A face-to-face engagement event was held in Westminster on Tuesday 16 October to discuss the draft recommendations published in the special report “Online abuse and the experience of disabled people: draft recommendations for consultation”. Witnesses were invited to discuss the draft recommendations with those who had attended a scoping event in February 2018. Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and the Crown Prosecution Service attended. Participants were invited to review the 14 proposed recommendations. Participants discussed each recommendation and decided whether they agreed or disagreed with it. For those the group did not agree with they discussed why and ways it could be improved.
Approximately 16 people attended, with a range of disabilities.
• Although broadly supportive of the draft recommendations, participants felt that they did not go far enough.
• There were particular concerns about how the Committee and Parliament would monitor whether the recommendations were followed.
• Participants felt that the language used did not reflect their experience as disabled people. People are disabled because society is not adapted to their needs, not because of a physical, neurological or psychological impairment.
• Participants strongly felt that it would not be possible to change online behaviour without changing attitudes offline.
• Participants were particularly critical of how politicians and the media discuss disabled people. In particular, participants felt that there is a direct link between highlighting the small number of cases of benefit fraud and abuse of disabled people.
The group agreed with these recommendations and believed that active consultation by social media companies and the Government was the most important way to tackle online abuse of disabled people.
Genuine consultation was defined as ongoing and led by disabled people themselves, not their families or disability charities. They were clear that consultation must include people with physical, mental and neurological impairments. To be meaningful, consultation must have a result.
Participants agreed with these recommendations and recognised that consistent consultation between disabled people is needed and that an important distinction exists between working with disability charities, which is seen as unfavourable, and working with people with disabilities directly.
The groups agreed more should be done to make terms and conditions, privacy settings and reporting mechanisms accessible. Privacy and reporting procedures are often difficult to locate and navigate. Platforms often list too many options and use words that aren’t always accessible for those with learning disabilities–making it difficult to find what they need.
Participants expressed a wish for all policies to be available in Easy Read, and encouraged their use by all organisations, including government and parliamentary. They strongly disagreed with the representatives from social media companies who suggested that the current policy of using short films to explain policies was sufficient for their needs.
Facebook told us that they have spoken with Mencap about additional support that disabled people might need. Mencap said that videos and guides should be clearer. Facebook said that it is working to try and deliver those changes
Recognition was given that terms and conditions policies are written from the perspective of social media companies rather than for people of varying abilities.
Participants mentioned that they had received little to no follow-up from social media companies after they had reported a problem.
The groups discussed that there was very little prevention of abusive content. By the time it is reported, it has already been seen and caused someone distress. The representative from Facebook agreed that this was a major problem. The group discussed small changes that could be made, such as preventing videos from automatically playing, so that users could judge whether they wanted to press play first.
Participants discussed the difficulties of keeping social media accessible while also putting in place mechanisms to verify people’s identity. Very accessible log ins and so on can make users vulnerable to fraud. Participants again emphasised that it was important to consult with disabled people to get the balance right.
There was agreement between participants that a specific criminal offence should be made for online abuse. Some expressed that this reform should be done as a part of a wider review of hate crime legislation aimed at fixing some of the inequalities that have cropped up as hate crime legislation has evolved.
The groups strongly felt that the inequity in the law was evidence that the Government did not care about disabled people.
Many participants felt there should be the same law for online and offline abuse. There was a feeling that the knowledge required is already known by the Government and they do not need to wait until 2020 to find it. Participants felt that more reviews were a delaying tactic.
A number of participants gave examples of reporting crimes that they felt were hate crime but being told that it was anti-social behaviour.
Social media companies felt that the law needed to be clearer. They emphasised that they can only do so much and that crime, including hate crime, should be subject to the criminal law.
There were mixed views about a “register of offenders”, but most agreed that it was important to find out whether someone had committed a crime, particularly a hate crime. Representatives from social media companies stated that it might be useful for them to know whether someone had a conviction for an offence using social media.
Participants agreed with the recommendations but some had concerns about having different policies for different disabilities. Some felt that “segregating” disabled people contradicts the social model of disability. Recommendations should not be restricted to those with learning disabilities and should be extended to those having other disabilities, including physical impairments.
Participants agreed accurate labelling makes it easier to identify which crimes are “hate crimes” so they may be reported accurately. Since demand for specific services is considered when allocating resources, accurate reporting of hate crime is critical. It was also felt that hate crimes were treated more seriously by the police, and therefore the difficulties in identifying disability hate crime meant that crimes against disabled people were not taken seriously.
There was a lot of discussion over “vulnerability”. Participants felt that disabled people are not inherently vulnerable, and that vulnerability is contextual. The law needs to look again at how hate crime against disabled people works in practice, rather than acting as if “vulnerability” and “hostility” can be separated. Participants felt that the language was problematic.
The group felt the police and all other frontline groups needed training on working with disabled people. Some participants believed the recommendations fell short of addressing perceptions that people with disabilities aren’t good witnesses and/or are unreliable. It creates frustration as people feel they are unable to access services that others can. There was a recommendation for a structure to help disabled people explain to the police, the CPS and other agencies what’s happened to them.
Additionally, some participants believed this training should address the difficulty faced by those having experienced trauma. Disabled people may need time between their abuse and reporting that abuse to feel comfortable talking about what has happened. Additionally, while reporting, disabled people may need time to process what has happened as they are in the process of telling it to authorities.
Underfunding of the police was discussed, with people saying that they don’t want to take resources away from very serious violent crime, but they needed protection under the law. It was felt that more should be done by the Government and other agencies to change attitudes, which participants say is the root of hate crime.
The group was concerned that the recommendations focused too exclusively on young people but otherwise agreed with them. Most participants stated the abuse they’d received had come from adults. Although children often showed curiosity about their disabilities, they were rarely hostile. Participants felt that the Department for Education should be more active with disabled people and do more to “normalise” disabled people.
The group was broadly supportive of better guidance to help families and support workers to understand how to deal with online abuse, but felt that such support should be extended to everyone. Participants felt that there should be guidance for disabled people around their rights, laws and legislation and data protection.
Participants discussed how many disabled people struggle to be recognised as decision makers in their own lives. They were concerned that acting on mate crime would make it more difficult for disabled people to be seen as capable.
Nevertheless, they felt that “Mate crime” should be recognised as a hate crime as it is a deliberate crime to exploit others. The term “mate crime” was seen to not demonstrate the gravity of the crime.
Participants had mixed feelings about the need to tick-box themselves as disabled. It was suggested that making extra protections optional would help preserve the autonomy of disabled people while making available protection when needed.
The group made additional points about the difficulty of collecting evidence of long term online abuse and mate crime. Some participants mentioned that being able to save content that made them uncomfortable could assist in the documentation of abusive patterns before content can be hidden or altered.
Published: 22 January 2019