As part of this, the government have charged an independent Law Commission to review laws relating to internet abuse and offensive communications and see if they are sufficient. It is hoped that the review will be published within six months leading to parliamentary legislation thereafter.
Figures show that nearly a third of UK internet users were on the receiving end of some form of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying in 2017. The Law Commission is charged to look at how this is currently being dealt with, how evidence is expected to be proven and how this is defined and how these offences overlap with other areas of the law.
Protests are already gathering steam, declaring that any interference is contrary to our freedom of speech. This is the standard defence of trolling, along with it being about “humour and mischief”.
I wonder how many of its victims would describe the activities as “mischievous? Women are soft targets. Gina Miller, who took out a ground-breaking case against the secretary of state over leaving the EU, was a target of racial and sexual violence and bullying.
I heard her speak at the First Women Summit last year about the huge impact this had on her and describe herself as having been made to be “genuinely scared”.
It was to culminate in her spending £60,000 on beefing up her security after viscount Rhodri Philipps had put a bounty on her head, “£5,000 for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody tiresome first-generation immigrant”. Philipps was jailed for 12 weeks for racist threats, and Gina Miller alleged that the media incites such sexual and racial violence.
Carolyn Radford is CEO of Mansfield Town Football Club. Since she took on the role in her 20s, Radford has been subjected to trolling and abuse. Being young, attractive and a business woman CEO in football all seemed to be reasons to make her a prime target for abuse.
Radford told me of how shocked she was initially, having never experienced anything like that level of abuse before. A large majority of it was sexual, lewd and pornographic in content. She was hounded with sexist abuse from the stands and on message boards, and abusers ignored her degree from Durham University, or that fact she was a trained lawyer.
The abuse continues today. Mostly, Radford believes, it comes from other club’s’ fans. She says she is now able to distance herself from it, creating a barrier by reminding herself that these are people she doesn’t know and who do not know her.
The exception to this was when the abuse escalated, and she and her family received death threats by both post and social media. Radford took action and contacted the police.
Agreeing that something absolutely has to be done, Radford feels that while she has the emotional capacity to cope with it all now, that many people who suffer from it do not, and crumble under abuse.
There are no easy answers. Radford’s experiences mirrored my own when working with the police, which is are hampered by lack of co-operation from social media platforms.
Like Radford, when I was first attacked on social media when I was running my last business, I too was incredibly shocked, and devastated by the injustice of it. My attackers also approached clients, causing damage to the company’s reputation.
There were even threats of violence, leading to the police becoming involved. I found it took a shockingly long time of leaving the material out in the public domain to enable the police to identify the main people behind it all.
Gina Miller has also spoken of the problematic stance social media platforms have in reporting cyberbullying and violence. In her case, Facebook would not give up the underlying data about the people posting abuse about her.
Tamara Littleton from social media strategists The Social Element agency, speaks eloquently in her TEDX talk ‘Friend or Foe’, about her own experiences. Brought in many years ago to clean up a client’s out-of-control community website, she found that instead both she and her company became the target of those causing problems.
The Law Commission has a huge job on its hands to tackle cyber abuse. It will be a tall order for to take back control of the digital realm, and they won’t be able to do it alone.
All social media companies will have to reinvest a portion of their massive profits into creating better ways of policing, creating and reporting online abuse.
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