Social media companies and Government 'have failed disabled people'

By agency reporter
August 8, 2018

A cross-party group of MPs believes that social media companies and the Government have failed disabled users and must act urgently. To ensure the views of disabled people are heard, the Petitions Committee has launched a consultation on their draft recommendations for action.

The consultation covers 14 draft recommendations, including making incitement of disability hatred a specific crime and requiring social media companies to produce Easy Read privacy notices. The draft recommendations are based on conversations with and evidence from disabled people, disability advocacy groups, the police and social media companies.

The inquiry into online abuse and the experience of disabled people was prompted by a petition by Katie Price, signed by more than 200,000 people. Her petition calls for a specific criminal offence to cover online abuse and a register of offenders. It talks about online abuse directed at people from all backgrounds, but also highlights the shocking abuse directed at her disabled son, Harvey.

The Petitions Committee highlights that disabled people are failed at every stage in the development of digital policy and practice, noting that:

  • the Government and social media companies fail to consider disabled people when developing policy and practice;
  • the law is insufficient in dealing with disability hate crime;
  • and the online space has opened up new avenues for so-called 'mate crime'

'Mate crime' – where people are befriended with the intention exploiting them financially, physically or sexually – can be a particular issue for adults with learning disabilities. The Petitions Committee heard that social media and internet dating increase the opportunities for vulnerable disabled people to be targeted.

This is the first time a House of Commons Select Committee has run a full consultation on its proposed recommendations.

The Committee Chair, Helen Jones, said: “Our inquiry into online abuse and the experience of disabled people has shown that social media is rife with vile, degrading and dehumanising comments about people with disabilities. It’s time for action.”

“We’ve listened to disabled people to come up with our recommendations to tackle online abuse of disabled people and we will spend the summer listening to them again. By launching this consultation, we want to make it clear that the voices of disabled people must be heard.”

“In the Petitions Committee, we work hard to ensure that our work reflects what the people who petition Parliament think and feel. When we want to know what people think, we ask them. It should be normal practice for Select Committees to consult on their recommendations, so I’m pleased that the Petitions Committee is taking this step.”

“It is deeply disappointing that social [media]companies don’t engage fully with their disabled users. With their vast financial resources, there’s no excuse for their failure to make their platforms as safe for disabled people as they are for other users.”

“We were shocked to hear that in 2018 the Government still don’t ensure that the needs of all communities are considered when looking at digital policy. Parliament and Government are there to serve the people, and neither can do that if we don’t include them in the conversation.”

Inclusion London’s Chair, Anne Novis, said: “I am thrilled to see the recommendation from this inquiry, which include most of the recommendations we submitted in writing and I gave verbally at the inquiry meeting, and other Deaf and Disabled people gave via a testimonies session which Inclusion London helped to organise. So often government does not listen or respond to repeated evidence and requests for equity in law on hate crime. Therefore the recommendation that disability be included within incitement to commit hate crime law is welcomed. Also I am extremely pleased that a full and inclusive consultation is to take place re Online Hate Crime against us. I hope we will see an appropriate and timely response from this government that does not ignore us, or defer responding, as it has done re Disability Hate crime, for many years.”

The Committee's recommendations:

The Government needs to acknowledge the importance of the internet to disabled people and commit to ensuring that the internet is no more dangerous for those with disabilities than those without. The Government must ensure that the voices of disabled people are included at the heart of its discussions about online safety.

We expect the Government to include disabled people explicitly in all consultations, including on digital strategy. All consultations must be accessible to all disabled people, including adults with learning disabilities.

Social media companies should be required to ensure that terms and conditions, community standards, account policies and other forms of guidance are accessible to all disabled people, including people with learning disabilities. That includes Easy Read versions of all relevant policies.

Social media companies should be required to ensure that systems for reporting abuse or other concerns and setting privacy and other preferences are accessible to all disabled people, including adults with learning disabilities.

Social media companies should be required to demonstrate that they have consulted and worked in partnership with disabled people when developing their policies and processes.

The Government should make it a specific crime to incite hatred because of disability.

We heard again and again that the law around online abuse and hate crime is not well understood, either by the police or disabled people themselves. It is not enough to repeat “what is illegal online is illegal offline”. With the Law Commission review already taking place, the Government will soon have all the information needed to make appropriate changes. We expect the Government to commit to bringing forward legislation by 2020.

Katie Price’s petition calls for a “register of offenders”. We don’t agree that a separate database, similar to the sex offenders register, is needed. However, the Government should look at different ways to enable employers to find out if a person has been convicted of online abuse.

The Government must conduct a full review into the experience of people with learning disabilities reporting crime or giving evidence. In particular, it must develop an action plan to ensure that the appropriate training and procedures are in place so that that adults with learning disabilities are treated as “reliable witnesses”.

We heard concerns about how the “vulnerability” designation and the “motivated with hostility towards the victim’s disability” designation affects accurate reporting and recording of crimes against disabled people and sentencing of the perpetrators. The Government must look at how useful designations are for crimes against disabled people and vulnerable disabled people and the impact this has on recording of, and sentencing decisions about, hate crimes towards disabled people.

Individual police forces are demonstrating some encouraging practice in dealing with crimes against disabled people and online abuse and in working in partnership with disabled people. 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.

A disappointingly high proportion of online abuse towards disabled people is committed by young people. Educating children about disability and the effects of online bullying and abuse of disabled people in particular must become mandatory, not optional, in schools.

We have heard that some disabled people need support to get and stay online. Support workers need guidance to help them to identify abuse of adults with learning disabilities. 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.

The Government should develop an action plan to address so-called 'mate crime' on and offline. This should include working with social media companies and online dating websites to identify and tackle mate crime.

* Read Online abuse and the experience of disabled people: draft recommendations for consultation here 

* Petitions Committee https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/petitions-committee/

* Inclusion London https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/

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