Clean Up The Internet took part in a very encouraging meeting in parliament last week, to discuss proportionate solutions to problems associated with misuse of anonymous social media accounts.
The cross-party meeting of MPs was co-chaired by Maria Miller MP and Siobhan Baillie MP, both of whom spoke eloquently on the need for greater action and the opportunities for progress presented by the Online Safety Bill.
Siobhan Baillie MP also set out plans to table a Ten Minute Rule Bill. Her TMRB will demonstrate a potential legislative approach to ensuring that anonymity is tackled as a risk factor, and require that individual users are given new choices to verify their own account and manage their interaction with unverified accounts.
We were joined by actor and comedian Emily Atack, who spoke extremely powerfully about her personal experiences of abuse on social media including violent, threatening and sexual language and cyberflashing, and the impact it has all had on her. Her speech had a very visible impact on many of the MPs present, and clearly helped focus their minds on the need for solutions to be found.
Clean Up The Internet's Stephen Kinsella and David Babbs explained to the MPs how our research has found anonymity to be misused, and how this has enabled us to identify options which avoid either “banning” anonymity or perpetuating platforms' current “anything goes” approach. We set out how our proposals would target the behaviours of those seeking to misuse anonymity to do harm without restricting free speech, and that users would be able to continue to use an anonymous or pseudonymous social media account if they so choose. We detailed how our approach would build on, and improve, measures already envisaged in the Online Safety Bill. We highlighted that addressing the role of anonymity in fueling abuse would reduce reliance on content regulation and would ease the burden on law enforcement.
Matt Hawkins, from the Compassion in Politics APPG, set out to MPs the findings of two sets of polling which he has conducted with Opinium, which found that 1 in 4 ordinary social media users in the UK reports experiencing threats, bullying or harassment, 72% of it involving anonymous accounts. Perhaps unsurprisingly given this, the research has found very high levels of public support for greater action to tackle misuse of anonymity, with an overwhelming majority of the public willing to take up an option of verifying their identity and interested in having options to limit interaction with anonymous accounts. His evidence lent further weight to our argument that levels of public confidence in the Online Safety Bill would be greatly enhanced if it includes clear measures to tackle the misuse of anonymity. Our presentations were followed by questions and comments from other MPs present, which included several former ministers with recent involvement in the online safety agenda. The discussion ranged quite widely, but there appeared to be a significant consensus that anonymous abuse was a problem that needed to be addressed within the OSB, and that the government should seriously consider solutions along the lines we have been proposing, and which Siobhan Baillie MP is proposing in her Ten Minute Rule Bill. We were pleased with the level of attendance and interest, and hope that the government takes note that this is an issue on which a wide range of parliamentarians can agree. Siobhan Baillie MP has now confirmed that her Ten Minute Rule Bill will be tabled on 24 November. Based on this meeting we hope to see it garner significant support from across the political spectrum.