News story legal challenge

22nd January 2019 • Emma Cooper

A new report has been published today by the House of Commons Petitions Committee looking at online abuse and the experience of disabled people.

The inquiry was prompted by a petition started by Katie Price after her disabled son Harvey received constant online abuse. Her petition was signed by 221,914 people and read:

Make online abuse a specific criminal offence and create a register of offenders.

Trolling is a major problem in this day and age. People of all ages and background suffer every day, including my family – especially my son Harvey. I have tried my best to expose people and even had two arrested but nothing was done and there were no repercussions or penalties for this behaviour.

This does not affect just high profile people it affects everyone from every walk of life, from young children, teenagers, people at work, husbands and wives. This abuse includes racism, homophobia, body shaming and a whole range of other hate speech.

This petition is an important topical issue and I want to help bring justice to everyone who has ever suffered at the hands of trolls. Help me to hammer home worldwide that bullying is unacceptable whether it’s face to face or in an online space.

The inquiry proposed to examine online abuse and the governance of social media in more detail and heard from disabled people all over the UK. Agreeing with Katie Price that the law on online abuse is not fit for purpose, the Committee has now made a number of recommendations. Stating that there is wider work to be done, the Committee’s recommendations include:

  • The Government and social media companies must directly consult with disabled people on digital strategy and hate crime law.
  • Social media companies need to accept their responsibility for allowing toxic environments to exist unchallenged. They must ensure that their mechanisms and settings for managing content are accessible to and appropriate for all disabled people. They need to be more proactive in searching for and removing hateful and abusive content.
  • The Government needs to recognise that the way disabled people are often marginalised offline plays a significant part in the abuse they receive online. It needs to challenge stereotypes and prejudices about disabled people, particularly among children and young people, and require proportionate representation of disabled people in its advertising.
  • Disability hate crime is not fully recognised and perpetrators are not appropriately punished. The law on hate crime must give disabled people the same protections as those who suffer hate crime due to race or religion.

A debate will now be scheduled on the petition in Westminster Hall. MPs will be able to question the Minister about the Government’s approach to online abuse, the petition’s requests and the Committee’s findings on the online abuse of disabled people.