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Petitions Committee to question Government Minister on tackling online abuse

25 November 2021

On Wednesday 1 December, the Petitions Committee will conclude its inquiry into Tackling Online Abuse following the Government’s publication of its draft Online Safety Bill earlier this year, with the last in a series of evidence sessions.

Throughout November, the Committee heard from a range of witnesses including civil society and campaign groups, experts on legal, regulatory and technological responses to online harms, and social media companies including Meta, TikTok and Twitter.

These sessions follow 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.

Purpose of the session

In this final session in the Committee’s inquiry, it will question Chris Philp MP, Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy, and Orla MacRae, Deputy Director for Online Harms Regulation, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, on:

  • How the Government’s proposed online safety regulation will help tackle online abuse and the harm it causes users
  • Whether the Government’s regulatory proposals could be changed to better reflect the concerns of petitioners and others affected by online abuse, including the suggested role of anonymity in enabling abuse online and the disproportionate levels of abuse faced online by people from particular communities
  • How the Government intends to measure the impact and success of its new regulation in tackling online abuse

Earlier this year, a new petition calling for verified ID to be made a requirement for opening a social media account 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, in particular 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;
  • The availability and enforcement of legal penalties for online abuse.

Chair's comment

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 and expert witnesses in this area in our upcoming session with the Minister as we continue to hold the Government to account on this issue.”

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