Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie has helped score a major victory in the fight against internet hate after the Government agreed to include measures to tackle anonymous social media abuse into the upcoming Online Safety Bill.
Ms Baillie suffered online abuse for taking a month’s maternity leave following the birth of her daughter in 2020. Stroud residents then came to her with their own horrible experiences of trolling online so she campaigned for change. She has sought to give social media users the choice of verifying their accounts and whether they interact with anonymous accounts.
She has held parliamentary debates, worked with the organisation Clean Up The Internet, gathering information of how online abuse affects people, lobbied ministers, worked cross-party and linked up with celebrities who have suffered abuse such as Emily Atack to drive the campaign forward.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced new proposals for the Bill forcing social media platforms to give users the choice to verify their account and, crucially, the choice to block contact from unverified anonymous accounts.
“I am absolutely thrilled the Government will include these measures in the Bill. Anonymous social media accounts peddle hate, often with impunity, and they are a scourge on many people’s lives, not just celebrities and politicians. Ordinary people suffer every day.” said Ms Baillie.
“My own experience of online hate has really driven me on this campaign. In these last two years, school children, health workers, teachers and celebrities have told me how much we needed to tackle anonymous abuse online. I am really chuffed the Government has listened and acted.
“Giving power to social media users to decide if they want to engage with unverified accounts will do much to limit the ability of trolls and haters to peddle their views and harm people, because they are different or hold opinions they disagree with.
“It’s important to say, these proposals do not ban anonymous accounts. This is something I never asked for. It simply gives more choice for social media users and it will limit hate and harassment on these platforms.
“Without the help of many people, but in particular Clean Up The Internet and Stroud constituents who supported my proposals, the ministers may not have listened. I would like to thank them and all those who have supported this campaign, locally and nationally. Without smart, dedicated and honourable people like Stephen Kinsella and David Babbs from Clean UP The Internet, this would not have happened.
“Finally, I would like to thank the Government. I think having these measures in what is a ground-breaking piece of legislation makes the UK an international beacon in efforts to make the internet a better and safer place for everyone. These proposals will not stop all the hate but it will do much to limit its ability to ruin lives.
“I look forward to examining the details in the Bill when it is published but from what I have seen so far, it is more or less exactly what we wanted.”
Founder of Clean UP the Internet and Stroud resident Stephen Kinsella said: “I founded Clean Up The Internet in 2019, as a UK-wide organisation with a plan to reduce the harm caused by anonymous accounts on social media.
“As a Stroud resident I was delighted when my own MP Siobhan Baillie became the leading champion of the issue in parliament. She’s been a powerful voice in favour of strong action, talking about her own experience of online abuse, and supporting others to tell their own stories.
“She’s helped persuade MPs from all the main parties to join the campaign. Today the Government has announced plans to tackle anonymous abuse, which looks like being a very big step in the right direction.
“Siobhan deserves a lot of credit for her role in this. Anonymous abuse causes real hurt and misery, and these new measures should make a real difference for a lot of people – both in Stroud and across the rest of the UK.”