Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Petitions Committee welcomes Government response to Tackling Online Abuse report but calls for further action
On 28 March, the Petitions Committee published the Government’s response to the Committee’s report on Tackling Online Abuse.
The Committee’s report, published in February, followed its inquiry which was prompted by a number of e-petitions calling for action to be taken on this issue.
In 2021, a petition calling for verified ID to be made a requirement to open a social media account received almost 700,000 signatures in six months, with over 500,000 people signing in the weeks following the racist abuse aimed at England footballers after the 2020 European Championships final. This was the most popular petition created on the Committee’s website in 2021, showing the scale of concern among the public about the risk of facing abuse on these platforms and the desire to see abusive users held accountable.
In its response to the Committee’s report, the Government confirmed it is accepting the Committee’s recommendations to require social media platforms to address online hate crimes as a priority, and to give their users the option to block interactions with other users who have not verified their online identity.
However, the Government did not accept the Committee’s recommendation that it should use the Online Safety Bill to name abuse not covered under existing hate crime laws, for example abuse based on a person’s disability or misogynistic abuse, as content social media platforms must address. During its inquiry, the Committee heard that this step could help pressure platforms into taking stronger action against such content.
The Government also confirmed that they are developing a new hate crime strategy, which will examine how relevant laws are enforced online and the resources available for this. The Government also committed to keep under consideration options to tackle the problem of abusive users returning to social media after being banned.
Petitions Committee Chair comments
Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP, yesterday said:
“In recent years, hundreds of thousands of petitioners have urged the Government to act against the menace of online abuse. I therefore welcome the Government’s decision to accept many of our report’s recommendations – including requiring social media companies to deal with hate speech as a priority, and empowering people to protect themselves from the minority of users who misuse online anonymity to behave abusively.
“However, we remain concerned that the Government’s plans to deal with other issues raised in our report – around banned social media users returning to platforms, the disproportionate levels of abuse aimed at certain groups of users, and abuse that happens away from the largest social media sites – don’t go far enough to tackle the harm online abuse can cause those who receive it.
“The Government’s Online Safety Bill represents progress, but it needs further strengthening to give people the protection they need and deserve online. Our Committee will continue to press for a stronger response to these challenges as Parliament begins considering the Bill.”
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