DEATH OF MP SPARKS DEBATE ABOUT ONLINE ANONYMITY
MPs discussed ways to tackle abuse on social media following the tragic death of Southend MP Sir David Amess. Sir David himself had previously called for rules against anonymity to be introduced, saying that he had himself been abused by anonymous users online.
In a book published last year, Sir David warned that “the law in this regard needs to be changed and updated as a matter of urgency.”
Conservative MP Mark Francois, a close friend of Sir David, expressed his support for the idea in a speech to the House of Commons.
“I suggest that if we want to ensure that our colleague didn’t die in vain, we collectively all of us pick up the baton, regardless of our party and take the forthcoming online harms bill and toughen it up markedly,” he said.
“While people in public life must remain open to legitimate criticism, they can no longer be vilified or their families subject to the most horrendous abuse, especially from people who hide behind a cloak of anonymity with the connivance of the social media companies for profit.”
However, some campaigners have suggested that a ban on anonymity may impede the work of whistle-blowers, particularly in authoritarian regimes. As yet, a link between online abuse and the MP’s death has not been established.
Former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who now runs the Index on Censorship campaign group, cautioned against viewing anonymity bans as a complete solution to eradicating abuse.
“We have to do something to tackle and improve our online culture but a knee-jerk response to ban anonymous accounts will have unintended consequences – not just on our collective free speech but on our ability to engage with whistle blowers and dissidents in every corner of the world,” she told the BBC.
UK FRAUD EPIDEMIC AFFECTS VICTIM WELLBEING BY £9.3 BILLION
The detrimental effect that scams and fraud is having on UK consumers results in a £9.3 billion loss in wellbeing, according to an investigation by Which? Magazine.
The estimate is based on an average drop of wellbeing for each incident of fraud (about £2,500 a year) and online fraud (about £3,700 a year), corresponding to the 3.7 million incidents of fraud reported in 2019/20.
The research highlights the effect that online fraud and scams is having on the emotional and mental health of many victims, quite apart from the large sums of money stolen as part of the scams.
“The government must not ignore the huge impact an epidemic of fraud is having on our society,” said Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy
“Scam adverts must be included in the Online Safety Bill and ministers must set out plans for laws and regulations that will make online platforms use their highly sophisticated technology to effectively tackle harmful content on their sites.”
The research comes as a report by Ofcom found that almost 45 million people have been sent a scam text message or phone call over the summer. Text scams were the most common, with 71% having received a suspicious text and three quarters of 16 -34 year-olds having been targeted. A survey of 2,000 adults found that almost 1 million are likely to have been misled by the scams.
WHY CAN’T ONLINE ABUSE BE STOPPED?
The BBC’s specialist disinformation reporter Marianna Spring has produced a Panorama programme to explore why she is the victim of a torrent of online abuse. As part of the investigation, researchers created a fake troll account on each of the main social media platforms that engaged with content promoting hate and misogyny.
They found that the account was recommended large volumes of further anti-women material on Facebook and Instagram, in some cases involving sexual violence.
Research for the programme also found that 97% of 330 accounts identified to have sent misogynistic abuse on Facebook and Instagram remained active and had not been taken down despite being reported.
In response, Twitter and Instagram told the BBC that closing down accounts isn’t the only approach they take in response to violation of their rules.
As part of the programme, the UN shared draft proposals for social media platforms to better regulate abuse online. The proposals include increased human moderators to adjudicate over offensive material, and the introduction of labels for accounts that are recognised to have sent misogynistic content.
COUNTY LINES ARRESTS
Police have arrested almost 1,500 people, closed down 139 County Lines and seized Class A drugs worth almost £2 million. The week-long operation was run in partnership with The Children’s Society and their #LookCloser campaign which aims to help people spot the signs of exploitation in children and young people. The operation resulted in 2,209 children being engaged with for safeguarding purposes.
James Simmonds-Read from the Children’s Society said, “Young people may not ask for help themselves because they have been manipulated into thinking they are making a choice or because they have been subjected to terrifying threats.”
Gooseberry Planet offers a whole school approach to online safety including game-based learning, digital workbooks and comprehensive reporting. Visit our website for more details.