Police need new laws to tackle online abuse, former minister says


Police must be given specific new powers to tackle the "unmanageable" scale of online abuse, a Tory former minister has said.

Ex-culture secretary Maria Miller will use a Commons debate on Thursday to urge for tougher measures in tackling hate abuse targeted at people online, following growing support among MPs.

Ms Miller wants the Government to set out specific new laws to tackle online abuse as well as to offer better training to police officers to show users that the internet is no longer "the Wild West".

The MP also intends to bring forward amendments to the Government's Digital Economy Bill to help police more easily bring prosecutions.

She said: "Online abuse is already not only ruining lives, it is creating mayhem for the police," she said.

"The scale of the criminal activity that is going on is completely unmanageable so we can't turn a blind eye to it any longer.

"We have to look at the law to strengthen the sanctions that are available and we also have to turn a very sharp spotlight on to the platforms to show up those that are not taking this seriously."

She warned that social media platforms could face a levy to help cover the cost of policing online hate crime.

Ms Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said the Government should consider forcing organisations such as Twitter and Instagram to pay a fee to police in the same way football clubs and sporting venues do.

However, she said the move should only be a "last resort" if online platforms fail to help tackle the scale of online abuse that police forces are dealing with.

She told the Press Association: "If that isn't enough, the Government should also be considering whether they should be adding a levy to those organisations to pay for the cost of policing, in the same way they add a levy to sporting venues who may disproportionately require the support of the police.

"I would hope that would be a last resort because I think there is much more that could be done before that, but at the moment there appears to be a lack of clear determination in the industry to clean up its act."

She added: "We cannot allow people to act in a criminal way simply because organisations have set their businesses up in a way that can appear to encourage criminal activity."

She also fears that MPs are effectively being censored by the level of abuse they receive online, with some quitting social media platforms altogether.

She said: "Abuse can have a chilling effect on MPs using social media, but also on their willingness to talk about certain subjects as well and that is worrying for democracy.

"My fear is it will deter some people from even wanting to become an MP in the first place."

She hoped the debate would focus on adult-related online abuse, including homophobic, sexist and racist abuse.

But following the launch of a new inquiry into harassment in schools by her committee, she said it became clear that there is still a "great deal more to do" to tackle online child abuse.

She said recent investigations have found child abuse perpetrators are using Instagram to encourage children and teenagers to send in pornographic photos of themselves and other people which are then used on hidden websites.

The so-called "baiting" proves that perpetrators are finding "new and devious" ways to operate undetected, she said.