This week, Clean Up The Internet was invited to give evidence to the House Of Commons Petitions Committee, as part of their inquiry into Online Abuse.
The Petitions Committee has a specific brief to engage in issues which it identifies as being of significant public concern, on the basis of parliamentary e-petitions. They launched this inquiry in response to a large number of petitions highlighting abuse on social media - including one started by celebrity Katie Price, demanding action to tackle anonymous abuse, which attracted almost 700,000 signatures.
I appeared on a panel alongside Seyi Akiwowo, founder of Glitch, and Andy Burrows, Head of Child Safety Online Policy at the NSPCC. Straight after us the committee heard from a further panel comprising Ellen Judson (Senior Researcher at Demos), William Perrin OBE (Trustee at Carnegie Trust UK) and Dr Bertie Vidgen (Research Fellow at The Alan Turing Institute).
As one would have expected given the various e-petitions, the issue of anonymity was explored in some detail by both panels. It was encouraging to see a level of consensus emerging, amongst both the MPs and our fellow panellists, on the need for a nuanced approach. It’s not that long ago that discussions of anonymity on social media got stuck in an unhelpful debate between defenders of the platforms’ current “anything goes” stance, and those seeking an outright ban.
Clean Up The Internet’s suggestion is that anonymity instead be treated as a risk factor, which platforms are required to manage effectively through measures such as giving users a “right to verify” and a choice as to whether or not they want to hear from unverified users. This appears to be gaining traction, with most panellists expressing support for such an approach.
The members of the Petitions Committee appeared receptive to our argument that the Online Safety Bill should include explicit measures on anonymity on the face of the Bill rather than leaving it to the regulator, or trusting platforms to include it in their risk assessments. They also appeared to agree that, given the level of public concern, if the Online Safety Bill doesn’t contain specific provisions to tackle misuse of anonymity they can expect to continue to receive a high volume of petitions on the subject.
We are grateful to the Petitions Committee for inviting us to take part in their inquiry. A video and audio of the session is available here. A transcript will be available from the Committee’s pages on the parliament website, shortly.