“TikTok traffickers” who use social media to advertise small boat crossings to migrants must face criminal penalties, ministers have been told.
Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke believes the advertising of Channel crossings on networks such as TikTok and Facebook should be recognised as a crime.
Speaking during a Commons debate on the Online Safety Bill, the Dover MP – whose constituency is at the forefront of the UK’s migration crisis – suggested criminalising such online promotions would save lives and help stem the business model of trafficking groups.
Ms Elphicke highlighted the “massive increase in the number of Albanians crossing the Channel in small boats” – and said it had become “easy to find criminal gangs posting in Albanian on TikTok with videos showing cheery migrants with thumbs up on dinghies scooting across the Channel and motoring into Britain with ease”.
Urging the Commons to back her amendment to the bill, she said: “New clause 55 will tackle the TikTok traffickers and help prevent people from risking their lives taking these journeys across the English Channel.”
A group of more than 50 MPs recently wrote to PM Rishi Sunak, urging him to introduce emergency legislation designed to cut small boat crossings.
Ms Elphicke’s amendment would create a new criminal offence of “intentionally sharing a photograph or film that facilitates or promotes modern slavery or illegal immigration”.
It has the support of a group of Tory backbenchers, including former ministers Sir John Hayes and Tim Loughton.
Ms Elphicke told MPs: “Advertising in this context is not done through an advert in the local paper, it is by the posting of a video online and photos online.”
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She told ministers TikTok, WhatsApp and Facebook had all been identified as platforms actively used by the people smugglers and said “action is needed … to save lives in the Channel”.
Ms Elphicke said her amendment would be a stronger deterrent to traffickers.
She added: “It will make it harder for the people smugglers to sell their wares, it will help to protect people who would be exploited and put at risk by these criminal gangs.
“Risks to life and injury, the risk of modern slavery, risks of being swept into further crime both abroad and here in the UK are very real.
“It is another tool in the toolbox to tackle illegal immigration and prevent modern slavery.”
Culture minister Paul Scully said he would work closely with Ms Elphicke on the legislation’s passage ahead of its consideration in the House of Lords.
“The legislation will give our law enforcement agencies and social media companies the powers and guidance they need to stop the promotion of organised criminal activity on social media.”