Skip to main content

Online Abuse of Women

Volume 574: debated on Thursday 30 January 2014

4. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that internet service providers and social media companies tackle and confront the online abuse of women. (902277)

6. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that internet service providers and social media companies tackle and confront the online abuse of women. (902280)

7. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that internet service providers and social media companies tackle and confront the online abuse of women. (902281)

We have made it clear that we expect social media companies to respond quickly and robustly to incidents of abusive behaviour on their networks. We will be inviting a number of social media companies to discuss what more can be done to protect all users, including young people and women, online.

Clearly, we must do everything we can to stop women being abused in public life. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is deeply regrettable that several political parties have failed to stamp down on sexual abuse in their own parties?

It is important for any organisation, whether a political party or a company, to stamp down on sexual abuse wherever it emerges.

Oh behalf of my own party, may I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister? Liberal Democrats do not, and will never, tolerate the abuse of women in the workplace. Does my hon. Friend agree that the abuse of women and others online should be treated in the same way as offline abuse, and will he tell us what he can do about it?

Yes, I do agree with the hon. Lady, which is why I welcome the recent convictions of John Nimmo and Isabella Sorley, which clearly demonstrate that threatening or harassing behaviour is illegal, whether online or offline. Last year, the Crown Prosecution Service made 2,000 prosecutions under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the recent excellent debate in the Chamber on cyber-bullying, during which we heard some harrowing examples of victimisation. Will he now meet representatives of the social media companies, as he did with the internet service providers last year, to see what more can be done to tackle this issue?

Yes, we certainly intend to have that meeting with the social media companies and, particularly, to put in place procedures giving people a clear ability to report abuse and procedures to ensure that they are responded to in good time. It is important to emphasise that the Government take cyber-bullying extremely seriously. That is why we introduced new powers for teachers in the Education Act 2011.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his last answer, which deals with some of the problems I have seen involving young people being targeted by Twitter trolls—for want of a better term—and teachers not being entirely clear about how to report this and support the young people in question. Will the Minister confirm that, as part of his discussions, he will continue to have meetings with colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that teachers right across the piece, down to primary school level, know how to deal with this issue?

Yes, we have regular meetings with colleagues in the Department for Education, who work tirelessly on the issues of cyber-bullying and bullying in general. It is important to stress that Ofsted now holds schools to account for how well they behave in relation to bullying. It is also important to note, in the spirit of the hon. Lady’s question, that we help teachers to help their pupils, particularly when they are subject to abuse online.

I hope that the Minister will be aware of the report from End Violence Against Women, “New Technology: Same Old Problems”. One issue that the report highlighted was the sharing of intimate pictures online, suggesting that even if the person in the photograph had originally consented to it being taken, they ought to have the right to object to it being posted online, and that the internet service provider or the website should co-operate with them in getting it removed.

I am aware of that report, and that is another important issue that is worth raising with social media companies. There is a debate in Europe at the moment on the future of data protection regulations, and it is important to put on the table the issue of people being able to retrieve their data from websites to which they have freely given them.

Following on from the very good debate that we had in the House on cyber-bullying and from the question that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) has just asked about plans for a meeting, is it not the case that the Minister and all of us need to do more to educate and help not only teachers but parents about these dangers? Should we not also be helping parents to understand their responsibilities and advising them on what more they can do to protect their children?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The work we have done with ISPs has been to give parents the tools on how to block sites. I am particularly pleased that the main ISPs have come together and put £25 million on the table to begin a campaign—I think it starts this spring—to educate parents who, for many reasons, are not as familiar with the technology as are their own children.