A cross-party group of MPs have called for a change to the law to protect disabled people from online hate crime, making the offence as serious as hate crime due to race or religion.
The recommendations follow an inquiry by the Petitions Committee, a parliamentary committee of the House of Commons, into the abuse faced by disabled people online through social media, online games, web forums, and comments on news stories on media websites.
The inquiry was prompted by a petition started by Katie Price, whose son, Harvey, 16, is partially blind, autistic, and has the genetic disorder Prader-Willi syndrome which involves learning and behavioural disabilities. The petition was signed by over 220,000 people and calls for online abuse to be made a specific criminal offence and an offender register to be created.
Revealing the “horrendous, degrading and dehumanising” abuse that disabled people are exposed to when they use the internet, the inquiry’s final report concludes that self-regulation of social media has failed disabled people, and includes a list of recommendations for government and social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google.
- Improve the general public’s understanding of disability
- Increase the representation of disabled people in events, publications, and advertising in a way which recognises their diversity
- Create a disability awareness programme co-produced with disabled people
- Implement mandatory lessons that teach school children about the effects of online bullying and abuse of disabled people
- Commit to ensuring that the internet is no more dangerous for disabled people than non-disabled people
- Acknowledge the importance of the internet to disabled people and how disabled people are affected by abuse
- Ensure that the voices of a diverse range of disabled people are included at the heart of its discussions on online safety
- Make guidance on staying safe online, suitable for disabled people, available through the public services that disabled people regularly use and to those who might work in environments where people seek help to go online
- Create accessible resources about “mate crime”
- Require social media companies to have polices, mechanisms, and settings that are accessible to all disabled people. That must include Easy Read versions of all relevant policies. Policies and mechanisms may include but are not limited to:
- Terms and conditions, community standards, account policies, systems for reporting abuse or other concerns, and privacy settings
- Include disabled people explicitly and directly in all consultations
- Make consultations accessible to people with a range of disabilities
- Report to Parliament on how it – the Government – has consulted with disabled people and what changes that consultation has led to
- Plan to make such reports to Parliament regularly
- Recommend that social media companies be required to demonstrate that they have consulted and worked in partnership with disabled people themselves when developing policies and processes
- Social media companies must be proactive in preventing and tackling online abuse and hate crime
- Make it clear what behaviour is offensive and how to report abuse
- Ensure that social media companies accept their responsibility for allowing illegal and abusive content on their sites
- Make legislative changes so that disabled people feel adequately protected and valued by the law
- Have the Law Commission conduct a review into abusive and offensive online communications
- Justify any delays in producing this to Parliament
- Consult disabled people, including those who are currently not using the internet due to their fear or experience of abuse
- Amend hate crime legislation to ensure disability hate crime has parity with other hate crime offences
- Abolish the need to prove that hate crime against disabled people is motivated by hostility – it should be enough to prove that an offence was committed by “by reason of” their disability
- Make sure that employers of support workers or others working with or for disabled people can check whether an employee has been convicted of a disability hate crime.
- Have disability hate-related offences visible in a Disclosure and Barring Service check.
A UK government spokesperson said: “As part of the Online Harms White Paper we are bringing in new laws and reviewing existing ones to make the internet safer for everyone, including disabled people.”
The white paper is due to be published early this year. In Wales, the Welsh Government’s ‘Tackling Hate Crimes and Incidents’ framework already covers cyber hate and bullying. An easy read version of ‘Tackling Hate Crimes and Incidents: A Framework for Action’ (PDF), produced by Learning Disability Wales, can be found on the Welsh Government website.