Digital Secretary says banning social media anonymity could harm 'vulnerable people who rely on it’

Oliver Dowden was responding to a question put to him by Dame Margaret Hodge, who suffers from constant online abuse


Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden has appeared to rule out banning online anonymity after weighing up the need to protect “very vulnerable people who rely on it.”

The Secretary of State was responding to a question put to him by Dame Margaret Hodge on Tuesday in the House of Commons following his statement on the Online Harms Bill.

The Labour MP last week said the government must ban online anonymity or make social media directors personally liable for defamatory posts after revealing that she receives tens of thousands of abusive tweets a month.

Welcoming the minster’s statement, Dame Margaret said: “In the past two months, Community Security Trust has identified 90,000 posts mentioning me. Most were hostile, antisemitic, misogynistic and ageist.

“Many were anonymous and, through disinformation, aimed to undermine my credibility and so silence me. I would ask the Secretary of State to think again.

“Does he not agree that anonymity on social media can no longer be universally protected, although it should be protected for groups such as whistleblowers and victims of domestic violence?

“Will he not agree that where users post illegal content or harmful abuse, social media companies should be required to collect and pass on information on the identity of the user to regulatory bodies and to the police?”

Mr Dowden, the MP for Hertsmere,  said that Dame Margaret had indeed raised a “very important” point.

But he added: “As a Member of Parliament who proudly represents a very large Jewish community, I know the challenges of antisemitism, and that has been at the front of my mind in framing this legislation.

“It is a challenging area, this point about anonymity. Of course, if there is criminal conduct that the police and law enforcement agencies are investigating, they have ways of dealing with that anonymity in order to bring criminal cases.

“The reluctance I have had, and the government have had, to introduce provision across the board is about how we lift the veil of anonymity while at the same time protecting some very vulnerable people who rely on it. But of course we will continue to keep it under review.”
Christian Wakeford, the Conservative MP, highlighted the fact that after the rapper Wiley went on an antisemitic rant on social media it took 72 hours before Twitter took any action.

Mr Wakeford said “the law should apply online as it does offline and that online platforms must do more to stop the spread of hate speech and illegal content.”

Mr Dowden said: “I have met organisations about that in framing the legislation. Most antisemitism is illegal and should be addressed through the provisions made for illegality. Beyond that, we will be setting out, as a priority, harms to be addressed through this legislation.”

On Wednesday the Board of Deputies said it welcomed the Online Harms Bill but claimed with regards to antisemitism it would “fall short” unless Ofcom adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Jewish racism.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive