UK Government Looks to Ban Misogyny on Social Media in ‘Online Safety’ Law

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/04/03: A protester holds a placard during the demonstration.
Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The British government is reportedly considering a measure to force social media companies to ban misogyny online as a part of the pending Online Safety Bill.

The long-awaited legislation to introduce even more restrictions on online speech in Britain could be amended to allow Britain’s broadcasting regulator to fine online firms up to ten per cent of their global revenue should they fail to properly police allegedly misogynistic content on their sites.

The measure, which is being pushed by a group of Conservative (Tory) Party peers, including former David Cameron aide Baroness Bertin, Baroness Morgan, and Baroness Newlove, has also drawn support from the leftist Labour Party, The Telegraph reported.

While Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan is said to be of the opinion that the misogyny amendment is unnecessary, as she believes the current form of the bill already empowers the government to censor such content, should Labour follow through on backing the Tory peers’ measure the government may have to acquiesce or face a defeat of the bill in the House of Lords.

The push to ban supposed misogyny came in response to the government’s decision to remove a controversial provision in the legislation that would have required social media sites to police vaguely defined “legal but harmful” content, which many have warned would further hinder freedom of speech in the country.

One of the backers of the amendment, former women’s minister Baroness Morgan, argued that online abuse hinders women’s ability to express themselves, questioning: “What about the right to access and participation online without being abused and harassed?

“There are going to be some specific criminal offences in the Bill, but they don’t address the misogyny that has grown up not just on small high-harm platforms but right the way across mainstream platforms,” she complained.

The former women’s minister cited threats of rape and death threats that are “very much directed at women because they are women and girls” as examples of statements that do not “necessarily break the illegal threshold,” despite both clearly being criminal offences in the United Kingdom already.

“Women are being abused on a daily basis online. It is a Wild West and women are being disproportionately affected by it,” Bertin claimed, without evidence.

Despite being a common talking point, studies have found that women are not in fact “disproportionately” the targets of online harassment.

Indeed, research conducted by the Pew polling research firm found last year that while women receive more abusive comments of a sexual nature, men are more likely to be physically threatened online.

The study also found that men are more likely to receive any form of harassment and are more likely to be called offensive slurs.

A 2017 study of some 840,000 tweets by the University of Sheffield also found that male politicians in Britain were more likely to be the targets of abusive posts online than female politicians, with male Conservative MP candidates being the most likely of any group to be harassed.

Commenting on the proposed measure to ban misogyny, political commentator Emma Webb said that she finds “the idea that women are so fragile they need to be protected from hurty words extremely misogynistic.”

“The implication is that women, psychologically speaking, are vulnerable like children. These seem to be people who do not think we are the weaker sex physically [and] in need of physical protection, but do think we are the weaker sex mentally,” the GB News pundit added.

Baroness Claire Fox said that she would be opposing the measure, noting the possibility that such legislation could be used to shield female politicians and public figures from criticism.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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