Tackling online abuse

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
June 29, 2012, 1:28 PM GMT+0

Three quarters Britons support change in law to force websites to reveal names of abusive users

Over three quarters of the British public would support a change in the law which would force website companies to reveal the IP addresses of people who leave abusive comments on web pages, while a similar percentage would support a change that would require companies to remove abusive comments if they receive a complaint about them.

Our poll of 1,761 British adults also found that over one in ten people have known someone who has been a victim of anonymous abuse or attacks online, with this figure jumping to almost a third among young people aged 18-24.

  • 78% would support the changing of the law to ensure web companies must provide IP addresses of people leaving abusive comments so that they can be traced, while 12% oppose changing the law in this way
  • 77% would support changing the law so that website companies must immediately take down abusive comments if they receive a complaint, while 11% are opposed
  • 62% agree that web hosting companies should do more to remove offensive and abusive comments and messages on the internet, while 20% think free speech on the internet should be protected, and it is impractical or undesirable for web hosting companies to remove offensive comments and messages

Combatting abuse…but avoiding censorship?

One in twenty five of poll respondents said they have been the victim of anonymous online abuse.

  • 12% of respondents said that they know someone who has been the victim of anonymous abuse online, while 4% said they had experienced it first hand
  • This rose sharply among 18-24 year olds, with a sizeable 30% saying they know someone who has suffered online abuse, and almost 1 in 10 (8%) saying they have been a victim themselves
  • 2% of the public admit to having sent abusive messages to strangers on the internet

Identifying the 'trolls'

The Government's plans to change the law come in light of a growing number of convictions regarding online abuse, notably the case of Nicola Brookes, who is to date the first person in the UK to win the right to uncover the identities of 'trolls' harassing her online.

Brookes was granted a high court order after receiving 'vicious and depraved' abuse on ubiquitous social networking site Facebook and other websites ‒ including a fake profile being set up that accused her of being a paedophile and a drug dealer, and which sent explicit messages in her name to girls as young as nine. Facebook must now reveal the names, email and IP addresses of those behind the abusive messages, showing who they are and where they posted from.

In response to the situation, a Facebook spokesman said it was website policy to bar users with false names, and assured users that it would respond aggressively to reports of potential or actual abuse.

Other high-profile online abuse cases include that of Tory MP Louise Mensch, who received personal and often sexist taunting online following a TV appearance – one man in particular was charged ‒ while earlier this year student Liam Stacey became the first person to be jailed for sending abusive messages, in response to his racist tweets about Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba.

See the survey details and full results (pages 8-10)