It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I will take a few minutes to talk about the absolutely wonderful work of a rather new organisation called Glitch, which draws attention to the absolute blight of online abuse that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) spoke about so powerfully.
Glitch has highlighted some of the facts that demonstrate how urgent a matter online abuse is. As we all know, last year’s consultation from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport found that four in 10 people had been affected by abuse and that globally, women are 27 times more likely to be affected by abuse, while women of colour face yet more abuse on top of that. Glitch was founded by Seyi Akiwowo, who I am proud to call a friend. I have known her for about 10 years, and first met her at her sixth-form college. She did work experience in my office, and with that experience, become the youngest local councillor in Newham. I am proud to say that she now regularly visits Parliament to talk to us about her experiences and what she does, and also visits other Parliaments and the United Nations.
Glitch was founded because of Seyi’s personal experience and the experiences of many others who have suffered abuse online. Such abuse could easily have driven them out of online spaces entirely; destroyed their mental health; and ended their careers before they had even started. To be honest, that could have happened to Seyi when she first put a tentative toe in the waters of politics. A video of her speaking at the European Parliament was reposted on Twitter and became a magnet for really vile racist and sexist abuse.
Seyi is an amazingly talented young black woman who dared to participate, and she was abused online in such an appalling way. She was called the n-word. Obviously, there were death threats. There was appalling misogyny. The trolls absolutely delighted in referring to female genital mutilation, rape, and even lynching. Of course, Seyi was distraught, but being who she is, she decided to do something about it. That was when she learned how poor the support for people who are being abused can be and how long it can take for anyone to do anything about it.
I remember clearly the day that Seyi rang me to let me know what was happening. I remember her calling and telling me how she felt violated and let down. She was so angry, but proud. I remember how I felt: I was absolutely furious, and I was so much more furious about being completely and utterly impotent when I tried to get the abuse taken down. I am a vocal, committed, determined and clear MP. Anybody who has heard me advocate on behalf of constituents knows that I can be clear, yet I could not get that abuse taken off the internet, and it went on for days. My office and I repeatedly phoned Twitter to try to get the trolls taken down.
Seyi was rightly determined not to let that keep happening to others unchallenged, so she founded Glitch and has helped to ensure that the issue that we are discussing is recognised as urgent and receives an urgent response from the Government. Glitch has some clear and sensible asks, three of which I will highlight.
First, Glitch points out that although legal reform through the White Paper on online harms and beyond is welcome, no law will do the job unless it can be enforced. We therefore need a sustained commitment to training and funding our police teams properly so that they can expand the work that they do currently.
Glitch also argues that the prevention of abuse should be put first, which means a digital citizenship education. That is something that Glitch is involved in, to empower young people to interact positively and safely with others online. There is evidence of the impact of that strategy in Australia and from organisations such as the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. If the Minister is interested, there is proper evidence out there, and all we have to do is look at what has worked elsewhere, so that we can import the best of it. Frankly, we need it.
Finally, Glitch is one of more than 100 organisations that are campaigning for just 1% of the new digital services tax to be used to support the work of diverse civil society groups. An extra £4 million for that work would not change the face of the internet overnight, but I am sure that we all agree that it would build capacity and world-leading expertise. I honestly think that that would be a great investment in a flourishing digital economy, in healthier communities and in a healthier democracy. I hope that the Minister will respond to those three requests specifically.
Amazing young people like Seyi have grown up with the internet, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North rightly said in her excellent contribution, online spaces are too often filled with abuse that simply would not be tolerated in other public spaces. By treating the online world like the wild west for so long and refusing to get to grips with the difficult questions about regulation, we in this place have let those people down. Online abuse has to stop and we have to stop it.