On 11 July 2011, Ed Vaizey MP, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries together with Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Equalities and Criminal Information hosted a Ministerial Seminar on tackling Personal harm over the internet.
The meeting in the House of Commons Committee Room 10, chaired by Kathryn Stone OBE (Chief Executive of VOICE UK and member of the Hate Crime Independent Advisory Group) was the first time industry, regulators and other stakeholders had been brought together in this way with a focus on personal harm. The first internet hate conference had been held under the previous Government administration but had not included industry representatives.
The two themes for the seminar were cyber-stalking and hate crime. Definitions of cyber stalking vary widely and the medical, psychological, social and financial effects are similarly severe regardless as to whether the stalking activity is on or offline. Partnership working, awareness raising and cross border data sharing is needed to track down perpetrators who are able to hide their location and identity on the internet and to facilitate prosecutions.
Hate crime on the internet has been raised as a serious concern for victims groups. It is believed to damage community cohesion and cause fear of crime in groups targeted by such hate. Communities also fear that such material has the impact of ‘normalising’ hatred and would have the effect of encouraging physical attacks from those who are at risk of offending. The emergence of Web 2.0 has changed the nature of hate on the internet and communities have reported that material has moved from private chat rooms to sites that are in everyday use by the general population.
Both of these issues have been raised with government by external stakeholders and Parliamentarians and so the meeting was convened with people working in this area about relevant policies and responsibilities, how they work in practice and what could be learned from the approach other countries are taking.
The DCLG Minister Andrew Stunell MP also attended together with Parliamentarians John Mann MP and Lord Haskell. A number of industry representatives, regulators and third sector stakeholders were represented.
After a situational briefing, a frank and open discussion took place which highlighted the real concerns of victims, the current operational practices in industry and the difficulties in tackling internet-based harm. Suggestions included a Government-initiated toolkit for victims of hate crime to empower them by outlining the systems they can access to report and follow-through on reports of internet harm. Lynne Featherstone announced a second, smaller meeting would be arranged to follow through some of the discussion that had been initiated at the conference.