Current online abuse laws not fit for purpose, say MPs

An inquiry into the online abuse of disabled people triggered by a petition started by Katie Price has said self-regulation of social media has failed and current laws are not fit for purpose.

A report by the House of Commons Petitions Committee said the Government and social media firms must directly consult with disabled people on digital strategy and hate crime law, and that social media firms need to accept responsibility for allowing “toxic environments to exist unchallenged”.

The inquiry was launched after Price started a petition to make online abuse a specific criminal offence and create a register of offenders after highlighting the online abuse her son, Harvey, who is partially blind, autistic and has Prader-Willi syndrome.

The petition had attracted more than 220,000 signatures before being closed early due to the 2017 general election.

Committee chair Helen Jones MP said: “Our inquiry into online abuse and the experience of disabled people has shown that social media is rife with horrendous, degrading and dehumanising comments about people with disabilities.

“The law on online abuse is not fit for purpose and it is truly shameful that disabled people have been forced off social media while their abusers face no consequences.

“There is no excuse for the continued failure to make online platforms as safe for disabled people. Self-regulation has failed disabled people and the law must change to ensure more lives are not destroyed.”

The committee’s recommendations also said that laws on hate crime must give disabled people the same protections as those who suffer hate crime due to race or religion.

The committee said it found “disability hate crime was not fully recognised and perpetrators are not appropriately punished”.

It called on the Government to review the experience of disabled people when reporting crimes and giving evidence, saying: “Too many disabled people have not been treated seriously because frontline officers and staff do not understand disability. Training and support is needed to overcome this.”

The report also criticised footballing organisations, claiming only one of the five organisations it contacted responded to concerns that a high proportion of abusive content against disabled people was linked to football.

“It is deeply disappointing that the footballing organisations with whom we raised concerns about abusive behaviour expressed no interest in addressing the problem. Their lack of response is shameful,” the report said.

The committee said letters had been sent to anti-racism group Kick It Out, the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Football Association, the Premier League and English Football League.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been repeatedly criticised over their policing hate speech, abuse and false information that appears on their platforms.

A Government spokesman said: “As part of the Online Harms White Paper we are bringing in new laws and reviewing existing ones to make the internet safer for everyone, including disabled people.”

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