‘Making the digital streets safe’: Calls for greater protection for women online

British peers propose amendment to online safety bill requiring social media sites to consider how to keep female users safe

Social media platforms would be required to follow regulatory guidelines protecting women and girls from online abuse under an amendment to the online safety bill tabled this week.

The proposed change would require Ofcom, the communications watchdog, to issue a code of practice on preventing violence against women and girls that social media platforms would have to follow when implementing their duties under the bill.

The amendment has been put forward in the House of Lords by peers including Nicky Morgan, the former culture secretary, and Beeban Kidron, the children’s online safety campaigner, and is supported by the Labour party.

“The intention is to get the platforms to think about how to keep female users safe,” Morgan said. “They are not thinking about the safety of female users at the moment.”

An example code of practice supported by groups including Carnegie UK, Refuge and the NSPCC, requires social media platforms to conduct a risk assessment of how the design of their services might lead to harm against women and girls.

A co-author of the document, Prof Lorna Woods at the University of Essex, said the amendment was “about making the digital street safe to walk down at night”.

The newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) said the bill already had measures in place to deal with online violence against women and girls. The legislation will require tech firms to proactively tackle illegal content and behaviour such as cyberstalking and revenge pornography.

It also contains provisions for large social media platforms related to content that is harmful but not criminal, requiring the biggest platforms to give users the option of opting out from misogynistic content.

If a platform’s terms of service ban misogynistic abuse then it will be expected to enforce those conditions or face action from Ofcom. Breaches of the act will carry the threat of a fine of 10% of global turnover.

A DSIT spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling online abuse and violence against women and girls. In the online safety bill, we have made it a priority for platforms to proactively tackle the most harmful illegal content which disproportionately targets women and girls.

“Women will also benefit from new tools that give them greater control over what they see on social media, including content that is abusive or incites hatred on the basis of sex.”

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