Self-regulation of social media “has failed disabled people”, according to MPs who have backed a petition calling for new laws, led by model Katie Price.
More than 220,000 people supported her demand to make online abuse a criminal offence after she flagged up trolling about her son Harvey’s disabilities.
Now MPs on the Petitions Committee want the government to give disabled people protection under hate crime laws.
Internet giants must also “accept responsibility” over abuse, they said.
“Social media is rife with horrendous, degrading and dehumanising comments about people with disabilities,” said Helen Jones, who chairs the committee.
“The law on online abuse is not fit for purpose and it is truly shameful that disabled people have been forced off social media while their abusers face no consequences.”
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The committee launched an inquiry in response to the petition, which was closed early due to the 2017 general election.
Reality TV star Ms Price, a mother-of-five, told the MPs in evidence that “the most horrific things” had been said about 16-year-old Harvey, who is partially blind, autistic and has the genetic disorder Prader-Willi syndrome.
“They know he hasn’t got a voice back and they mock him more… they find him an easy target,” she said in February last year.
After hearing from disabled people how online abuse could destroy careers, social lives and cause lasting damage to people’s health, the MPs made a string of recommendations in a report published on Tuesday.
They included giving disabled people the same protections under hate crime laws as those who suffered abuse due to race or religion and a review of the law on “mate crime” – exploitation within friendships or relationships.
The MPs said a similar check to that used for child sex offenders should also make it possible to see whether someone had been convicted of a hate crime on the grounds of disability before employing them.
Other recommendations included:
- the government and social media companies directly consult disabled people on digital strategy and hate crime law
- a review of the experience of disabled people in reporting crimes and giving evidence, because “too many disabled people have not been treated seriously because front-line officers and staff do not understand disability”
- social media companies accept their responsibility for allowing toxic environments to exist unchallenged
- to require proportionate representation of disabled people in government advertising
Ms Price’s petition had called on the government to “make online abuse a specific criminal offence and create a register of offenders”, noting that it affected people “from every walk of life” and included “racism, homophobia, body shaming and a whole range of other hate speech”.
However, the committee focused on comments aimed at people with disabilities, to avoid duplicating the work of MPs elsewhere.
Last year, the then Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Matt Hancock admitted he did not have enough power to police social media companies, after admitting only four of 14 invited to talks had showed up.
He told the BBC it had given him “a big impetus” to introduce new laws to tackle what he has called the internet’s “Wild West” culture.
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