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Online abuse laws urgently need toughening up - Maria Miller MP

Agnes Chambre | PoliticsHome

3 min read Partner content

Former cabinet minister Maria Miller speaks to PoliticsHome about the need for a vigorous shake up of online abuse laws ahead of a tabled debate.

The internet enables everyone to have their say. It connects strangers across the world who can instantly exchange ideas and create momentum for their viewpoints by assertion and public debate. But as the internet takes over every aspect of our daily lives, it also facilitates cyberbullying, revenge porn, anonymous comments on online sites and much more.

Former minister Maria Miller has already tried and failed to criminalise revenge porn, but she is now attempting to toughen up measures to tackle hate abuse online.

“I want us to focus on how children, men and women are being very badly affected by the appalling behavior of others in so many ways and yet they feel powerless to take action,” Ms Miller says ahead of her online abuse debate in which she plans to demand a fundamental review of the law governing the internet.

This is not the first campaign against online abuse the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee has launched, and her debate today, she says, will be “deliberately broad” in order to give MPs an opportunity to discuss their concerns.

During our conversation, the former culture secretary explains the police’s difficulty with the current “inadequate framework”.

“We need to get the government to focus on the broader problem of internet abuse in its many and varied forms and not simply take a sticking plaster approach to it.”

Ms Miller called for social media companies to take more responsibility for the abuse. She is clear that, for her, a code of conduct is insufficient and a statutory framework may be required.

“We have to make sure that as a country we are challenging the operators to clean up their act. Whether it’s Twitter, Google, Facebook, Instragram, all of them need to be much more clearly held to account for the way they are operating in our country.

“These are multi-national companies who are hiding behind a cloak of anonymity and we need to expose them and get them to be more transparent in the way they are operating and the level of abuse that is going on through their operations.”

“The last four years, it’s been talk of protecting freedom of speech, freedom of speech does not come at any price. Freedom of speech comes with responsibilities and that is British law.”

Some issues, people argue, are unable to penetrate the Westminster bubble, but social media trolling is not one. Various MPs including Jess Phillips and Stella Creasy have brought attention to the online castigation.

But Ms Miller was quick to point out, although women and those in the public eye do receive their fair share of abuse, they are not the only ones.

“I think there’s ample evidence to show that women receive significant levels of abuse on various social media platforms but it isn’t just a woman problem. You can see that it’s a growing concern, particularly when it comes to crimes such as revenge pornography, that the LBGT community is also concerned about the issue.

“There are issues for MPs but we’re people who put our heads above the parapet and we have to be prepared to deal with that.”

Ms Miller has been abused online “in the same way any other female MP would be,” but she adds: “I worry that people focus far too much on the abuse that is meted out to people in the public eye.” She is determined to create better protection for the vulnerable who find themselves targets of abuse.

Today’s debate will be in the House of Commons this morning.

Read the most recent article written by Agnes Chambre - Confusion among Labour's top team as senior figures disagree over second EU referendum

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