The culture secretary has condemned online hate, which she said has “poisoned public life”, as she pledged to bring in sweeping legislation in memory of the late MP David Amess.
Nadine Dorries said her former Conservative colleague’s killing, just over a week ago, may not have been prevented by an online abuse crackdown but “brought into sharp relief” the threats posed to MPs and others who are in the public eye.
Writing in an impassioned article for the Daily Mail, she said she had received “truly hateful” abuse – including from a person who said they “wanted to see me trapped in a burning car, and watch ‘the flames melt the flesh on my face’”.
Citing the killing of former Labour MP Jo Cox, the racist abuse targeted at Black England footballers during the Euros and the misogynistic hatred experienced by female celebrities, she said: “Online hate has poisoned public life. It’s often unbearable. And it has to end.”
She said the online safety bill would force tech giants to identify and remove illegal content quickly, require online platforms to stop children from accessing harmful content and enforce age limits and prevent anonymous abuse.
“It will end abuse, full stop,” she said. “If it’s racist, if it’s misogynistic, if it’s antisemitic – if it’s any kind of toxic content that breaks a social media company’s terms and conditions, whether hiding behind a fake name or not, it will have to be removed.”
She also said it would force platforms to “stop amplifying hateful content” through algorithms.
If they do not, she said they would face a “financial hammer blow” with fines of up to 10% of their annual global turnover from Ofcom.
“Big tech can – and must – do more right now,” she said, adding that they too often prioritised profit over people.
“Enough is enough. Social media companies have no excuses. And once this bill passes through parliament, they will have no choice.”
But Katy Minshall, head of Twitter UK public policy, said the government’s plans needed “far more clarity” and said the draft online safety bill failed to answer key concerns.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that plans to fine companies who break the rules posed an “almost existential” threat and gave the minister “unusual powers”.
Minshall also rejected proposals to introduce stronger rules around online anonymity, as some MPs have campaigned for.
She said the bill had posed vital questions that need answering by parliament including how harmful content is defined and “what sorts of exemptions should we make for journalistic content or content of democratic importance”.
She claimed banning online anonymity would “fail to deal with the problems of online abuse.”
It comes after Boris Johnson earlier this week said new internet safety laws will impose “criminal sanctions with tough sentences” of companies that allow “foul content” on their platforms.