THE UK Government’s Online Safety Bill does not go far enough in tackling disinformation as the “scourge of our age”, an SNP MP has warned.

The long-awaited proposals for new internet safety laws – which have been in progress for around five years – were introduced to Parliament last week.

But John Nicolson, the SNP’s culture and media spokesman, said the updated Online Safety Bill will not tackle the spread of fake news.

He said: “Disinformation is the scourge of our age. During the pandemic, we saw the real-life consequences of disinformation, with people fed harmful lies to dissuade them from wearing masks and getting vaccinated. 

“Now we are seeing Kremlin officials and Russian diplomats lying about the war as they try to spin their way out of responsibility for the carnage they’ve wreaked on Ukraine.

“The Russian aggressors are attempting to blame their Ukrainian victims for Russian war crimes.”

READ MORE: The White Rose: Scots disinformation group says Ukraine run by Nazis

Last week UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the central aim of the bill is to “make the UK the safest place to go online”.

She said it has established new criminal offences which will help better address harmful online behaviour, such as “deliberately sharing dangerous disinformation about hoax Covid-19 treatments”.

However, Nicolson said disinformation should have been “top of the list” of the issues the legislation will tackle.

He added: “The Online Safety Bill does not go anywhere near far enough to stop disinformation on social media platforms. 

“As we know, big tech bosses will not willingly do anything that will hurt their profits, even if it helps protect people on their platforms.

“The legislation should be tougher and more focussed.”

The Bill will see Ofcom as a new regulator for the sector and with the power to fine companies or block access to sites that fail to comply with the new rules.

The Government said it had strengthened proposals in a number of areas after draft legislation was published last year.

This includes the power to hold company executives criminally liable if they fail to comply with Ofcom information requests just two months after the Bill becomes law, rather than the two years previously drafted.

In addition, company managers will now be held criminally liable for destroying evidence, failing to attend or providing false information in interviews with Ofcom and for obstructing the regulator when it enters company offices.

The revised Bill has also changed its approach to so-called “legal but harmful” content – material which is not itself illegal but could cause harm to users who encounter it.

Under the updated Bill, the biggest social media platforms must address this content and carry out risk assessments on the types of harms that could appear on their service and how they plan to address it, setting out how they will do this in their terms of service.

The National:

Jim Killock, above, executive director of the Open Rights Group, raised concerns about the impact on free speech, saying using the term “legal but harmful” amounted to the creation of a “censor’s charter”.

He added: “Failure to remove it will ban Brits from doing normal things like making jokes, seeking help and engaging in healthy debate online. There are now lots of new and unworkable ideas tacked on at the last minute, making it a monstrous melange of fit to fail duties that will make minority groups less safe online.”