The Online Safety Bill published this Wednesday marks a milestone in the path to a safer internet where tech giants are held to account. The Bill will protect children from harmful content such as pornography and limit people’s exposure to illegal content, while protecting freedom of speech.
Former Culture Secretary Maria Miller has welcomed the Government’s publication of the Bill, including new measures to criminalise cyberflashing, as well as requirements for social media firms to give people the option to filter out anonymous trolls, as part of reforms to ensure women and girls are protected from the disproportionate abuse they receive online.
Responding to the Bill, Maria said:
‘This Bill has been long awaited and will go some way in ensuring that the UK is a world-leading place for internet safety. I’m glad to see many of the issues I have been campaigning for included in the Bill– including plans to criminalise cyberflashing, measures limit anonymous abuse online, and also important announcements that all sites hosting pornographic content will be required to prevent children from accessing that content under the Bill’s regulatory enforcement measures. These are important additions which will help women and girls in particular to feel safer online, as a group in society who feel particularly unsafe online. However, this Bill will be creating new offences, and therefore many new victims of crime, so it will be important for the Government to ensure that support for victims keeps pace, by properly resourcing services to support victims.’
Maria has campaigned extensively for provisions to make the internet safer, having worked with Grazia UK to call for cyberflashing to be made a criminal offence. Recent YouGov research found that close to half of female Millennials (46%) have been sent a photo of a penis, with women being more likely to have received one the younger they are (53% of 18-24-year-olds compared to 36% of 31-36-year-olds). Of those women who have been sent a photo, nine in 10 (89%) received one without having asked for it, meaning that 41% of all Millennial women have been sent an unsolicited photo of a man’s private parts. Maria is also campaigning for the Government to introduce wider legal reform around image abuse so that other forms of abuse like 'deepfake' – where a pornographic image is made of a woman without their consent– is made illegal too.
Maria also partnered with the Football Association and Thierry Henry to call on the government to tackle anonymous abuse on social media sites, following the vitriolic, racist abuse that circulated online following the 2021 UEFA Euro Final against England v Italy. Survey data shows that nearly 3 in 4 (72%) people believe that social media companies need to have a more interventionist role to wipe out the abuse on their platforms.