Essex expert helps draw up tough new social media laws

  • Date

    Thu 18 May 23

Generic picture showing logos of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Tough new laws which would stamp out sexist and misogynistic abuse on social media have been debated in Parliament, thanks to the work of an expert from Essex.

Professor Lorna Woods has teamed up with Carnegie UK and charities including Refuge and NSPCC to draw up the proposals, which could see tech firms fined and bosses jailed for repeated failures to address abuse.

The new rules, contained in a code of practice, were put before the House of Lords on Tuesday as part of a suggested amendment to the Online Safety Bill.

Baroness Morgan is leading the call in the Lords for the amendment, which will see the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Code of Practice added to the bill.

Professor Woods, of Essex Law School, said: “Women and girls are disproportionately affected by online violence and abuse.

“Given this, a gender neutral does not identify the full scale of the problem nor necessarily come up with appropriate solutions. 

“The code is aimed at helping social media platforms and search engines develop approaches to mitigate the problem; it is about the way their systems work, not about individual items of content.”

Professor Woods has been working with Carnegie UK Trust since 2018 on plans to better regulate social media and reduce harm.

Under the new proposals, the legally enforced code of practice would provide minimum standards in relation to online violence and abuse against women against which online services’ performance would be judged.

The code of practice states: “This guidance has been created due to the high prevalence of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) perpetrated in the digital sphere.

“This includes technology-facilitated abuse (activities carried out with the use of technology and communication equipment, including hardware and software) enabling abusers to stalk, harass, surveil, and control victims.”

The code of practice can be viewed in full here.