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Petitions Committee hears from anti-discrimination campaigners

26 October 2021

On Tuesday 2 November, the Petitions Committee will resume its inquiry into Tackling Online Abuse following the Government’s publication of its draft Online Safety Bill earlier this year, with the first of three evidence sessions next week.

The session follows evidence sessions on the topic in summer 2020 with petitioners Katie and Amy Price, and Bobby Norris, focusing on their experience of receiving online abuse targeted at them and their families.

Earlier this year, a new petition calling for verified ID to be made a requirement for opening a social media account, which received almost 700,000 signatures in six months. Over 500,000 people signed in the weeks following the racist abuse aimed at England footballers after the 2020 European Championships final.

Particular focuses of the Committee’s inquiry include:

  • The lived experience of people receiving online abuse on social media, particularly in relation to protected characteristics;
  • Social, regulatory and technological solutions to online abuse – in particular the option of user ID verification and/or restrictions on anonymity on social media; and
  • The availability and enforcement of legal penalties for online abuse.

In its evidence session, the Committee will focus on opportunities and priorities for Government action to tackle online abuse aimed at people as a result of characteristics such as their sexuality, disability, or religion. It will also consider experts’ perspectives on the Government’s proposals to tackle online abuse through its draft Online Safety Bill, as well as looking at how stronger Government-led interventions to tackle online abuse could affect freedom of speech online.

Chair's comments

Catherine McKinnell MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee, said:

“Online abuse is a silent menace, and our inquiry is a bid to identify solutions which could help tackle the enormous harm it causes and ensure perpetrators face appropriate consequences for their actions.

Throughout the pandemic, people have been spending more of their lives online, and are at more risk than ever of being exposed to online abuse. Without urgent and decisive action to address this issue, a whole new generation will be irretrievably exposed to and harmed by online abuse.

The Government has failed to make sufficient progress on preventing online abuse, and our inquiry – together with other work in Parliament on this issue – represents a watershed moment where we can either take action to deal with this crisis or leave it free to cause its harm in so many aspects of modern life.

We look forward to building on the evidence we’ve heard from petitioners by hearing from expert witnesses in this area over the coming weeks as we hold the Government to account on this issue.”


The session will start at 14:15, with the Committee hearing from:

Panel 1: Experiences of groups more likely to face abuse online

  • Nancy Kelley, Chief Executive, Stonewall
  • Danny Stone MBE, Chief Executive, Antisemitism Policy Trust
  • Matthew Harrison, Public Affairs and Parliamentary Manager, Royal Mencap Society

Panel 2: Freedom of speech issues raised by efforts to tackle abuse

  • Ruth Smeeth, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship
  • Chara Bakalis, Principal Lecturer in Law, Oxford Brookes University
  • Dr Joe Mulhall, Head of Research, HOPE Not Hate

The Petitions Committee will be scheduling two further evidence sessions in November as part of this inquiry.

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