The FA and Kick It Out, who previously gave evidence on English football’s behalf regarding the Online Safety Bill, welcome the Culture Secretary’s recent announcement that hate crime will now be written on the face of the Bill as a priority illegal offence.
This will force the platforms to be proactive in systematically identifying and removing such content.
We also welcome the adoption of the Law Commission’s recommendations to create new online offences, which will include criminalising the kind of threatening behaviour and mass pile-ons often experienced by people who play, watch and work in football. We know from our interactions with participants across the game that it’s critical this step is taken to ensure that this type of discriminatory abuse is included and overseen by the provisions made in the legislation.
English football welcomed the Joint Committee’s report on the draft Online Safety Bill in December 2021, and we repeat our call on the government to implement the report’s recommendations in full as a key first step. We need to ensure that all forms of discriminatory, harmful and abusive content and activity, to which people in football have been routinely subjected, is fully and properly addressed through the legislation, and we would welcome clarification from the government on this point.
In particular, we welcomed the Joint Committee’s recommendation that social media companies be obliged to deploy adequate and proportionate systems and processes to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm through the design or operation of their platforms.
This is not currently the case, and at present the culture created by social media systems curtails free speech, as trolls are able to intimidate people into leaving platforms. We have already seen this in football and across society, with some users having to temporarily or permanently remove themselves from platforms to avoid being subjected to persistent abuse.
This legislation presents a vital opportunity to ensure that all users of social media, including footballers, are better protected from online discriminatory abuse. We hope that this is a significant step towards the government fulfilling its public promise of treating this issue with the utmost seriousness, following the incidents which followed the UEFA EURO 2020 Final.
We believe that we need to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to set the online culture we would like to see as a society. We look forward to seeing the Online Safety Bill on the floor of the House of Commons in the near future.