UK Civil Society Organisations Respond to Government’s Online Harms White Paper

The Centenary Action Group, Antisemitism Policy Trust, Carnegie UK Trust, Stonewall, HOPE Not Hate and Compassion in Politics have co-signed a statement with Glitch in response to the Government’s Online Harms White Paper announcement on Tuesday. 

The organisations recognise Tuesday’s announcement as an important milestone in making the Internet safer in the UK, but there are concerns that the Government’s plans have fallen short when addressing the disproportionate levels of online harms faced by women and marginalised communities. 

When the government announced the launch of its Online Harms White Paper in April 2019, a comprehensive legal framework to address the wide range of online harms was long called for. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled new forms of online violence. The pandemic has exacerbated gender-based abuse, especially for those with multi-intersecting identities, such as LGBTQ+ women, Black women, women of colour, and disabled women. Glitch’s Report with the End The Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), Covid-19 and the Ripple Effect, published this September showed an almost 50% increase in online abuse for women and non-binary people, with these figures worsening for those from minoritised backgrounds. 

The organisations welcome the government’s recognition of the severity of online abuse, particularly racist, antisemitic and misogynistic abuse, as well as calls for greater transparency from technological companies.

However, as civil society organisations working across sectors in the UK to address online harms, they hold concerns about gaps in the forthcoming legislation and programme of work to support this, especially around the lack of gendered focus. Technology companies cannot fulfill their duty of care to online users without addressing the disproportionate gendered impact. Whilst increased accountability for tech companies – including annual transparency reports – is a positive step, there are limitations for making the online space safe for all without an increase in digital citizenship education. 

Centenary Action Group, Antisemitism Policy Trust, Carnegie UK Trust, Stonewall, HOPE Not Hate and Compassion in Politics and Glitch are calling on the government to:

  • Include specific measures to address online abuse which affects women and people with intersecting identities. The current proposal does not go far enough in recognising the specific online harms that women with intersecting identities face online;
  • Outline in more detail how technology companies’ ‘duty of care’ will be enforced, both in respect of illegal content, as well as legal but harmful content. Duty of care should go beyond the removal of illegal content and Ofcom, the UK regulator, needs to be given a mandate and the means to hold technology companies accountable for the safe design of their systems and processes;
  • Bring forward the publication of the promised Digital Citizenship Strategy and promote digital citizenship education as a key priority, alongside the regulation of technological companies. While financial sanctions against technological companies and the enforcement of the duty of care are essential in addressing online harms, more investment in impactful digital citizenship is needed to make the Internet a safer space.

Seyi Akiwowo, Founder and Executive Director of Glitch said: 

“For the past three years, we have campaigned for tech companies to take more accountability for the harms on their platforms. It’s now the beginning of the end of tech self regulation. We’re extremely pleased the Government’s White Paper places a duty of care on tech companies However, without furthering digital citizenship education and without an intersectional lens that recognises women, especially those with multi-intersecting identities, are impacted, the online space will not be safe for all. After the increase in online abuse for women this year, it’s more important that the Government listens to, and acts, and champions these recommendations.”

Nancy Kelley (she/her), Chief Executive, Stonewall said:
“We welcome the Government’s commitment to tackle online harms, and particularly the increased regulatory powers for Ofcom to tackle online misinformation. However, we are concerned that this Bill falls short in addressing the specific harms experienced by lesbian, bi, and trans women online. It is vital that the forthcoming legislation and accompanying programme of work includes specific measures to address the homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic abuse directed at lesbian, bi and trans women which prevents them from participating fully in online communities.”

Hannah Swirsky, Centenary Action Group said:

“In the social media age online abuse is the new source of women’s oppression, with Black and minoritised women being disproportionately targeted. The Online harms Bill must go further in addressing the specific gendered and intersectional nature of online abuse, which is driving women in all of our diversity out of politics and public life.”

/Ends 

Notes for editors 

  • For more information, please contact Lauren Pemberton-Nelson at lauren@fixtheglitch.org
  • The organisations included in this response to the Online Harms White Paper are: Centenary Action Group, Antisemitism Policy Trust, Jo Cox Foundation, Carnegie UK Trust, Stonewall, HOPE Not Hate and Compassion in Politics and Glitch 
  • For reference, Glitch and The End Violence Against Women Coalition’s report can be found at: fixtheglitch.org/covid-19 
  • Glitch is a UK based charity recognised internationally for working to make the online space safe for all by raising awareness of online abuse and its impact through an intersectional lens. Glitch campaigns for long term and systematic change from both tech companies and governments. Glitch champions digital citizenship through the delivery of a range of resources and workshops on digital citizenship, digital self care and safety. Find out more: fixtheglitch.org
  • Full statement can be found at: fixtheglitch.org/OWHP-civilsociety-statement

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