MP calls for more action to tackle online bullying of young people
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for more action by social media companies to tackle online bullying of young people, and for public debate that is “civil, respectful and not hateful.”
Mr Herbert was speaking in a Westminster Hall debate (29 April) on the need to tackle online abuse. The debate was initiated as a result of a successful petition by the MP’s constituent, Katie Price.
TV personality Katie started the online petition to make online bullying a specific crime after her disabled son, Harvey, was the target of repeated abuse. Her petition gathered more than 220,000 votes which resulted in hearings before the Petitions Committee, a report, and then a debate. Katie and her mother Amy met Mr Herbert at the Commons ahead of Monday’s debate.
In his speech, Mr Herbert described the effect that online bullying, also known as trolling, has had on Harvey: “Whether someone is a public figure, or members of their family are public figures, it is never justifiable to bully a young person. It is especially unjustifiable to bully a young disabled person who cannot answer back and might be particularly vulnerable.”
The MP described how social media has “enabled” and “amplified” bullying, saying that the law had not kept up with the growth of the problem.
Mr Herbert drew attention to Law Commission report which found that 28 per cent of UK internet users are on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying, and which said that there was considerable scope to improve the criminal law in this area.
The MP highlighted four areas which needed looking at: the adequacy of the current law, practical and cultural barriers to enforcement, action from the social media companies, and leadership in society.
Mr Herbert said that social media companies need to police their own platforms more effectively: “They should also not tolerate hateful content any more than a conventional publisher.” The MP asserted that social media companies had a responsibility to act since their platforms are being used in a way which was doing great harm, particularly to young people’s mental health and happiness.
Mr Herbert also addressed the issue of civil society and its responsibility to “encourage a discourse that is civil, respectful and not hateful.”
Mr Herbert concluded his speech in the debate by paying tribute to Katie Price “for having the courage to raise the issue, for facing down those who have criticised her for doing so, and for securing the Petition Committee’s investigation and report into online abuse.” He hoped that Katie would recognise the progress being made on the issue and quoted her ambition “to hammer home worldwide that bullying is unacceptable, whether it’s face-to-face or in an online space.”
Margot James, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, thanked Mr Herbert: “My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs has done an excellent job representing the Price family, who are his constituents. He is quite right that this awful abuse and bullying has been with us since the dawn of humanity, but unfortunately, since the dawn of the internet, which is a recent phenomenon, it has been amplified and made far worse.
“The 24/7 nature of the internet, and the speed and ease with which images and abusive content can be replicated around the world at the touch of a button, have made the phenomenon of abuse—we are here to talk particularly about the abuse of people with disabilities—far worse. I quite agree that social media platforms should operate a policy of zero tolerance of hate speech, and [we are taking] steps … through the online harms White Paper to ensure that they do that.”
1. Photograph – Nick Herbert in debate chamber.
2. To read Nick’s speech in full see https://www.nickherbert.com/news/2019/4/29/nick-calls-for-more-action-to-tackle-online-bullying-of-young-people