OVER four fifths (81%) in the East of England want senior tech managers to be appointed and held legally responsible for stopping children being harmed by social media, new polling reveals.
The survey by YouGov also found that 67% of those with an opinion in the East of England would want senior managers prosecuted for failures that resulted in serious harm to children.
The NSPCC, which commissioned the research, said the findings show overwhelming public support for tougher enforcement measures in the Government’s Online Safety Bill.
Currently, the legislation would only hold tech bosses responsible for failing to give information to the regulator Ofcom, and not for corporate decisions that result in preventable harm or sexual abuse.
It comes as MPs are calling on the Government to amend the Bill to hold senior managers liable for children’s safety when it returns to Parliament this month (January 16th).
A number of Conservative MPs including Sir William Cash and Miriam Cates are backing the amendment which would mean tech bosses would finally be held to account if their platforms contributed to the serious harm, abuse, or death of a child.
Campaigners say the UK risks being out of step as Irish laws passed last month will hold senior tech bosses liable for online safety changes.
But they argued that making the suggested changes would cement the UK as a global authority for children’s safety online.
The move is also supported by Ruth Moss, whose daughter Sophie died by suicide after viewing harmful material on social media.
Ruth Moss said: “As far as I’m concerned, where companies wilfully break the law and put the lives of children like my daughter at risk, of course senior managers should be criminally accountable. The consequences of non- compliance are life changing for children like Sophie.
“Criminal liability drives the right behaviours in those with the most responsibility. It works in other industries and there is no reason in my mind as to why big tech executives should be treated any differently.”
Miriam Cates MP said: “It’s clear to most people that the big global tech companies are not going to wake up one day and suddenly decide to start protect children from harmful online content.
“We have seen repeated failures of Big tech to protect children from the horrors of sexual exploitation, pornography and content that draws them into self-harm and suicide, and sadly the Online Safety Bill as it stands will not stop this.
“The only way to secure the change we desperately need is to make senior directors personally responsible for failures to protect children and that’s why I urge all MPs to support this amendment to include senior manager liability in the Online Safety Bill.”
The amendment has cross-party support including from the Labour frontbench.
Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell MP said: “Labour has long called for the online safety bill to be strengthened especially when it comes to the liability – including criminal liability – of social media bosses. Without these sanctions there’s a real risk that a UK regulator will be toothless.
“Yet instead of strengthening the laws, the Government has recently gutted and watered down the bill, letting social media companies off the hook and allowing harms, abuse and hate to continue.
“I welcome the campaigning work of the NSPCC to toughen this Bill.”
The Online Safety Bill has been subject to delays amid intense scrutiny in recent months as the Government amended elements relating to adult safety.
The Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has repeatedly said protections for children would be strengthened and campaigners argue holding tech bosses liable for the safety of young users would send a signal of intent to Big Tech.
3426 people in East of England signed an open letter to Ms Donelan calling for the legislation to properly hold senior managers to account for the safety of sites children use.
Rachel, 15, who handed the letter into the Culture Secretary with other members of the NSPCC’s Young People’s Board for Change, said:
“Far too much pressure is put on young people from such a young age to keep themselves safe online”
“Too many children are exposed to content promoting self-harm and eating disorders. It’s become a norm in our everyday lives.”
“We need a Bill that is going to hold big tech firms accountable. Without it, young people are on their own. We’ve been on our own for so long online – and it’s not working.”
The NSPCC said senior managers must also be liable for preventing child sexual abuse that is taking place at a record scale online.
The charity estimates that over 21,000 online child sex crimes will have been recorded by police in the time the legislation was delayed in July until it is likely to finally pass through Parliament on January 16th.
Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “2022 was the year the Online Safety Bill faced delay after delay. Meanwhile children faced sexual abuse on an industrial scale and tech bosses sat on their hands as their algorithms continued to bombard young users with hugely dangerous material.
“This year must be the year legislation delivers the systemic change for children online that our polling shows families up and down the UK are asking for.
“The Government can do this by delivering bold, world-leading regulation that ensures the buck stops with senior management for the safety of our children.”