Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham

Newham Recorder Column: Online Abuse

Last week, Theresa May proposed a law to tackle online abuse.  It’s high time the government recognised the scale of the problem and the damage it does, especially to young adults, and to the quality of sensible public debate.

An abusive atmosphere, where threats of violence can be made unchallenged, and even receive support, is totally unacceptable and affects children worst of all.

Many of our children have mobile phones, using applications and websites to access all manner of communications.

Children can be badly influenced by people’s spite-filled posts or unchecked comments.  Half of all girls in the UK say they have experienced harassment or bullying online and around 40% of boys.

Many said they were harassed ‘regularly,’ yet many parents are still unaware of the pressures their children experience.

Only a year ago Forest Gate Councillor Seyi Akiwowo faced down appalling abuse from far-right trolls on Twitter, after she spoke in the European Parliament.  In response, she established an impressive campaign, Glitch!UK, to fight the rise of online harassment.

Abuse and harassment have a real effect on our health:  two-thirds of women targeted by online abuse and harassment report suffering panic attacks and anxiety.

The internet and social media are vital tools in our everyday lives.  Unlike newspapers and magazines, internet giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter don’t do enough to moderate or block intimidating and abusive content.

I do not believe massive, powerful, multi-national companies will act to protect our children and our communities, unless their hands are forced.

We already have laws against intimidation, harassment and the spreading of misinformation online.  The existing laws simply are not enforced robustly enough.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister hasn’t recognised this.  Her law is designed to safeguard only MPs and local Councillors.  That’s weak and measly and won’t solve the problem, nor is it clear to me why elected representatives should get preferential treatment.

Only when the social media companies are made to take notice, and we have better training and resources for investigating authorities, will we be able to build an online culture where everyone feels, and is, safe and protected.

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