Theresa May orders Facebook and Twitter to curb 'vile' online violence and abuse against women

Prime minister to demand action over 'deeply worrying' rise in online harassment of women at G7 summit

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 07 June 2018 22:50 BST
Labour's Diane Abbott describes 'racist and sexist' abuse

Tech giants will be told to curb “vile” online violence and abuse of women, as Theresa May makes women’s rights a key priority of international talks.

The prime minister will order the likes of Facebook and Twitter to show the same urgency in tackling threats towards women as they do in removing terrorist propaganda.

Gender equality will be a key theme of the G7 summit in Canada – where Ms May will also hold talks with Donald Trump about the row over US tariffs on EU steel and aluminium exports.

But she will also hope to make progress on the “deeply worrying” rise in online harassment of women, the next step in her campaign to rein in social media giants.

In January, the prime minister took the dramatic step of urging investors to pull their funds from tech firms that failed to act, arguing shareholders had the power to “make a big difference”.

Speaking ahead of landing in Quebec, Ms May said the benefits of technology in empowering women and girls was “being undermined by vile forms of online violence, abuse and harassment”.

“What is illegal offline is illegal online, and I am calling on world leaders to take serious action to deal with this, just like we are doing in the UK with our commitment to legislate on online harms such as cyberstalking and harassment,” she said.

“Online violence against women and girls should not be separated from offline violence, and the technology companies who are making welcome progress in banning and removing extremist content must use the same methods to prioritise tackling this unacceptable and deeply worrying rising trend.”

Ms May will claim progress in her earlier call for terrorist content to be taken down in as little as one hour, and for technology to prevent “evil material” ever appearing on the web.

In the first quarter of 2018, Facebook took action against 1.9m examples of Daesh and Al-Qaeda content – nearly twice the figure the previous quarter – and claims new material is removed in under one minute.

But No 10 says but there has been no similar upswing in tackling violent pornography and rape threats against women.

Amnesty International research in March found that one in five UK women had suffered online abuse or harassment – of which 27 per cent said it threatened sexual or physical assault.

And in a Girlguiding survey in 2016, a quarter of girls aged 11-21 reported suffering cyberbullying. Half of them believed sexism is worse online than offline.

Internet companies should use their “cutting-edge technology”, such as data analytics, to identify and remove adverts or websites linked to people trafficking and sexual exploitation, Ms May will say.

She will also announce £187m of new funding to help over 400,000 girls in developing countries to receive a better education.

The two-day meeting of the Western economic powers in Charlevoix will be dominated by the rising fears of a trade war, prompted by the US levies of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium.

Ms May called them “unjustified and deeply disappointing”, in a phone call with Mr Trump this week, while Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has predicted a big fight at the summit.

It may well become a “G6+1” – leaving the US president isolated, with the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy on the other side of the table.

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