Spotlight Debates

Will the Online Safety Bill Make the Internet Safer?

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Why attend?

Terrorism, child abuse, cyber bullying, hate speech. These are among a few types of harmful online activity that currently saturate the internet. But how can we challenge and limit such damaging online content, while still promoting an open internet? This is a question the government is currently trying to address through the much-awaited Online Safety Bill. But with the legislation likely to become law in the coming weeks, will the bill actually make the internet safer?

The bill is set to have global significance when it comes to regulation of the internet. Policy proposals include holding social media companies to account with a duty of care and positioning Ofcom as an independent internet regulator with the power to impose fines if sufficient action is not taken.

Does the bill strike the right balance between freedom of speech and online safety? Does it put an appropriate level of trust in social media companies? And is it clear enough on what is specifically illegal online, or could this pave the way for arbitrary censorship?

About Spotlight Debates

As the UK considers its pandemic recovery, bold, fresh policy thinking is more urgent than ever. The New Statesman, Britain’s leading political weekly, has been at the forefront of policy debate since its founding in 1913.

Spotlight Debates is a new quarterly event series focused on some of the most challenging questions facing policymakers today. Featuring high-profile journalists, politicians and academics, the debates will gather thought leaders and decision makers for an evening of stimulating discussion and exclusive networking opportunities.

Agenda

Speakers

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Ruth Smeeth
Chief Executive, Index on Censorship

Ruth Smeeth is the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship – the international campaign to protect and promote free speech around the world, which was originally launched in 1971 to provide a platform for Soviet dissidents to expose what was happening behind the Iron Curtain.

Ruth was previously the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North & Kidsgrove from 2015-2019.  During that time she was the Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Parliamentary Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. 

Before her election Ruth ran HOPE not hate the anti-extremism campaign which defeated the BNP and EDL.  Ruth has also worked in the trade union, third sector and private sectors before seeking election.  

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Damian Collins MP
Chair, UK Parliament Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill

Damian Collins is the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, first elected in 2010. Prior to being a MP, Damian worked in the advertising industry, for M&C Saatchi and Lexington Communications. From 2016 to 2019, Damian chaired the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and now chairs a joint committee of members of the House of Lords and House of Commons scrutinising the Online Safety Bill. He also hosts a popular digital policy podcast, The Infotagion Podcast.

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Alex Towers
Director of Policy and Public Affairs, BT Group

Alex Towers is Director of Policy and Public Affairs for BT Group. He leads BT’s political strategy and its public policy work, both in the UK and around the world. Before joining BT, he was the Director of the BBC Trust –the BBC’s regulator and governingbody until 2017. In his earlier career, he was a civil servant at DCMS, where his work on media policy included the 2003 Communications Act, Ofcom’s first review of public service broadcasting and the BBC Charter Review that followed.

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Oscar Williams (Chair)
Special Projects Editor, New Statesman

Oscar is the Special Projects Editor of the New Statesman’s Spotlight policy supplement. He was previously editor of the New Statesman’s dedicated technology site, NS Tech, where he reported on the intersection of technology, business and politics. He regularly chairs discussions about cyber security, fintech and govtech, and previously worked for the Guardian and HuffPost.

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Victoria Hewson
Head of Regulatory Affairs, Institute of Economic Affairs

Victoria Hewson is Head of Regulatory Affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs. A practising solicitor, she has specialised in commercial technology and data protection matters across a range of sectors. In the Regulatory Affairs Programme she focuses on regulation and the role of regulators in the UK. She writes regularly for The Telegraph and City AM and appears on television and radio to discuss trade and regulatory policy.

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