Online abuse and the experience of disabled people Contents

Annex F: Digital engagement through Facebook


To find out more about what people felt about the ideas in the petition, the House of Commons Digital Engagement Programme asked “Should online abuse be a specific criminal offence?” on the House of Commons Facebook page. People were also invited to discuss the draft recommendations published in the special report “Online abuse and the experience of disabled people: draft recommendations for consultation”. People were able to comment from 28 August until 3 September 2018. The Facebook post was seen by 16,654 accounts. It was clicked on 842 times and there were 924 “engagements” with the post, including reactions, comments and shares.

Illustrative quotes for key themes

For a specific criminal offence

Sara: “I think online abuse is very unique & differs to other kinds, it’s effect can be deeply psychological & effect victims in different ways. I think this type of crime does need managing by specialist teams (especially in cases of bullying/extortion/sexual) & should be a specific & separately dealt with offence.”

Zøe: “Some of these comments are just shocking. Some of the vile things people say to me online and there’s no consequence but if the same exact comments were said to me IRL they would be arrested with hate speech and harassment. Unless you’ve been the victim you’ll never understand the need for this.”

Kellie: “Yes but more needs to be done by social networking sites and forums etc to tackle abuse”

Margaret: “Yes. If it is illegal off-line it should be illegal on-line, too many people appear to think that they can post comments with no consequences, not so.”

Against a specific criminal offence

Andy: “[ … ] There is currently no law against causing offence, and there should never be. Anger or hatred is as powerful an emotion as love and many things can be said in anger which could cause offence. But this should never become a crime. Even if it is the intention of the author to cause offence, the fact remains that offence is always taken, never given. The person who is on the receiving end of any communication always has a choice of being “offended” or either ignoring or engaging with the issues. [ … ]”

Peter: “We’ve laws enough already to prosecute online abuse, use those rather than create yet more laws.”

Blocking and muting

Iris: “As long as it is easy to block someone from your page what’s the problem? Perhaps that’s the area which needs tightening up, not the law.”

Ashley: “People don’t have to have an online presence. It is optional. Not something that can easily be policed or proven in a court either.”

Tayla-Rose: “I don’t think it should be a specific crime. If the laws are the same online as offline then that is good enough. I always said if you don’t like the community you have online change them. Delete Facebook and start again or just block the person and who they are associated with. You can remove yourself from this situation [ … ]”

Free speech and censorship

Gail: “there is difference between freedom of speech and abusive behaviour and yes it should be criminal offence”

Peter: “Too many unnecessary laws already. Stop trying to suppress people by restricting freedom of speech. Free Speech comes with the good and the bad, people can decide what and when to read and listen. It’s not up to governments to manipulate how society needs to act and behave. How can government decide what viewpoints are right and wrong. Debate! not laws!”

Michael: “I think this would be a very slippy slope? I mean, what constitutes abuse? If it’s outright nasty comments and making fun of someone’s disability then yes, definitely but nowadays too many people cry abuse just because they don’t like the truth or if someone disagrees with them?!”

Current Legislation

Gerri: “Quote from the post.. ‘Currently, there is no specific law covering online abuse; the Government says “what is illegal offline is illegal online”. ‘ So, if it is illegal to someone’s face it is also illegal online, I can’t see any need for any more legislation than that.”

(in reply) Mac: “Gerri, as you quote, there is no SPECIFIC law. There should be, to stop any loopholes that some clever lawyer could find.”

Alasdair: “I don’t see any need for a new law when ‘malicious communications’ are already outlawed by the Communications Act 2003 - if anything, the current law seems overbroad. The hard part is deciding when and how to enforce it effectively.”

Published: 22 January 2019