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UK Online Safety Bill: A long journey towards the Act

In 2017, the UK Government announced its intentions to make Britain “the safest place in the world to be online”. In the six years that followed we have seen four Prime Ministers, 7 Digital/Culture Secretaries of State and a Government department overhall and a legislation name change.

Glitch had previously welcomed the UK Government’s announcements committing to stopping online racist abuse and recognition of the high volumes of misogynistic abuse.

As the Online Safety Bill starts the final stages of its journey through the UK Parliament, we are pleased that a government amendment in the House of Lords has gone some way to address our deeply held concerns that the bill, as drafted at Committee Stage in the Lords, failed to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of abuse on women, especially Black women, non-binary people and women from minoritised communities. Our work and research has, and continues to, highlight this.

We remain concerned that the bill was weakened in relation to harms to adults, with the removal of provisions relating to so-called ‘legal but harmful’ online conent. While the bill has been strengthened with regards to protections for children, it will only address illegal harms to adults, despite us knowing that most forms of online harms affecting Black women fall below the legal threshold.

Online abuse against women is a form of violence against women. We campaigned hard for this to be recognised within this legislation.

Our VAWG Code of Practice Amendment:

We worked with partners at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Refuge, Carnegie, NSPCC, 5Rights and with experts Prof. Clare McGlynn and Prof. Lorna Woods to create a model Violence Against Women Code of Practice, which was used to drive an amendment in the House of Lords, led by Baroness Morgan, to ensure a more systematic approach is taken in this legislation. This Code of Practice provided detailed guidance for all tech companies to help them understand and respond to the breadth of online violence against women and girls.

While the government did not accept the need for a VAWG code of practice, they did concede by adding a provision that the regulator Ofcom would need to draft guidance for tech companies on protections for women and girls on their services. While this does not go as far as a Code of Practice, this still marks a significant camapign in – naming women and girls in the bill for the first time.

What this means for Glitch

This amendment means that the stakes have been raised for tech companies. This is a tangible example of the huge impact Glitch can have, on government, tech, and most crucially, on women, particularly Black women, affected by online abuse.

The fight for online safety isn’t over yet

Despite this huge win, we know that there is still a long way to go towards our mission of ending online abuse. We will continue to campaign to strengthen Ofcom’s guidance for protections for women and girls as the Act comes into force and ensure our strong evidence base relating to misogynoir is reflected in the regulation of tech companies in the UK.