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Boris Johnson promises 'tough sentences' for people who put 'foul' material online

Boris Johnson promised criminal action against those sharing 'foul' material online today.

The premier said there would be 'tough sentences' for those behind abusive and extremist content posted to social media sites, as he faced Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament.

He sounded the warning to internet giants as he told MPs the Online Harms Bill will make progress in the Commons before Christmas.

The legislation is expected to force the biggest tech firms, such as Facebook and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users, overseen by Ofcom as the new regulator for the sector.

However some campaigners have raised fears that it risks stifling the free press, 'silencing marginalised voices' and introducing 'state-backed censorship on a scale never seen in a liberal democracy'. 

Mr Johnson was pushed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to use the 'inescapable desire' of MPs, in the aftermath of the killing of Conservative Sir David Amess to 'clamp down on the extremism, the hate and the abuse that festers online'. 

But Sir Keir said closing down anonymous accounts would not have 'saved Sir David', who was killed at a surgery in his Southend constituency, nor prevented other attacks, adding 'arrogant' social media firms should be made to take responsibility for their platforms.

Mr Johnson told MPs: 'I've already said that we are willing to look at anything to strengthen the legislation, I've said that we will bring it forward to second reading before Christmas.

'And, yes, of course we will have criminal sanctions with tough sentences for those who are responsible for allowing this foul content to permeate the internet.

'What we hope for also, is that no matter how tough the proposals we produce, that the opposition will support it.'

The premier said there would be 'tough sentences' for those behind abusive and extremist content posted to social media sites, as he faced Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament.

Mr Johnson was pushed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to use the 'inescapable desire' of MPs, in the aftermath of the killing of Conservative Sir David Amess to 'clamp down on the extremism, the hate and the abuse that festers online'.

But Sir Keir said closing down anonymous accounts would not have 'saved Sir David', who was killed at a surgery in his Southend constituency, nor prevented other attacks, adding 'arrogant' social media firms should be made to take responsibility for their platforms.

Sir Keir said: 'We do need to recognise the measures in the Bill but we do need tough and effective sanctions, and that means criminal sanctions. That does matter, it is frankly beyond belief that as the Mirror reported yesterday 40 hours of hateful content from Anjem Choudary could be easily accessed online.

'The Prime Minister and the Government could stop this by making it clear that directors of companies are criminally liable for failing to tackle this type of material on their sites. We don't need to delay.'

Conservative former minister Mark Francois earlier this week called for the Bill to be toughened up as he proposed 'David's law' in memory of Sir David.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Keir said: 'It's three years since the Government promised an Online Safety Bill but it's not yet before the House.

'Meanwhile, the damage caused by harmful content online is worse than ever.

'Dangerous algorithms on Facebook and Instagram, and Hope Not Hate have shown me an example of violent Islamism and far-right propaganda on TikTok.'

He called on the Prime Minister to 'commit to bring forward the second reading of the Online Safety Bill by the end of this calendar year', adding: 'If he does, we'll support it.'

Mr Johnson replied: 'The safety of MPs, indeed of all public servants, everybody who engages with the public is of vital importance. The Online Safety Bill is of huge importance, it's one of the most important tools in our armoury.'

He added: 'What we're doing is ensuring that we crack down on companies that promote illegal and dangerous content and we'll be toughing up those provisions.

'What we're also going to do is ensure that the Online Safety Bill does complete its stages before this House - before Christmas - rather that we do bring it forward before Christmas in the way that he suggests.'

Sir Keir questioned why directors of platforms failing to crack down on extremism would not face criminal sanctions under the Government's plans.