“TikTok smugglers” who use social media to advertise small boat crossings for migrants must face criminal penalties, ministers have been told.
Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke believes that channel-crossing advertising on networks such as TikTok and Facebook should be recognized as a crime.
Speaking during a Commons debate on the Online Safety Bill, the Dover MP – whose constituency is at the forefront of Britain’s migration crisis – suggested criminalizing such online campaigns would save lives and help stop the business model of human trafficking groups.
Elphicke highlighted the “massive increase in the number of Albanians crossing the canal in small boats” – and said it had become “easy to find criminal gangs posting in Albanian on TikTok videos showing cheerful migrants with thumbs up on dinghies shooting across the canal and drive into the UK with ease”.
Urging the Commons to back her amendment to the bill, she said: “New section 55 will tackle the TikTok smugglers and help prevent people risking their lives on these journeys across the English Channel.”
A group of more than 50 MPs recently wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him to introduce emergency legislation designed to cut small boat crossings.
Elphicke’s amendment would create a new criminal offense 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.
Elphicke told MPs: “Advertising in this context is not done through an advert in the local paper, it is by putting a video online and pictures online.”
The Home Secretary promises to do “whatever it takes” to tackle the “small boat problem” in the canal
The Tories are calling for changes to modern slavery rules to send “fake asylum seekers” home
‘There’s no life here’: Albanians not deterred from seeking a life in Britain
She told ministers TikTok, WhatsApp and Facebook had all been identified as platforms actively used by the traffickers and said “action is needed … to save lives in the channel”.
Elphicke said her amendment would be a stronger deterrent to traffickers.
She added: “It will make it more difficult for people smugglers to sell their goods, it will help protect people who will be exploited and put at risk by these criminal gangs.
“The risk of life and injury, the risk of modern slavery, the risk of being swept into further crime both abroad and here in the UK is very real.
“It’s another tool in the toolbox to tackle illegal immigration and prevent modern slavery.”
Culture Minister Paul Scully said he would work closely with Elphicke on the passage of the legislation before 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 organized criminal activity on social media.”