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Celebrities, charities, and a cross-party group of MPs have today launched a new campaign aimed at ending online abuse.
The Stop the Hate coalition wants to tackle the “epidemic” of online abuse which they believe is responsible for spreading hate and creating social divisions as well as causing increased rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm amongst some social media users.
The campaign, which is being steered by Compassion in Politics, More United, and the Centenary Action Group, is backed by, among others, Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud, Love Island contestant Zara Holland, campaigner Caroline Criado Perez, the Women’s Institute, and a host of Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, and SNP MPs.
The campaign launches with new research showing how commonplace online abuse has become and the impact that is having on the lives of those subjected to it.
Polling by Opinium for the campaign found that 1 in 4 (23%) have suffered abuse online. That figure rises to nearly half (44%) for those aged 18-34.
Of those who have suffered abuse, 1 in 3 (34%) have actually left social media as a result.
Overall 27% also said that fear of abuse has prevented them from voicing their opinions online. Nearly two-thirds (61%) agree that social media companies are not doing enough to protect their users from abuse.
Stop the Hate is aiming to use the upcoming Online Harms Bill to secure effective government action to tackle abuse online. They are calling for social media companies to be given a legal duty of care for their users, for the creation of an independent organisation to oversee the work of social media companies in the UK, and action to reduce the number of anonymous social media accounts.
Fashion label owner and former Love Island contestant Zara Holland, a champion for the campaign, said:
"My life was devastated by online abuse and I know many other people who have been put through the same pain and torture. It is hard to explain just how lonely, dark, and depressing it can be to have people hounding you on a daily basis. If a crowd gathered outside your house to do that, they'd be removed and it should be no different online.
"But I do have cause for hope. I believe the work of the Stop the Hate campaign could, if their demands are listened to, really turn the tide against online abuse. To do that we have to acknowledge the size of the problem. Online abuse is a modern-day evil and we will not beat it with piece-meal reforms and tweaks to social media algorithms. We need to step up and change the rules of the game so that social media companies are compelled to prioritise and protect the wellbeing of their users, the use of anonymous accounts is severely limited, and the complaints procedure is made transparent, robust, and effective."
Conservative MP Siobhan Baillie said:
“The Online Harms Bill is the golden opportunity to tackle online abuse and the government has promised it will come before parliament for debate next year. While being alive to the importance of freedom of speech, I believe there are still issues the Bill can address if it is to be effective in tackling online abuse.
“For example, there are many calls regarding whether social media companies should be responsible for the wellbeing and safety of their users: just as any company is responsible for the safety of the products they sell. Given the lack of enforcement and issues to date, should an independent organisation oversee social media companies? The same already applies to traditional media - Ofcom performs this role very well. Lastly, and it has taken me a long time to reach this view, I think we need to act against anonymous accounts.”
Labour MP Debbie Abrahams said:
“Left to their own devices, social media companies will not make the changes needed to reduce the prevalence of online abuse: closing accounts, employing more and better trained complaints reviewers, and creating barriers to entry are all likely to harm their profit margins. Social media companies seek to further their private interest - the government must represent the public’s.
“For the government my message is this: please grasp the nettle. Do not let this historic moment go to waste. Online abuse, harassment, and bullying is having an untold impact on individual lives and is weakening our democracy. Now is the time for real action.”
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