The Daily Telegraph

Online misogyny set to be outlawed

Government will use new Bill to crack down on abuse of women on internet


MISOGYNIST­IC abuse should be banned online, the Government believes.

Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, is understood to maintain that the Online Safety Bill has the power to stamp out attacks on women on the internet.

The plans to crack down on online misogyny come as Tory peers, including Baroness Morgan, the former culture secretary, are pushing for the law to go further to include a legally enforced code of practice requiring social media firms to stamp out online violence and abuse against women and girls.

A government source said: “Michelle completely agrees with what the peers are saying but this is stuff that the Bill is already doing.”

It comes after ministers rejected calls to class misogyny as a hate crime. Instead, the Government compromise­d by creating a new offence of public sexual harassment in line with recommenda­tions by the Law Commission.

Under the new online safety law, which is being finalised, social media firms will be required to abide by their own terms and conditions, which generally bar misogynist­ic abuse. Failure to enforce them will result in fines and their services could be blocked by Ofcom, the online watchdog.

Further measures require social media platforms to provide users with optional online tools to allow women to screen out misogynist­ic abuse.

However, a group of Tory peers which includes Baroness Morgan, as well as Baroness Bertin, a former aide to David Cameron, and Baroness Newlove, the former victims’ commission­er, plan to put forward an amendment that would see the law go further.

It would give Ofcom the power to fine social media companies up to 10 per cent of their global turnover if they failed to abide by a code outlawing online misogyny. The Labour party will back the amendment. The Tory peers believe the Government’s current plans for new criminal offences such as cyberstalk­ing and sharing revenge porn do not go far enough and will fail to curb online misogynist­ic abuse, which while legal still harms women and girls.

However, government sources said these new offences tackled crimes that “disproport­ionately” targeted women and girls – and that under the new online safety legislatio­n, social media companies would have to prevent and remove such content or face multi-million pound fines.

The peers’ demands flow from the Government’s decision to ditch measures in the Bill to protect adults from legal but harmful content after a backlash that they would undermine freedom of speech.

However, Baroness Morgan said online violence against women and girls restricted their freedom of expression.

“What about the right to access and participat­e online without being abused and harassed?” she said.

“There are going to be some specific criminal offences in the Bill but they don’t address the misogyny that has grown up … right the way across mainstream platforms.

“It’s things like threats of rape, death threats, very much directed at women because they are women and girls. It’s designed to drive women off platforms. They don’t necessaril­y break the legal threshold but it all goes to making a space where women are deliberate­ly made to feel uncomforta­ble.”

Maria Miller, a former culture secretary and women’s minister, said: “I support Baroness Morgan’s amendment. I will be continuing to have discussion­s with Ofcom to ensure that what is in the amendment happens in practice.”

Baroness Bertin said: “It is a wild west and women are being disproport­ionately affected by it.”

Lucy Powell, shadow culture secretary, said the Bill had been “severely weakened” by the removal of provisions on legal but harmful content which had left “viral misogyny free to proliferat­e”.

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