The Daily Telegraph

Southgate lobbies Truss over online abuse

The England manager and Lionesses stars challenge new PM to tackle internet trolling faced by women

- By Ben Woods

‘We believe the Government must honour its promise to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online’

ENGLAND football manager Gareth Southgate and members of the Lionesses women’s national team have urged the Prime Minister to bring violence against women under the scope of the new Online Safety Bill.

Footballer­s Lucy Bronze and Marcus Rashford are among those to sign a letter from BT to Liz Truss challengin­g her not to back down from the Government’s promise to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, as she is poised to make last-minute concession­s to sceptics in the Commons.

It is understood Ms Truss is prepared to dilute the draft legislatio­n to ease the concerns of Tory MPS, who fear the attempt to rein in the likes of Google, Facebook and other social media apps would indirectly restrict free speech.

In an open letter seen by The Daily Telegraph, Ms Truss was asked to broaden the Bill’s scope to ensure that violence against women and girls is given equal priority alongside terrorism and child sexual abuse.

The letter added: “We believe the new Government must pass the full Online Safety Bill, and honour its promise ‘to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online’.

“We believe that legislator­s should go further, naming violence against women and girls as a priority harm within the Bill, alongside terrorism and child sexual abuse material and bring the Bill into line with strategic policing requiremen­ts.

“It’s vital for the Government to set out clearer rules for what is and isn’t acceptable online, and to require social media companies to uphold their terms and conditions and reduce the amount of abusive content circulatin­g online.”

Ofcom, the regulator, is poised to inherit new powers to grapple with tech companies and social media apps by putting senior managers in jail or dishing out multibilli­on-pound fines worth up to 10pc of annual turnover if illegal or harmful content to children is found on their websites.

However, news organisati­ons and MPS had aired fears that social media apps could be spurred to “overzealou­sly” remove news stories from their websites to avoid a potential punishment from the industry regulator.

On Wednesday, Ms Truss confirmed that adjustment­s to the Bill would be considered to address the anxieties felt by Tory MPS. “What I want to make sure [of] is we protect the under-18s from harm, but we also make sure free speech is allowed, so there may be some tweaks required,” she added.

Data from Hatelab, cited by BT, showed 23 of the 25 members of the Women’s England squad were subjected to sexist abuse during the European Championsh­ips, which peaked in the final, which the Lionesses won.

The telecoms operator said a Yougov survey from April found women were 17 times more likely to have experience­d sexism than men online. The letter continued: “Abuse is more than just ‘hurt feelings’; it stops individual­s from participat­ing in public and online life, stops them from being able to express themselves and in the worst cases, can lead to someone taking their own life.”

Other signatorie­s included the former England manager Glenn Hoddle, England footballer Demi Stokes and the Manchester United defender Harry Maguire. When justifying the proposed Online Safety Bill, the Government has pointed to racist abuse directed at members of the England men’s football squad online as they played in the 2020 European Football Championsh­ip.

Mr Southgate, the team’s manager since 2016, has repeatedly spoken up about the issue. He condemned “unforgivab­le” attacks on black players Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka and Rashford after they missed penalties in a deciding shoot-out with Italy and later admitted fears of a backlash added “another layer of difficulty” to the stress of penalties.

“Social media has been a brilliant way of connecting people and communicat­ing with each other, but it also comes with a lot of difficulti­es and a lot of pressures for young people,” he said in 2019.

“There’s lots of abuse on social media in different forms and I do have big concerns about it as a medium because you can be attacked in your own home.”

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