Liberal Democrats

F9: Democracy and Public Debate (Nature of Public Debate Policy Paper)

Conference referenced this motion back to FPC

Submitted by: Federal Policy Committee

Mover: Jamie Stone MP (Spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport).

Summation: Martin Dickson (Chair of the Policy Working Group).


Conference notes the importance of high quality public debate:

  1. In enriching democracy, delivering better political, social and economic outcomes for all.
  2. In delivering the Liberal Democrats' aim of safeguarding a fair, free and open society in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

Conference believes that:

  1. The current state of public debate is damaging to our democracy with growing political polarisation, hostility and misinformation alongside declining trust in politics.
  2. Whilst online communications have been positive for society overall, they have helped facilitate these changes, by providing a platform for them to spread.
  3. Addressing the global challenges to public debate will require an international effort.

Conference calls for concerted reform of human rights law, education, digital and media regulation, and our electoral processes in order to:

  1. Enhance the quality of public debate.
  2. Ameliorate the impact of misinformation.
  3. Safeguard democracy, both at home and abroad.

Conference therefore endorses policy paper 141, Democracy and Public Debate, and in particular its proposals to:

  1. Uphold our rights online by:
    1. Passing a Digital Bill of Rights, comparable in scope to the Human Rights Act for the online age - this will include:
      1. The right to knowledge about the online world, including education in its complexities.
      2. The right to participate in debate online, on the individual's terms.
      3. The right to access the internet, through Citizens' Wifi in the public realm.
      4. The right to privacy online.
      5. The right to the ownership and control of our personal data.
      6. The right to free expression and participation online without being subjected to harassment and abuse.
    2. Creating a new regulator and a new specialist court.
  2. End the 'regulatory wild west' of social media by:
    1. Splitting Ofcom into two regulators - the Communications Standards Authority and the Office for Communications Infrastructure, with a new Communications Court to provide judicial oversight.
    2. The Communication Standards Authority's powers will cover:
      1. Ofcom's existing powers in respect to broadcast media.
      2. Auditing online platforms in their observance of the Digital Bill of Rights and compliance with a statutory duty of care to secure the safety of their users and redress the imbalance of power between platforms and their individual users.
      3. Monitoring social media companies' activity in responding to infringement of online harms legislation including the power to require social media companies to exercise a full range of sanctions exercised proportionately, depending on the seriousness and persistence of the abuse or harm suffered; the sanctions would include deletion of content, restrictions on sharing, affixing warnings against content and temporary or permanent suspension of membership: and to require a robust complaints systems for users who feel their rights have been violated.
      4. Administering a mandatory 'UK kitemark' scheme for all social media companies that want to operate in the UK
      5. Overseeing the content of life-long digital learning materials and online transparency.
      6. Monitoring the digital world for emerging threats and publicising these.
    3. The Office for Communications Infrastructure's powers will cover communications infrastructure, such as broadband infrastructure, mobile networks, spectrum licensing and regulation, and the Post Office's universal delivery requirement.
    4. Introducing a levy on social media companies, to fund policies to combat societal harms which occur on their platforms.
  3. Improve the quality of our traditional media by:
    1. Enacting the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry and commissioning the 'Leveson 2' Inquiry into press and police relations.
    2. Requiring social media platforms to pay news providers for their content.
    3. Providing financial support for local journalism and fact checking websites, funded through a levy on social media companies.
    4. Applying the same rules to online news outlets as print ones.
    5. Reviewing copyright laws to see if they are fit for purpose in the digital age.
  4. Enhance our education system by:
    1. Reforming the school curriculum in England to make critical thinking and media studies part of the core curriculum, modelled on Finland's reforms.
    2. Introducing lifelong learning in England about the digital public square and how to navigate it for every individual, with adult education receiving a priority.
    3. Introducing public awareness campaigns about emerging threats and misinformation campaigns online.
  5. Increase competition and reduce the concentration of power in the social media market by:
    1. Reviewing and re-negotiating the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, with a view to closer cooperation and regulatory alignment.
    2. Proactively working with the U.S. authorities to find a common position for global issues.
    3. Enhancing the powers of the Digital Markets Unit within the Competition and Markets Authority to implement both ex-ante regulation and ex-post competition law.
    4. Passing legislation to further facilitate data portability, network interoperability and transparency in social networks.
  6. Ensure higher quality elections and safeguard democracy at home and abroad by:
    1. Enhancing transparency in our elections, through accessible information on party manifestos, spending and social media adverts.
    2. Revising and clarifying the powers of the Electoral Commission and police, to ensure fairness in our democratic processes and issue meaningful sanctions when the rules are broken.
    3. Pushing for a global convention or treaty to combat disinformation and electoral interference, supplemented by an annual conference and Global Counter-Disinformation Fund, to safeguard and promote democracy at home as well as abroad.

Applicability: Federal; except 4. (lines 81-89), which is England only.


Mover: 7 minutes; summation of motion and movers and summation of any amendments: 4 minutes; all other speakers: 3 minutes.


There will be a separate vote on lines 71–73 (3.a) and a separate vote on lines 74–75 (3.b) in the motion.