Today, Siobhan Baillie MP tabled a Ten Minute Rule Bill (TMRB), calling for social media platforms to be required to change their approach to verification of accounts. The official description of her TMRB is as follows:
‘A Bill to require social media platforms to offer a user identity verification process to all users; to require such platforms to offer options to limit or block interaction with other users who have chosen not to verify their identity through that process; and for connected purposes.’
TMRBs rarely become law. However, we do think this is a hugely significant and welcome development. TMRBs have a history of helping to build parliamentary momentum behind a proposal, and this one is showing potential to do just that.
Firstly, Siobhan Baillie MP has successfully persuaded a notably diverse set of MPs to add their names as supporters. This includes Conservative backbenchers from a range of traditions within the party, alongside MPs from both Labour and the SNP. This provides yet more evidence of the breadth of support in parliament. By backing the TMRB, MPs from all the main parties are showing that they recognise that social media companies’ current “anything goes” approach to online identity fuels online abuse and disinformation, and that they therefore support legislative action to force a change.
Secondly, the TMRB provides an opportunity to lay out, in writing, a potential legislative approach to delivering this desired change in how online identity is managed. It’s an opportunity for us to prove that requiring a more balanced approach to anonymity, which safeguards its legitimate uses while requiring platforms to recognise and mitigate the associated risks, is perfectly possible. Clean Up The Internet has already developed some initial thinking on what the wording could look like, and we have given written and oral evidence to parliamentary committees scrutinising the Online Safety Bill. We look forward to working with Siobhan Baillie MP, and engaging other experts, to flesh out the wording of the TMRB in due course.
The TMRB has been tabled at an important point in the development of the Online Safety Bill, as the government weighs up what changes to make to its draft Bill in the wake of the pre-legislative scrutiny process. We hope this will provide further encouragement for them to tighten up that legislation to address misuses of anonymity.
There’s ample evidence, from multiple opinion polls, that most social media users would support action to tackle the misuse of anonymous accounts, including a “right to verify”, and options to block or limit contact from unverified accounts. The TMRB provides further evidence to the government that there is also much support for such measures within parliament.