Online abuse and the experience of disabled people Contents
Annex E: Online survey
To help us find out more about what people thought about our ideas for tackling online abuse, we created an online survey. We encouraged organisations that support or advocate for disabled people to share it over social media. Many of those who commented on the survey identified themselves as disabled. The survey asked for people’s views on the 14 draft recommendations set out in the special report “Online abuse and the experience of disabled people: draft recommendations for consultation”. The survey grouped the draft recommendations into three sections and asked people to choose which of the ideas in each group they thought was most important. They were then asked to chose which was the most important overall. People could also comment in a free text box.
The survey was completed by 208 people. The quantitative results, and a summary of free text comments, are set out below.
Section one recommendations
Recommendation 1: The Government should make sure that the internet is no more dangerous for people with disabilities than it is for people who don’t have disabilities.
Recommendation 2: The Government must always consult people with disabilities, especially when they are thinking about plans for keeping people safe online.
Recommendation 3: The Government should require social media companies to make sure that their rules and guides (including terms and conditions, community standards and account policies) are accessible to all disabled people.
Recommendation 4: Social media companies should have to make sure that their systems for reporting online abuse and for controlling what information other people see (privacy settings) are accessible to all disabled people, including adults with learning disabilities.
Recommendation 5: Social media companies should have to show that they have involved and listened to people with disabilities when they write their policies and plan how their sites work.
Section one results:
The most popular idea in section 1, chosen by 32% of respondents, was recommendation 1, that “The Government should make sure that the internet is no more dangerous for people with disabilities than it is for people who don’t have disabilities.” Recommendations 2 (23%), 4 (20%) and 5 (17%) also had significant support. Only 8% of respondents believed recommendation 3 was the most important idea in section 1.
Section two recommendations
Recommendation 6: The Government should make it a crime to stir up hatred against someone because of their disability.
Recommendation 7: The law about online abuse and hate crime is not clear for the police or for people with disabilities. The Government is looking at ways to change the law. They should produce plans for how to do this by 2020.
Recommendation 8: We think that the Government should look at different ways to enable employers to find out if a person has been convicted of online abuse.
Recommendation 9: The Government should do a review to find out about the experiences of people with learning disabilities when they report crimes or have to give evidence to the police or in a court.
Recommendation 10: “Mate crime” is when people pretend to befriend disabled people in order to abuse or exploit them. The Government should work with social media companies and dating websites on a plan to keep people safe from mate crime.
Section two results
Recommendation 6, that “The Government should make it a crime to stir up hatred against someone because of their disability”, was by some distance the most popular idea in section two, chosen by 48% of respondents. Recommendation 7, calling on the Government to clarify the law about online abuse and hate crime, was also popular, with 29% of respondents choosing it as the most important idea in section 2. Recommendations 10 (13%), 9 (7%) and 8 (3%) received significantly less support.
Section three recommendations
Recommendation 11: The Government must look at how crimes against disabled people are recorded and the effects this has. They must look at how this affects sentencing for hate crimes against disabled people.
Recommendation 12: The Government must make sure that every frontline police officer receives the necessary training to ensure that disabled people have equal access to, and treatment in, the criminal justice system.
Recommendation 13: The Government must require schools to teach children about disability and how online bullying can affect people.
Recommendation 14: The Department for Health and Social Care should develop guidance to help families and support workers identify and manage cases of hate crime and online abuse.
Section 3 results
The most popular idea in section 3, chosen as most important by 35% of respondents, was recommendation 11, that the Government “look at how crimes against disabled people are recorded and the effects this has”, including effects on sentencing. Recommendations 12, about training for frontline police officers (31%), and 13, on teaching about online bullying in schools (24%) also received notable support. Recommendation 14 (10%) was least popular in section 3.
Which of our ideas—in sections 1, 2 or 3—is most important?
We asked people which one of their chosen recommendations, in sections 1, 2 or 3, was the most important to them. Of the 208 respondents, 185 chose a most important recommendation. Of these, 69 respondents (37% of those who made a choice) said that section one was most important; 49 (26%) thought that section two was most important; and 67 (36%) believed section 3 was most important.
Overall, the single most popular idea was recommendation 6, that “The Government should make it a crime to stir up hatred against someone because of their disability”. Considering people’s slight preference for their choices in section 1, recommendation 1, that “The Government should make sure that the internet is no more dangerous for people with disabilities than it is for people who don’t have disabilities” was also notably popular.
Summary of free text box comments
82 people left comments in the free text box. Some people said that they believed that all our ideas for recommendations, in all three sections, were important and emphasised the difficulty in picking a most important single idea.
Using social media
Some respondents told us about how important social media was to them.
- I have a severe disability and suffer verbal and online attacks daily, however, the benefits of computers outside social media are something which gives me a purpose.
- Social media can be a lifeline for a disabled person if they are restricted to home or bed. It should be a safe place to socialise and explore.
Experiences of abuse
Many people also shared their experiences of abuse.
- I have autism myself and have had such abuse online before - I just accepted it as some kind of norm even though it was making me really anxious, nervous and paranoid. I think that the law should be changed so that prejudice towards the disabled online is a form of hate crime.
- I have seen on many posts regarding stories about disabled people on Facebook, where utterly horrendous vile abuse is hurled at the persons disability in the comments section, for no other reason than the fact they have a disability. But despite reporting as many comments as possible, nothing is done [ … ].
- We also should be looking at the grooming of disabled as well via scams and gangs online and by email or through physical introduction as well. I’m on social media and everyday I have to block people, people either holding guns, or offensive images as profiles or people sticking their fingers up, or fake profiles of MPs or local council staff”.
Experiences reporting abuse
We also heard about people’s experiences of reporting online abuse to social media companies. Many people wanted stricter rules and punishments for online behaviour.
- There are loads of groups and posts on Facebook that claim to hate dwarfs and laugh at photos of people with dwarfism. These photos are often taken of dwarfs in public. For example, several times I have had people stop and directly take a photo of me.
- Get Facebook to change its ‘community standards’. At the moment you can have groups, such as ‘Aren’t midgets fun?’ and they are not removed because they don’t violate Facebook’s ‘community standards’. This is despite the term midget being offensive to people with dwarfism.
- Social Media Companies need to take much stronger action when abuse is reported, i.e. close down someone’s account or ban them from posting/tweeting for a period of time. This info must be reported back to a complainer - we need to know we are safe.
- While laws against cyberbullying need to be tightened, I think it is much more important at this stage to force social media platforms to actually apply their T&Cs in practice. Even when hate speech is reported, nothing is done in most cases, because social media providers do not want to spend money on employing enough people to deal with thousands of reported comments every day.
Others suggested making social media more accessible as a way to improve people’s experience online.
- Social media companies should make it easier for disabled people to understand how they can control their privacy settings on social media and what to do about reporting abuse. For people with learning disabilities easy read information and tutorial videos would help a lot.
Many people shared their experiences of reporting hate crime to the police.
- I was assaulted because I’m disabled. I reported it as a hate crime. Nothing was investigated other than checking CCTV images 3 weeks after the assault. I don’t even know if it was logged as a hate crime.
- We matter, and are sick of being dehumanised and targeted because of our disabilities. Those who target us online will also target us in the wider world; physical attacks, employment discrimination, medical neglect. The last guy who attacked me called me benefit-scrounging scum. There was no point reporting that (or any of the other attacks) because it’s not taken seriously, and I would spend all my time filling out witness statements, only to be dismissed because I don’t matter, because I’m Disabled.
- I don’t bother reporting anything because of the way we are treated - we just aren’t worth it and pretend it is not happening as we have no other choice. The police refuse to record this disability hate crime as hate crime and even as crime. We try to complain but as they investigate themselves they find they are not doing anything wrong in the way they treat us. [ … ] If you a female and physically disabled in this country anyone can do anything to you and you have no legal right of complaint and that is my experience of the last twenty years. it had just increased to the point I don’t go out.
- [ … ] there is a great deal to be done with the enforcement and justice systems to ensure Disabled people get a system that works for, rather than against, them; hate crime is just one aspect. One of my organisation’s members contacted me because she was struggling to get anyone to support her about experience she believed were hate crimes against her. Among other things, complaining to the police about her neighbour led to her being prosecuted for anti-social behaviour, not them! Regardless of whether or not she was experiencing hate crime, as defined in law (which she sincerely believed), the mental health difficulties that led to certain behaviour should not have been criminalised.
Portrayal of disabled people in public debate
The sentiment that came through most strongly from the comments was that people felt that politicians and the media should take some responsibility for the abuse of disabled people. The was a strong sense that stories about benefit fraud had affected the wider public’s attitudes and had “incited” crime against disabled people.
- You talk about disabled people in government as though we are bad people, lazy people, scroungers etc which is not true and insulting, without having a clue as to what it means to be disabled and treated this way everywhere you try to go.
- I’m disabled and have cerebral palsy. Government is the worst at inciting hatred against disabled because they allow the media to portray all disabled people as scroungers.
- It doesn’t help when the government stirs up hatred against disabled people by calling them lazy, work shy or shirkers.
- As a disabled person, I am fearful of my own government.
- The Daily Mail and other newspapers have headlines about ‘disability benefit fraud’ and the online responses talk about disabled people and their ‘free cars’ and the Daily Star talked about ‘bad back brigade’ and ‘mood swing’ people getting benefits, these newspapers, with their hostility to disabled people, stir up hatred.
Society’s attitudes to disabled people
Some respondents talked about the abuse of disabled people being “socially acceptable”.
- Disabled people can be “mocked” for their disability, for example, autism, dyslexia, and it seems to be socially accepted as there is no punishment.
Consultation and inclusion
The need to consult disabled people was a common sentiment.
- Making sure disabled people take part in consultations and discussions about how to best take this forward is essential.
- Work with young people with disabilities, see what they have to say about how they feel each day that they are treated differently, step in to their shoes, recognise the complexities that happen with those that have social and communication issues. Actually visit schools that support young people with LD and talk to them and the staff that work with them day in day out about how to behave safely online and when out, do not ever expect that a young person with LD if given information from social media sites, take this on board, they do not, they would not clearly understand and may not be able to transfer skills from hour to hour let alone from media to reality/face to face.
Changes to the law
Many people commented that changes to the law were the most important potential change. Suggested changes ranged from placing a legal responsibility on social media companies to ensure their platforms were free from abuse to changes to hate crime legislation.
- Any change in the law to prevent this type of abuse happening in the future would mean I wouldn’t have to face so much abuse and it would make the internet a less hostile place for disabled people.
- The use and creation or sharing of memes images of disabled persons should also be a crime.
- There should be tougher penalties for social media and gaming companies who do not protect Disabled people from abuse.
- Criminalising Abuse of Disabled People online would be a deterrent however it needs to go alongside clear guidelines and requirements of social media companies etc, as well as informing disabled people about how to report.
There were also comments about the particular nature of disability hate crime.
- Disability Hate Crime has particular characteristics that mean it is often misreported as anti-social behaviour or non priority incidents that in some cases have led to a Disabled person being victimised over a long period of time and loss of life. A Disabled person can be labelled as a paedophile by a local community, which does not appear to happen with other types of hate crime.”
Training and representation
Many respondents told us that changing social attitudes through better representation of disabled people would be the best way to combat abuse of disabled people.
- [ … ] it’s the ignorance of an ableist society and government that disables us far more than any crime. Raise our profile, make our lives, our homes and our surroundings fully accessible wherever possible.
- [ … ] it is about re-education of people - especially professionals to see the worth of people with disabilities.
People also commented that training on staying safe online for disabled people and others were also important.
- For me all about security in internet is important, but some social workers are so low in education they did not understand what kind of problems we have when we access internet particularly dating sates.
- There should be accessible training for Disabled people on how to keep safe online.
Disagreement with the draft recommendations.
Although there were criticisms of the survey design, there were very few comments that disagreed with the draft recommendations.
- The whole thing is an attack on free speech and I can think of better ways to protect individuals (democratise the tools the social media companies use to police their networks) than recourse to authoritarian legislation that undermines the most important right we have for protecting the vulnerable. But we can’t expect our legislators to understand technology nor to give individuals power.