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Bosses of social media companies could be jailed if they fail to remove “misogynistic” content, under an amendment to the Online Safety Bill.
The amendment—backed by a cross-party group of lords led by former Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan—would mean companies that fail to remove abusive misogynistic content and ban repeat offenders would face fines, while bosses could be jailed for persistent breaches.
Writing in The Telegraph, Morgan said she has put forward an amendment calling for a Violence Against Women and Girls Code of Practice to be written into the Online Safety Bill.
She said: “There are already codes for other issues such as terrorism and child abuse, but a code is desperately needed to specifically address the harms to women and girls.
“There is strong support from all sides of the House of Lords for a code of practice that would allow media regulator Ofcom and the social network companies themselves to make the internet safer for women and girls.”
Morgan said that statistics from domestic abuse charity Refuge showed that 36 percent of UK women have experienced online abuse on social media or another online platform.
“The reality is online spaces are still a wild west, with illegal activity such as stalking and harassment a daily occurrence for women and girls,” she said.
The Conservative peer added: “We have a duty to ensure this landmark legislation—the Online Safety Bill, does its job and protects women and girls. We all have a right to be respected and valued both on the streets and in digital spaces.”
But the government said the misogynistic abuses have already been dealt with by the existing bill.
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling online abuse and violence against women and girls.
“In the Online Safety Bill, we have made it a priority for platforms to proactively tackle the most harmful illegal content which disproportionately targets women and girls. This includes revenge and extreme pornography, sex trafficking, harassment, coercive or controlling behaviour, and cyberstalking.
“The bill also includes tools that will give women, and all adults, greater control over what they see on social media, including content that is abusive or incites hatred on the basis of sex.”
Free Speech Concerns
The central aim of the Online Safety Bill is to introduce rules to social media and other user-generated content-based sites that require them to remove illegal material from their platforms.
Critics have voiced concerns over its potential impact on the freedom of speech.
The original bill included so-called “legal but harmful” duties, which would have required the biggest platforms to ensure their users, and in particular children, are not exposed to harmful content, even if it was not illegal.
Free speech campaigners warned the bill could be used as a tool for online censorship, incentivising or even forcing sites to take down legal speech simply because it offends some people.
In November, then Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan removed the “legal but harmful” duties, citing their “concerning impact potentially on free speech.”
There has also been a debate on whether misogyny should be made a hate crime.
The House of Lords previously passed an amendment to the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill, adding misogyny to existing hate crime laws.
But the government rejected the amendment in February 2022, arguing that it would only make it harder to prosecute sexual offences and domestic abuse cases.
The Law Commission, which advises ministers, said legislating to make misogyny a hate crime would prove “more harmful than helpful.”
Owen Evans and PA Media contributed to this report.