As the UK Government looks to introduce new laws to make the UK the safest place to be online we are urging the Chancellor of Exchequer to ring-fence at least 1% of the new digital services tax to help achieve this.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May called online abuse in public life “a threat to democracy” and evidence clearly proves that online abuse is a growing problem. A 2017 consultation by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport found four in ten people said they had experienced abuse online.
This has a devastating impact on people’s lives which disproportionately affects young people and women. As we spend more of our lives online, digitalize our public services and move discourse to online spaces, stemming online abuse is more important than ever. We welcome the introduction of new legislation but we also need practical action now. By committing to ring-fencing new money to end online abuse now, we can take an active role in creating an online society based on our values. We can put in place the building blocks to ensure we are world-leading in fostering a digital arena where everyone can participate safely. Now is the time for the Government to invest in ending online abuse and in a safer web for tomorrow.
On 29th October 2018, 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 £400 million a year. By ring-fencing at least 1% of this new tax annually for ending online abuse, the Government can commit £4 million to further establishing online standards which are fair and necessary to the growing digital economy.
To efficiently and effectively combat online abuse, we recommend this 1% should be pledged to the following three areas:
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 open for all, championing online citizenship and reinforcing our position as a globally-leading digital arena.
Online abuse is a real problem. In 2017 The Law Commission reported “28% of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying”. This has a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health and physical integrity, particularly for young people. Cyberbullying makes young people twice as likely to self-harm or attempt suicide.
Online abuse disproportionately affects women and girls. 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. Online abuse prevents women and girls from accessing relevant information, expressing their opinions and participating in public debates.
Several Parliamentary reports and inquiries have supported our recommendations for how money invested in ending online could be best spent: enforce; educate; and empower.
In 2018, the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s report on Intimidation in Public Life recommended that for UK law to be effective and enforceable, better guidance and training is needed to enable police to effectively investigate offences committed online. In 2019 the Petition Committee also recommended that the Government ensure “every frontline police officer receives the support necessary”. In order to enforce existing legislation an investment in police capacity and resource is required.
Policing and legislation should not be the primary means of addressing online abuse; the primary focus must be on prevention. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women’s 2018 report highlighted the effectiveness of information and education campaigns. Additionally, Recl@im the Internet, a cross-party campaign, has called for education and empowering the next generation. The Digital Charter confirmed in the 2017 Queen’s Speech the importance of raising awareness and countering "internet harms" by helping children use services online in a safe manner. We know from previous government public campaigns, such as the £4.6 million “Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign in 2012-3, that public education saves lives and reduces risks. A public campaign on online citizenship would allow everyone to participate in the growing digital economy.
Some of the most effective change happens on the ground, which is why it is also crucial that the Government empowers and creates partnerships with civil society. The Science and Technology Committee’s January 2018 report recommends “the Government must proactively lead the way in ensuring that an effective partnership is in place across civil society, technology companies and law enforcement, aimed at ending... online abuse”. Investing in civil society groups as local delivery partners and local experts has proven results for effective impact.
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. Reinvest at least 1% of the new digital services tax into further establishing our global-leading digital economy and ensure that everyone can benefit from participation in the online world.
To make this happen, we need your help. Please sign our petition with Level Up and call on the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to invest in ending online abuse:
If you think you can support our campaign in another way please contact us:
Seyi Akiwowo, Founder and Executive Director, Glitch (firstname.lastname@example.org)