The Petitions Committee has published its report on 'Tackling Online Abuse’, which sets out a series of recommendations to help prevent the “enormous harm” online abuse causes.
The report follows on from an inquiry that begun last year, which was prompted by a number of e-petitions calling for action to be taken on this issue.
While the Committee welcomes the Government’s planned Online Safety Bill, it warns that tackling online abuse cannot be achieved just by changing what people see or post on social media.
Instead, it says, attitudes that fuel such behaviour must be challenged and abusive users should face legal sanction where appropriate.
Online disability hate crime is on the rise
Research has shown that online disability hate crime is on the rise, and in October 2021, it was up for 52% compared to the previous year.
The report acknowledges that more needs to be done to protect people with disabilities and those in other marginalised groups who are disproportionately affected by online hate speech.
To do this, the Committee suggests that the new Bill should name abuse and hate speech aimed at people on the basis of characteristics including race, sexuality, gender or disability as content social media platforms must address as a priority.
The Committee also states that social media companies should be required to give users the option to link their account to a form of verified ID on a voluntary basis and block interactions with unverified users, as a way of tackling abuse posted from anonymous or ‘throwaway’ accounts.
If social media companies cannot demonstrate they are successfully preventing people who have been banned from the platform for abusive behaviour from setting up new accounts, the Committee says they should face fines.
Finally, the report suggests the government re-examines whether the police and prosecutors have the resources they need to effectively investigate and enforce the law on online abuse where appropriate, including the powers and resources they need to trace users who post abuse anonymously.
Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP, said she hopes the reports recommendations will "help tackle the enormous harm online abuse causes and ensure perpetrators face appropriate consequences for their actions."
It is clear there are “a number of areas which the Bill can be improved on”
Jackie O'Sullivan, Executive Director of Communication, Advocacy & Activism at learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Since Katie Price’s first petition in 2017, the Petitions Committee has been a champion for helping people with a learning disability stay safe online.
“People with a learning disability face a range of online harms often heightening the stigma and discrimination they already face every day, so we welcome the Petitions Committee’s recommendations which would strengthen the protections that the Online Safety Bill will provide to people with a learning disability.
“It is clear from this report, as well as the Joint Committee’s recommendations on the Draft Online Safety Bill, that there are a number of areas which the Bill can be improved on. We hope that the Government will accept this constructive guidance and we look forward to continuing to engage with the Bill during its passage through Parliament.”
A debate on the issue will be held later this month
The report has now been submitted to the government to consider, and the Committee expects to receive a “prompt response” in the coming weeks.
Ms McKinnell will also be leading a debate on online abuse later this month to "enable MPs to discuss the important issues raised by the petitions we have received on this issue, the Government’s Online Safety Bill, and the recommendations we have made in our report."