A new report, Kinder, Gentler Politics, published this week, is calling on the UK Government to introduce a ‘Civil Internet Tax’ on large social media platforms to fund initiatives to tackle the rise of online abuse in political debate. It calls for 25% of the revenue raised to be ring-fenced for grassroots anti-discrimination campaigns. The report, produced by digital democracy think tank, WebRoots Democracy, is backed by cross-party politicians including Hannah Bardell MP and Magid Magid, Lord Mayor of Sheffield.
Kinder, Gentler Politics makes 11 key recommendations for how the Government and social media platforms can help tackle the rise of online abuse. In addition to the Civil Internet Tax, they include the creation of a new independent regulator of social media companies; the extension of anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) to online behaviour with online consequences; and for social media platforms to be suspended from operating in the UK as a new final sanction for failing to act on abuse.
The Civil Internet Tax (CIT) would be a new tax levied on social media platforms to fund digital literacy and anti-discrimination initiatives as well as provide resources to help police forces address cases of online abuse. The tax would apply only to large social media platforms and would be based upon the number of users, rather than on profits or revenue. E.g. If the CIT was £1, a platform which reports that they have 40m users would pay HMRC £40m. The tax would also support the creation of a new independent regulator and a nationwide advertising campaign to raise awareness around online abuse.
The report explores, in detail, the impact of online abuse in political debate and its analysis of 53,000 tweets directed at UK political influencers found that whilst 66% of conversations are neutral, negative conversations outweigh positives ones by a ratio of two to one. It also finds that many young people are choosing to self-censor what they post online and are instead opting to discuss politics in private, rather than public, forums. In addition, the report shines a light on the types of abusive content shared in popular UK political Facebook groups. One group in particular (with 7,000 members) contained numerous examples of racism and Islamophobia, as well an incitement to assassinate the Mayor of London posted by the group moderator.
The report comes as the Government closes its consultation on proposals to ban online trolls from standing for elected office and as Facebook comes under criticism for its £15m UK corporation tax bill this year.
Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy, Areeq Chowdhury said:
“Despite all of the research and column inches written about online abuse, there has been no significant action taken, or progress made, with regards to tackling it. Whilst social media has great potential to be a hub of political conversation and a forum for debate, the reality is that it is fast becoming a sewer of hate speech and abusive content.
Online abuse is a spectrum with one end filled with hate speech and incitements of violence, and the other end filled with language and behaviour we would not tolerate anywhere else in society. The internet should not be treated as a special space that is above the law or beyond regulation. If we, as a society, are to be serious about tackling this problem, we need to begin thinking about new ideas that focus on sanctions, education, and reform. That is what this report has set out to do.”
Read more about the report on the Kinder, Gentler Politics page and download the pdf here. Content warning: This report contains a number of detailed examples of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, as well as examples of rape threats and death threats.