Making the internet a safer place for everyone

by Media & Events Officer, Lydia House

Today Yvette Cooper has launched a cross party campaign to make the internet a safer space for everyone. This campaign follows research that monitored UK Twitter users over a period of three weeks. It found that 6,500 individuals were targeted by 10,000 aggressive and misogynistic tweets in that period.

The ‘Reclaim the Internet’ campaign is asking for individuals, organisations, employers, union members, victims, police and tech companies to contribute to an online forum and discuss ideas on five key topics

• The role of the police and prosecutors.
• The role of organisations and employers.
• The responsibility of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, as publishers.
• The role of individuals across society to tackle trolls and support victims.
• Empowering and educating the next generation.

We urge people to respond to this forum with their experiences of online harassment and to suggest any changes that could be made to the law. Women are disproportionately affected by online harassment; in a 2015 UN report, Cyberviolence Against Women and Girls, they found that 73% of women have been exposed to or experienced some form of online violence.

Online harassment often plays a part in domestic abuse. UK charity Women’s Aid carried out research on the subject and found that for 85% of respondents the abuse they received online from a partner or ex-partner was part of a pattern of abuse they also experienced offline. For 50% of respondents the online abuse they experienced also involved direct threats to them or someone they knew.

This campaign has already attracted criticism, with claims that Yvette Cooper and other MPs involved in the campaign are attacking free speech and promoting censorship that people are too sensitive and should simply switch off their computers. We disagree. Ensuring that our laws are as up to date as possible is not censorship. No-one has the ‘right’ to direct violent threats and hate speech towards others on the internet.

There is plenty that could be changed about current laws so that police and prosecutors are able to deal with stalking, violent threats and hate speech. Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter also have the responsibility to make sure their policies ensure a safe user experience.

The internet has developed and advanced so quickly that the law simply has not caught up. We need to stop thinking about the internet as if it were a separate entity from our offline lives. We would challenge offensive speech on the street and in public spaces - we should be able to do so on the internet as well. Telling women to remove their online presence is not an option in 2016. The internet is where we socialise, work and manage our lives. Everyone has the right to move about the internet without fear of harassment or abuse.

Contribute to the Reclaim the Internet forum here.

News on the campaign

Reclaim the Internet - Fighting for Freedom of Speech - Huffington Post, 26/05/2016

Research reveals huge scale of social media misogyny - Guardian, 26/05/2016

Online abuse: how women are fighting back - Guardian, 16/05/2016

The dark side of the Guardian comments - Guardian, 12/05/2016

Online sexism is so out of control that we can no longer ignore it - Guardian, 16/05/2016

Useful links

Remaining safe online: Women’s Aid

Online and digital abuse: Women's Aid

Stop revenge porn Scotland: Scottish Women's Aid

Putting out the Twitter Trashfire - how could Twitter improve for users: Medium

Reporting, Reviewing, and Responding to Online Harassement on Twitter - Women, Action and the Media
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