“TikTok traffickers” who use social media to advertise boat crossings to migrants must face criminal penalties, ministers have been told.
Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke believes cross-channel advertising on networks such as TikTok and Facebook should be considered a crime.
In a Commons debate on the Online Safety Bill, Dover MPs – whose constituency is at the forefront of the UK’s immigration crisis – suggested that criminalizing such online promotions would save lives and help stop the business model of trafficking groups.
Ms Elphicke highlighted the “massive increase in the number of Albanians crossing the English Channel in small boats” – and said it was “easy to spot criminal gangs posting in Albanian on TikTok and videos showing gleeful migrants giving the thumbs up and riding fast in small boats”. Cross the English Channel and drive into the UK with ease”.
She urged the Commons to back her amendments to the bill, saying: “New section 55 will tackle the problem of TikTok smugglers and help prevent people from risking their lives across the English Channel.”
A group of more than 50 MPs recently wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him to introduce emergency legislation aimed at reducing small boat border crossings.
Ms Elphicke’s amendment would create a new criminal offense of “knowingly sharing photographs or films that promote or facilitate modern slavery or illegal immigration”.
It is backed by a group of Conservative backbenchers, including former ministers Sir John Hayes and Tim Lawton.
Ms Elphicke told MPs: “Advertising in this case is done not by placing an ad in a local newspaper, but by posting videos online and photos online.”
Home secretary pledges ‘whatever it takes’ to tackle Channel ‘small boat problem’
Tories call for changes to modern slavery rules to send ‘bogus asylum seekers’ home
‘There’s no life here’: Albanians aren’t holding back from seeking life in UK
She told ministers that TikTok, WhatsApp and Facebook had all been identified as platforms actively used by people smugglers, and said “action is needed … to save lives in the Channel”.
Ms Elphicke said her amendment would create a stronger deterrent for traffickers.
She added: “This will make it harder for people smugglers to sell their wares and it will help protect those who will be exploited and put at risk by these criminal gangs.
“The risk of life and harm, the risk of modern slavery, the risk of being drawn into further crime in the UK and abroad is very real.
“This is another tool in the toolbox for tackling illegal immigration and preventing modern slavery.”
Culture Minister Paul Scully said he would work closely with Ms Elphicke to pass the legislation before it is considered in the House of Lords.
“This legislation will give our law enforcement agencies and social media companies the powers and guidance they need to stop the promotion of organized crime on social media.”