Calls for levy to cover costs of policing online abuse

SOCIAL media platforms could face a levy to help cover the cost of policing online hate crime, a former Tory minister has suggested.

MP calls for levy to cover costs of policing online abuse on social media. Picture: John Devlin

Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, said the Government should consider forcing organisations such as Twitter and Instagram to pay a fee to police in the same way football clubs and sporting venues do.

However, the former culture secretary said the move should only be a “last resort” if online platforms fail to help tackle the scale of online abuse that police forces are dealing with.

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Ms Miller is calling on the Government to set out specific new laws to tackle online abuse as well as to offer better training to police officers to show users that the internet is no longer “the Wild West”.

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Speaking ahead of her Commons debate on online abuse on Thursday, she told the Press Association: “If that isn’t enough, the Government should also be considering whether they should be adding a levy to those organisations to pay for the cost of policing, in the same way they add a levy to sporting venues who may disproportionately require the support of the police.

“I would hope that would be a last resort because I think there is much more that could be done before that, but at the moment there appears to be a lack of clear determination in the industry to clean up its act.”

She added: “We cannot allow people to act in a criminal way simply because organisations have set their businesses up in a way that can appear to encourage criminal activity.”

The MP intends to bring forward amendments to the Government’s Digital Economy Bill in an attempt to launch specific offences to help police more easily bring prosecutions.

She also fears that MPs are effectively being censored by the level of abuse they receive online, with some quitting social media platforms altogether.

She said: “Abuse can have a chilling effect on MPs using social media, but also on their willingness to talk about certain subjects as well and that is worrying for democracy.

“My fear is it will deter some people from even wanting to become an MP in the first place.”

Her debate comes as the Women and Equalities Committee launches a new inquiry into harassment in schools.

She hoped her debate would focus on adult-related online abuse, including homophobic, sexist and racist hate crime, but said it is clear that there is still a “great (deal) more to do” to tackle online child abuse.

Recent investigations have found child abuse perpetrators are using Instagram to encourage children and teenagers to send in pornographic photos of themselves and other people which are then used on hidden websites.

The so-called “baiting” proves that perpetrators are finding “new and devious” ways to operate undetected, she said.

“Online abuse is already not only ruining lives, it is creating mayhem for the police,” she said.

“The scale of the criminal activity that is going on is completely unmanageable so we can’t turn a blind eye to it any longer.

“We have to look at the law to strengthen the sanctions that are available and we also have to turn a very sharp spotlight on to the platforms to show up those that are not taking this seriously.”