The Online Safety Bill must be strengthened to protect women and girls from online Wild West
Almost every woman I know has experienced some form of harassment online.
This can range from social media “pile-ons” for simply expressing an opinion, cyberstalking or being on the receiving end of unsolicited and indecent anonymous photos. The Online Safety Bill was supposed to tackle these kinds of abuse, and the government first promised new laws to keep all of us safe online back in 2017.
We’re years down the line now and while the Online Safety Bill was finally introduced in 2021, it has faced significant delay and has been repeatedly sidelined.
The government has gutted and watered down the Online Safety Bill, giving abusers a license to troll
We currently have an internet that too often openly rewards, monetises and pushes users to misogynistic, dangerous content like that of so-called influencer Andrew Tate. Online he is well-known as the “king of misogyny” and boasts about his ultra-macho lifestyle. Tate has claimed in his videos that women are a man’s property, that they cannot do jobs as well as men, and that ultimately, they belong at home.
When it comes to regulating content online, of course the balance between free speech and online safety needs to be carefully considered. Yet the global reach of these influencers can be huge. They often come with millions of followers across platforms including YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.
What is even more damaging is the fact that the business models of these platforms encourage all types of content to be actively promoted towards young people who would never seek it out. In the age of the internet, we must all open our eyes to the negative impact that so-called influencers can have and the power of platforms to elevate them to vulnerable audiences.
Indeed, I’m fully aware that many people over the age of 25 may feel out of the loop when it comes to social media influencers – but that in and of itself is a major issue. Social media platforms are hugely powerful tools to identify and target audiences that they think will be receptive to content, which often rewards extreme and controversial opinions.
It’s also not just misogyny that runs rife online, but dis- and misinformation undermining our democracy, anti vaxxers damaging public health and racist abuse.
The government has gutted and watered down the Online Safety Bill, giving abusers a license to troll. This is a shameful situation that could have been avoided if the government had made good on their promises to tackle online safety and get this legislation off the ground.
Without stronger protections for women and girls, and young people more widely, the online realm will remain a Wild West. While for some it may feel as though online harassment is something just happening to other people – I think most readers will know that is far from the truth.
That is why Labour have pledged to introduce further online safety regulation in government if the Online Safety Bill is not strengthened during its passage through Parliament.
Ultimately, leadership comes from the top. That’s why the government, if it is serious about tackling violence against women and girls, must strengthen, not weaken, the Online Safety Bill while it still has the chance. If it won’t, Labour are fully committed to doing so.
Alex Davies-Jones is the Labour MP for Pontypridd.
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