Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence, and Information – an Update

Comments joking about raping MP Jess Phillips by a newly selected UKIP candidate for the upcoming European Election have sparked discussion about the online abuse those in public life face. The current gap in legislation means police are still deciding whether an offence has been committed, and what sort of harm it represents.

Scottish politicians have also recently highlighted the growing problem of online abuse in politics .

6 months ago, in collaboration with the Centenary Action Group, Glitch responded to the Cabinet Office consultation “Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence and Information”.

We were pleased to see the UK government recognising the need for stronger legislation to address hate and abuse in politics as well as the ways in which digital technology is used to target women in public life.

We expressed support for the proposed new offence in electoral law of intimidating Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners. However, any new offence created must recognise the gendered and intersectional nature of abuse women suffer in political life. Threatening and harassing those in public life is not acceptable; it is toxic for politics, a threat to democratic engagement and silences healthy debate.

This consultation must introduce robust measures to address intimidation of parliamentary candidates and party campaigners, including potentially criminalising intimidation of party candidates online and offline. We also called for broader measures to be taken to tackle intimidation, harassment and abuse of those in public life.

Why is this so important?

If unchallenged, abuse and harassment of candidates and campaigners will undermine representation and inclusiveness in politics. As the consultation recognised, Amnesty International’s research found Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) women Members of Parliament are targeted far more than their white colleagues. Ultimately, hate can seriously damage people’s wellbeing and fuel violence in real life, as we saw in the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP in 2016.

Everyone across society should feel safe and able to access their right to stand for public office; these issues must be addressed directly and fully to protect democracy from new threats. Making the intimidation of those in public life an electoral offence is not only a vital first step, it sends a message that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

What is Glitch calling for?

  • The government response to this consultation, and any new offence created, should pay more heed to specific, gendered and intersectional abuse women suffer in political life
  • Individuals found guilty of a specified offence should be prohibited from standing or holding any elected office for a period of 5 years. This would ensure consistency with other electoral offences and serve as a deterrent
  • The new electoral law should also cover people who have publicly stated they are going to stand for election even when their candidacy has not officially commenced
  • Digital citizenship needs to be central to education, taught universally and from a young age. This is now recognised around the world from UNESCO to the UK House of Lords

What was the consultation’s outcome?

From July to October last year, 41 formal responses were submitted. The government has published a report summarising outcomes this month.

The proposal to introduce a new offence was generally welcomed; most responses agreed that intervention is needed to protect political debate.

What happens next?

The Government has taken some initial steps including;

  • Provision of a Crown Prosecution Service information pack for MPs to help recognise and report intimidating behaviour
  • Discussions with social media companies about a ‘pop up’ social media team to provide support during elections
  • Steps to implement the recommendation that “the Government should bring forward legislation to remove the requirement for candidates standing as local councillors to have their home addresses published on the ballot paper”

However, as the European elections approach, candidates are still at risk.

What can I do?

The Fawcett Society has created a petition calling for the Government to take this more seriously as a matter of urgency. You can read more and add your voice to the call for a more respectful, kind, hate-free politics here.

Reform takes time. We cannot wait for new legislation, whether from this consultation or from the Online Harms White Paper, we need action now.  By committing to ring-fencing at least 1% of the new digital services tax, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2018, the Government could commit £4m annually to ending online abuse.

Through no negative deficit, we can lay foundations to ensure we are world-leading in the digital arena and that everyone can participate online safely. Now is the time for this Government to invest in ending online abuse and in creating a safer web for tomorrow.

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Minister for Digital agrees to ask the Chancellor to ringfence 1% of digital services tax to end online abuse

On April 29th, MP Lyn Brown, Co-Chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s APPG, delivered our recommendations to the Minister for Digital. We are very pleased to say that MP Margot James has agreed to ask the Chancellor to look into ringfencing 1% of the digital services tax to ending online abuse. Watch the full clip here

 

Response to Online Harms White Paper

Today the UK Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sports have published the long awaited Online Harms White Paper. For the last two years Glitch has campaigned for social media companies to produce reports revealing how much harmful content has been found on their platforms. We are extremely pleased this has been included in the UK Government’s White Paper.

Glitch is not about imposing restrictions on how we use social media nor censoring our right to free speech or freedom of expression.  These recommendations are solely about protecting all users from clearly defined harms, dissuading harmful behaviour and investing in digital citizenship.

Our recommendations are focused on ensuring social media are a safe place for all people to use, to express themselves free from online hate speech, harassment and abuse. Our calls for reform include, regular and holistic transparency reports, effective reporting processes, statutory duty of care on platforms, a levy on social media companies and investment in digital citizenship and resilience education.

A Survation poll , commissioned by Level Up last month, found that 56% of women under 25 and 40% of women from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background said they had been harassed at least once on Facebook. Not only is an intersectional approach to addressing online harms necessary but also the inclusion of as many diverse civil society groups working on online harms and online tech related violence. Over the coming weeks we look forward to working with civil society groups to provide a detailed analysis and response to the Government’s proposal.

Our response: Mark Zuckerberg asks governments to help control internet content

On Saturday 30th March, Facebook’s Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted in an open letter that the company needs governments’ help to control content on their platform. This includes stronger regulation around harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. Glitch strongly believes these social media platforms cannot be used as a tool to spread hate and further existing inequalities. For last two years Glitch along with many other civil society groups have been calling for significant action and investment from social media companies to tackle harmful content on their platforms.

Our recommendations are focused on ensuring social media are a safe place for all people to use, to express themselves free from online hate speech, harassment and abuse. Our calls for reform include, regular and holistic transparency reports, effective reporting processes, statutory duty of care on platforms, and a levy on social media companies. We are pleased that Facebook has not only finally admitted there is a huge problem but are also making similar calls for reform. This is a long awaited announcement and we agree action is needed from governments as part of package to fix the glitch and end online abuse. However, we need a multifaceted approach to ending online abuse and this must also include social media companies adopting a duty of care to all users. 

Online abuse in all its forms is having a devastating impact on mental health and wellbeing, democracy and human rights.  A Department for Culture, Media and Sport consultation last year found four in ten people said they had experienced abuse online. Addressing online harms such as online abuse, bullying and malformation requires not only a universal approach from governments and businesses but also partnership working amongst all social media companies. This is also part of our call for reform. We are pleased that such partnership working exists to address some forms of extremism and child sex exploitation. We ask that the scope of this partnership is extended to review online gender based abuse and violence.

More recently a Survation poll , commissioned by Level Up last month, found that 56% of women under 25 and 40% of women from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background said they had been harassed at least once on Facebook. Not only is an intersectional approach to addressing online harms necessary but also the inclusion of as many diverse civil society groups working on online harms and online tech related violence.

Following Zuckeberg’s announcement and the long awaited UK Government White Paper on Online Harms which is expected to set out the responsibilities of online platforms, Glitch also hopes to see the White Paper cover areas of regulation and reform Zuckerberg is finally calling for.

These calls for reforms will become empty promises if there is no commitment to financial investment from all social media companies. Since Autumn last year Glitch and 100 women’s right organisations and activist from the Centenary Action Group have been campaigning for new money to protect the public from online offences and harms. We strongly believe global tech giants should pay their fair share.

The new “digital services tax” of 2% on tech giants such as Facebook is expected to raise an additional £400m a year and we are asking the UK Government to ringfence at least 1% of the new digital service tax annually for ending online abuse. These reforms and calls for investment are the decisive actions we must see to fix the glitch and ensure the internet is safer and useable for all.

#FixTheGlitch TweetChat: How Can We End Online Gender-Based Violence?

On 13th February we launched the first edition of our Fix The Glitch Toolkit, a resource designed to support individuals who want to help end online abuse. In 2017 The Law Commission reported 28% of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying and, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, online abuse disproportionately affects women and girls. Our Toolkit contains guidance for tackling online gender based violence (OGBV) and equips communities with tools to take action. To mark the launch of the Fix The Glitch Toolkit, we hosted the #FixTheGlitch Tweet Chat discussing online gender-based violence (OGBV) with 168 Twitter users.

The chat was a success, trending in the UK and reaching just under 1 million people. Key experts from the UK and beyond joined the Tweet Chat, including:

The lunchtime chat spanned a wide ranging conversation, which we summarise below for those who couldn’t join in. You can also access the Twitter Moment we built to view all the responses to our questions.

The first question focused on the various OGBV tactics seen or witnessed by the panellists, who debated the different tactics of OGBV, how increasingly organised the phenomenon is becoming. The experts also discussed the false dichotomy between online and offline violence.

The debate moved on to a discussion about the impact and cost of OGBV. Consequences such as disinformation, hate speech, abuse & harassment, and mental health were mentioned; as well as the silencing and censoring effect OGBV has on women. The fact that the dynamics and impact of OGBV vary according to different contexts was also mentioned.

The next question was about how social media companies should tackle OGBV. Panellists discussed issues such as better elaboration of products, implementation of community standards, improvements in content moderation and stronger transparency.

The fourth question touched on the issue of how governments can ensure women are safe in online spaces. The lack of political action was pointed out as an obstacle to end OGBV. OGBV is not always seen as a priority for governments. Panellists also debated the need to invest in education policies and on law enforcement training.

Towards the end of our TweetChat, we asked what actions and practices individuals can adopt to end OGBV. Something that was repeatedly mentioned was the importance of offering support to targets of OGBV.  Panellist also encouraged individuals to be advocates against gender-based violence.

Our Fix The Glitch Toolkit is designed to help you have conversations about OGBV anywhere, whether it’s at work, school, an organisation you belong to or online with other social media users. This is an exclusive edition comprised of only 100 copies. If you’re interested in being part of the first 100 please complete this short interest form.

#EndOnlineAbuse Campaign: Our Response to the APPG on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing

Today The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing published its enquiry report on the health impact of social media.

We welcome the report’s recommendations, particularly the call for social media companies to be taxed on profits to to fund research and draw up clearer guidance for the public.

Since Autumn last year Glitch and the Centenary Action Group have been campaigning for new money to protect the public from online offences and harms. We strongly believe global tech giants should pay their fair share. We cannot wait for regulation, we need practical action now. A DCMS consultation last year found four in ten people said they had experienced abuse online. This issue impacts not only the mental health and wellbeing of young people but also negatively impacts on community cohesion and exacerbates existing social inequalities that also disproportionately affect marginalised communities.

Through no negative deficit, using money from the newly announced “digital services tax” of 2% on tech giants, the UK Government can take decisive action towards ensuring the internet is useable for all, championing online citizenship and reinforcing our position as a leader in the digital arena. This new tax is expected to raise an additional £400m a year and we are asking the Government to ring-fence at least 1% of the new digital service tax annually for ending online abuse. We recommend this new money is used to:

  • Enforce existing legislation on online abuse and increase police resources
  • Educate the public on the importance of good online citizenship.
  • Empower individuals and civil society organisations working to end online abuse.

The UK Government has announced a White Paper setting out the responsibilities of online platforms that will be published soon. Consideration is being given to measures we recommend such as an internet regulator, statutory ‘duty of care’ on platforms, and a levy on social media companies.

We look forward to finding out more about these measures and for this consultation to involve as many diverse civil society groups working on online harms and online tech related violence.

Our Statement on ChristChurch Mosque Attacks

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We are saddened and horrified to hear about the attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of all victims and those injured. We stand against all forms of hate and extremism and the use of online platforms in spreading those messages of fear and violence.

As the story unfolds and more evidence is shared, we are increasingly frustrated to hear about the use of social media in this attack. This is not the first time we’ve seen these platforms used for ill and unfortunately we do not believe it will be the last.  One of the attackers posted pictures on Twitter of his weapon and shared his intention to attack. He also posted severals links to his manifesto, an anti-immigration and anti-Islam screed, an hour before the attack on a platform called 8Chan. If we want to become better able to spot and prevent attacks from happening there must be investment in data gathering to identify patterns and join the dots between all forms of online abuse and in real life (IRL) attacks

We call on all platforms to prioritise and invest in the safety and wellbeing of their users, especially the marginalised communities that have historically been targeted the most. IRL attacks such as these could have been prevented and we look forward to hearing social media platforms commit to an investigative review with the aim of implementing new policies and processes.  We have questions that must be urgently investigated and answered. How long has this attacker and the group he belongs to been organising via social media platforms? How long was the Facebook livestream allowed to play? Why are these platforms struggling to take down the video?

Social media cannot be used as a tool to further existing inequalities and spread hate. This is why we also call on Governments to invest in digital citizenship and literacy education and ringfence new money for tackling all forms of online abuse. We recommend these funds are used to:

  • Enforce existing legislation on online abuse and increase police resources
  • Establish new legislation where needed to address hate speech online
  • Educate the public on the importance of good online citizenship  
  • Empower individuals and civil society organisations working to end online abuse

We must stand united and fix the glitch in our online spaces to end all forms of online abuse and prevent IRL attacks from happening.

In solidarity,

Glitch Team

 

#EndOnlineAbuse Campaign Response to Spring Statement 2019

This afternoon, the Chancellor of Exchequer Spring Statement made reference to the responsibility of tech giants and online harms. While we welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to protecting the public from online harms and ensuring that global tech giants pay their fair share, we cannot wait for regulation, we need practical action now.

A DCMS consultation last year found four in ten people said they had experienced abuse online. This issue impacts community cohesion, mental health and wellbeing and exacerbates existing social inequalities that also disproportionately affect marginalised communities. During the Autumn Statement last year, the Chancellor announced a new “digital services tax” of 2% on tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter. This tax is expected to raise an additional £400m a year but we are yet to hear any further details on how this new money is going to be spent.

​​To efficiently and effectively combat online abuse, Glitch and the Centenary Action Group repeat our call for the Chancellor to ring-fence at least 1% of the new digital service tax annually for ending online abuse. We recommend this new money is used to:

  • Enforce existing legislation on online abuse and increase police resources.
  • Educate the public on the importance of good online citizenship.  
  • Empower individuals and civil society organisations working to end online abuse.

Through no negative deficit, using money from tech giants, the UK Government can take decisive action towards ensuring the internet is use-able for all – championing online citizenship and reinforcing our position as a leader in the digital arena.

The Prime Minister has called online abuse in public life “a threat to democracy” and evidence clearly proves that online abuse is a growing problem. As the UK Government looks to introduce new laws to make the UK “the safest place to be online”, now is the time to invest in ending online abuse and we urge the Chancellor to invest as a matter of urgency.

International Women’s Day: Balance for a Safer Internet

The first Women’s Day was marked in February 1909, in wintry New York. Much has changed since, but sadly, women today still face old threats that simply come in new vehicles, digital ones.

If you were a woman in 1909 Britain you were likely treated as your father or husband’s property. This was still five years before you could serve as a constable in the police force, at least nine years before you would have the right to vote, and a whole sixty-six years before discrimination against women in employment, education and training became illegal.

Many of the rights we take for granted today have their foundations in The Sex Discrimination Act, which passed in 1975. That same year, the United Nations officially marked International Women’s Day (IWD) as an annual celebration of women’s achievements and a day of campaigning for women all over the world to live as equals. From that first gathering in chilly New York to a day commemorated internationally, the movement has come far.

Today, we live in a world revolutionised by the Internet – if you are 25 or younger you have grown up with it.  We have immeasurable information at our fingertips and can find advice on almost anything online. It feels like progress. Or at the very least, like potential for progress.

Unfortunately, the Internet’s current, almost-anarchic state is also part of the reason why, even in 2019, women still face serious threats.

Globally, women are 27 times more likely to be harassed online. Further, women of colour, women with LGBTQ+ identities and women with disabilities are targeted more. Shaming, sexual harassment, stalking, non-consensual photo sharing and threats of violence have proliferated on social media and in comments sections on articles and videos. Online abuse, while perpetuated through new technologies, echoes outdated and toxic attitudes to women. Amnesty International’s research also found politicians and journalists who are female and black almost two times more likely to receive abuse on Twitter than their white colleagues.

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Interviewing for the Guardian, Diane Abbott,  said she stopped using Twitter because  of the racist and sexist abuse she received through the 2017 elections. “It’s a shame really,’ she reflected, ‘I used to enjoy Twitter.”

Balance for Better, this year’s IWD theme, underlines the need for women to be better represented across society, particularly  for girls to be supported to pursue their interests in fields traditionally dominated by men.

Representation is key; more women in politics and technology could help shape a more balanced world, but women need to feel safe and resilient enough to participate – especially online. More women involved at every level, from design to  the boardroom, could make technology smarter, more inclusive and safe for everyone.

Great work is already underway;  Stemettes organises mentoring, hackathons, talks and exhibitions to inspire girls to explore STEM careers, and Feminist Internet’s ground-breaking projects challenge harmful representations of women, working to prevent sexism being embedded in Internet and Artificial Intelligence technologies.

We can all play a role as active bystanders to encourage women to contribute to these spaces and by challenging and reporting voices that attempt to intimidate. The Fix The Glitch Toolkit provides resources to clarify the different forms online abuse can take, and practical advice about how to respond to online abuse.

The Internet reflects but also shapes the offline world, and has potential to reach millions.  In late 2017, we saw the #MeToo movement shed light on the scale of sexual harassment. The movement has also prompted discussions both on and offline  about how gender norms affect everyone.

Today, we have technology that could help us collectively address barriers women have faced in silence for so long, but until we address the imbalance that limits gender representation across society and the toxic online behaviour that intimidates women from making their voices heard, this will remain only as potential.

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Just as the Sex and Discrimination Act of 1975 fuelled social change that helped women feel safer at work, legislative reform today could catalyse much-needed change to make online spaces safe. The introduction of a ‘tech tax’ last year was a fantastic step. Policy interventions could build on this by ring-fencing revenues from the new tax to fund public education and campaigns about online well-being alongside better governance and policing to investigate online abuse.

“I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
― Malala Yousafzai

Our call for IWD2019: End Online Abuse

To mark International Women’s Day 2019 and Women’s History Month we are asking the Chancellor of Exchequer to make a commitment to ringfence at least 1% of the new digital services tax in the upcoming Spring Spending Review.

Representation is key to change; more women in leadership positions, public life and technology could help shape a more balanced world, but women need to feel safe and resilient to participate – especially online. One in ten women in Europe have experienced some kind of online abuse since the age of 15. Amnesty International has reported a “silencing effect” for women and girls who upon suffering online abuse have been forced to censor themselves in online spaces. This prevents women and girls from accessing relevant information, expressing their opinions and participating in public debates. It is only right that social media companies, while paying their fair share in supporting our public services, help end online abuse on their platforms.

Glitch have partnered with the Centenary Action Group (CAG) a cross-party campaigning coalition convened by Helen Pankhurst to lead a new campaign to end online abuse. During the Autumn Statement last year, the UK Chancellor announced a new “digital services tax” of 2% on tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter. This tax is expected to raise an additional £400m a year. By ringfencing at least 1% of this new tax annually for ending online abuse – the Government can commit £4m to further establishing online standards which are fair and necessary to the growing digital economy.

The UK has positively benefited from internet innovations, and to continue to benefit we need to manage the related threats of online harms and violence in the digital world. We wouldn’t stand for sexist, racist or violent threats in our society- so we shouldn’t stand for it online. We cannot wait for legislation we need practical action now. Let’s be global leaders in creating ethical online standards.

Our campaign provides recommendations of how the 1% should be used; to enforce existing and new legislation on online abuse and increase police resources; educate the public on the importance of good online citizenship and empower individuals and civil society organisations working to end online abuse.

How can you help us?

 This weekend, ahead of the Spring Spending Review can you:

  • Write to the Chancellor of Exchequer asking to make a commitment to ringfence at least 1% of the new digital services tax to help achieve this.
  • Write to your Member of Parliament asking them to ask a question during the Spring Spending Review debate to make a commitment to ringfence at least 1% of the new digital services tax to help achieve this.
  • Tweet your MP asking them to support @glitchuk_ and @centenaryaction’s #endonlineabuse campaign

Through no negative deficit, using money from tech giants, the UK Government can take decisive action towards ensuring the internet is use-able for all – championing online citizenship and reinforcing our position as a global leader in the digital arena.