines for Social Media companies for failure to comply with the legislation be adopted here as well.

Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies, said: “We are grateful to our panelists – Victoria Atkins MP, Rob Halfon MP, Saqib Bhatti MP and Lord Popat – for taking the time to join us for a discussion of such an important subject.

“Online is the new frontline in the fight against antisemitism – and not just antisemitism, but misogyny, anti-Muslim hatred, homophobia and racism and bigotry against other religions, ethnicities and minority groups.

“The Conservative Party has taken an admirably strong stance on antisemitism over recent years – it was a Conservative Government in 2016 that led the world in being the first country to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism – for which we are all very grateful. Now, we ask the Government to take the same approach online as it has off-line, and make the internet a better place for us all.”

Robert Halfon, Chair of Parliament’s Education Select Committee  and MP for Harlow, supported the proposed measures from the Board of Deputies, which he described as “common sense”. Mr Halfon also stressed the need to “transform education in our country” to ensure that children are properly aware of how to deal with Online Hate, saying that such lessons “should be embedded in the national curriculum.” He also discussed the need to properly register ID with social media companies when setting up an account, as well as for social media companies to set up helplines for abuse encountered on their platforms.

Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins, MP for Louth and Horncastle who has responsibility for Safeguarding, made it clear that the Government is due to give a full response to the consultation on the Online Harms White Paper in the Autumn – a consultation which she said had received more than 2,300 responses from individuals and organisations. While being careful not to pre-empt the publication of that response, she said she would imagine that “any independent regulator will look very very carefully” at the IHRA definition. With regard to local moderating teams, she said she believed this was something social media companies should already be doing at this moment without Government regulation or requirement, describing it as “good business sense”.  The Home Office is taking a joint lead on the Online Harms Bill

Lord Popat said that the Board of Deputies’ proposals should be “expedited as quickly as we can.”

The Conservative Peer, who was born and grew up in Uganda before being expelled along with all others of Indian origin by the dictator Idi Amin, said he recalled that “the first thing the brutal dictator did was to expel the Jewish community. Within a  few months, it was us. Today it’s Jewish people [targeted], tomorrow it could be us.” He particularly identified the spread of fake news – including conspiracy theories against Jewish and other minority communities – as something which needed to be confronted.

Saqib Bhatti, MP for Meriden, said he was “absolutely behind all three recommendations”. Particularly with regard to the IHRA definition, he said that “having such a framework doesn’t mean we’re inhibiting free speech, it means we’re stopping the world of free speech being corrupted by those who seek to divide us.”

to take the same approach online as it has off-line, and make the internet a better place for us all.”

The Board of Deputies has now held its first ever events at three different Party conferences this year – Labour, Liberal Democrat and now Conservative.

Full video of these events can be found here:

Labour – https://www.facebook.com/boardofdeputies/videos/625296111689925/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

Liberal Democrat – https://www.facebook.com/boardofdeputies/videos/627724811206771/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

Conservative – https://www.facebook.com/boardofdeputies/videos/354359582425479/?epa=SEARCH_BOX