PARLIAMENT PAYS TRIBUTE TO NEW ZEALAND TERROR ATTACK VICTIMS AMID CALLS FOR FAR-RIGHT VIOLENCE AND ONLINE EXTREMIST TO BE ADDRESSED 

On Monday in Parliament, MPs responded to an urgent question submitted to the House of Commons following the recent terrorist attack against the Muslim community of Christchurch, New Zealand which was live streamed on social media channels.

The question that was submitted asked the Government to make a statement on its strategy to tackle far-right violence, of which the Prevent programme has seen a 36% increase in referrals for right-wing extremism in 2017-18 compared with the previous year, and its plans to tackle online extremism.

Prior to Monday’s debate, local Member of Parliament, Nick Thomas-Symonds, during questions to the Home Secretary last month, called for the Government to address the role tech giants play in providing a platform through which extremist content can be created and shared, and has worked extensively to update how the law deals with those who access and share extremist content online in his work on the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2018.

When asked to make a statement on their strategy, the Minister for Security stated “Enough is enough. We have been clear that tech companies need to act more quickly to remove terrorist content and ultimately prevent new content from being made available to users in the first place.”

During the debate, local Member for Parliament, Nick Thomas-Symonds spoke to send his sympathies to the people of New Zealand, and with those affected by the incidents in both Surrey and Utrecht which have also seen the tragic consequences of violence, and to ask the Government to confirm its next steps to tackle this issue.

Among his concerns, Mr. Thomas-Symonds raised the need for a new regulator to penalise social media platforms who fail to curb the creation and distribution of terror-related content and asked for clarity on when the new Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation will be appointed and in post.

Mr. Thomas-Symonds also asked for the Minister to confirm that lessons will be learned from both domestic and international experiences in the forthcoming independent review of Prevent, which Labour – led by Mr. Thomas-Symonds – secured from the Government earlier this year in work on the new Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2018.

When asked about the issue of far-right violence and extremist content online, Mr. Thomas-Symonds stated:

“I pass my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those murdered in this heinous act of terror against people for no other reason than their faith. An attack on anyone at worship is an attack on all peoples of faith and non-believers too, as they go about their lawful business.

“It is vital that such vile acts of hatred show that we must all redouble our efforts to argue for a society of tolerance and respect.

“Social media and online platforms are powerful tools, and though they offer a platform for free speech, they also offer a medium through which individuals with malign intentions can spread dangerous content. It is important to send a clear message that accessing extremist content online is simply not acceptable.

“I worked with the Security Minister on what is now the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 to update or laws to deal with those who access online extremist content, but platform providers must take responsibility too. I hope the Government takes the concerns of the House of Commons on board.”

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