Written evidence submitted by Nathan Silver (OSB0013)

 

My name is Nathan Silver and I am a second year Law Student. I first came across the Online Safety Bill when looking for inspiration for legal article to write over the summer holidays. The issue I most hoped the Bill would tackle is online racism.

 

I did not know much about racism when I was younger, but as I have got older and started higher education I have educated myself more regarding what I consider to be one of the most pressing issues facing the UK today. My anger and feeling of helplessness in helping reached a peak after the final of the European Championships in July, where three young black footballers were racially abused online after missing penalties in the shootout.

 

This racism affected me in a way I had not felt before. Being a huge football fan, I idolise these players. Marcus Rashford has done a massive amount to help this country in his campaigns to end child hunger, while Saka and Sancho are both young men who gave their all for the country. They all deserve basic respect and decency. And yet, all three men received vile racist abuse in the aftermath.

 

Online racist abuse seems to be getting worse and worse. Football players Instagram posts are covered with swathes of monkey emojis or racist slurs, and players reveal racist messages they receive on the daily. Of course, this is not an issue that affects only football players or famous people, though they seem disproportionately affected by it due to their position in the public eye.

 

Oliver Dowden claims that the Bill will ‘crackdown on racist abuse on social media.’ I believe there are two main issues with the way in which the Bill seeks to deal with online racism.

 

Firstly, racism appears to be an afterthought. The Bill is very ambitious, and covers a wide array of online harms. Though this is a positive, my worry is that racism is forgotten amongst a sea of other aims. While the Online Harms White Paper did mention racism and hate crime, the Bill makes no mention of the words ‘racism’, ‘race’ or ‘hate crime.’ This seems to be subsumed under a general ‘duty to protect adults.’ Considering the importance and uniqueness of the issue, I believe it must be underlined, with clear steps articulated on how to limit racist abuse. A Bill which seemingly fails to even acknowledge racism as an online harm cannot do so.

 

The second issue with the Online Safety Bill is the failure to tackle anonymous accounts. I believe that online hate, specifically racism, is so easily perpetrated is due to a lack of transparency. If an individual racially abuses in person, the recipient of the abuse may see their face. Consequently, there is a risk of immediate repercussions- perhaps, if the perpetrator’s face is seen on name is known, the issue can immediately be passed onto the police. But online, identity can be hidden. Many of the Instagram accounts that abuse do not use real names. There is no way to find their real identity. The most that can be done is to remove their accounts and try to block them from opening a new one. There is little to no fear of repercussions.

 

To tackle online racism, perpetrators must face the possibility of immediate and serious repercussions following their online abuse. This is where, in my opinion, the Bill falls short- it makes no provision for the ending of anonymous accounts.

 

I do not suggest that individuals be required to make their names public on their accounts- there are good reasons for allowing accounts to be created under a pseudonym. I simply suggest that individuals be required to sign up with their passport or other ID when creating an account. The platform should then have access to this information only in the occurrence of abuse by the account-holder.

 

Removing anonymity removes the advantage from the abuser. No longer can they hide being a screen and shield their identity. Abusers could face the real prospect of their name being given to the police or their family members or employers being contacted. Hopefully introducing real repercussions will deter racist abuse online.

 

Of course, there are data protection issues associated with this suggestion, but I strongly believe that tackling these issues is a worthwhile task to take in aid of such a pressing issue.

 

September 2021