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Chair responds to publication of the Government’s Online Safety Bill

17 March 2022

Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP has responded to the Government’s publication of the Online Safety Bill. The Committee’s recent “Tackling Online Abuse” report called on the Government to strengthen protections for social media users against illegal and harmful abuse, and the Bill includes many of the measures to address online abuse recommended in the Committee’s report.

Petitions Committee Chair comments

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

“The publication of the Online Safety Bill today is a major step towards finally tackling the menace of online abuse, and addressing the concerns of the hundreds of thousands of people who have petitioned Parliament to act against online abuse. For too long, social media companies have failed to protect users from the seriously harmful effects of this abuse.

“The Bill must rectify this, and it is very welcome that the Government has accepted many of the recommendations of our recent report – 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, there are areas where the Bill could still go further, including making social media companies do more to stop banned users returning and continuing to send abuse.

“It is disappointing that the Bill fails to acknowledge the disproportionate and extreme levels of abuse aimed at some users – particularly disabled people, LGBT+ people, people from minority ethnic backgrounds, and women. These communities have suffered this abuse for long enough – the Government must act now to give them the protection they need and deserve.

“The Committee will therefore continue to hold the Government to account on behalf of petitioners, and press for action on our remaining recommendations, as Parliament begins considering the Bill.”

The Petitions 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.

Key recommendations made in the report included:

  • Social media companies should face fines if they cannot demonstrate to Ofcom that they are successfully preventing people who have been banned from the platform for abusive behaviour from setting up new accounts
  • Social media platforms should be required to give users the option to link their account to a form of verified ID and block interactions with unverified users, as a way of tackling abuse from anonymous or ‘throwaway’ accounts
  • The Online Safety Bill should require social media companies to demonstrate they have taken proportionate steps to protect adult users from the risk of facing legal but harmful abuse on their platforms, which should include – but not be limited to – enforcing their own rules on acceptable content
  • The Online Safety 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, in recognition of the disproportionate levels of abuse aimed at these groups
  • The Government should re-examine 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.

Further information

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