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FA pressures government to tighten bill to fight online harassment

As social media companies continue to ignore calls to act on online harassment, the Football Federation is lobbying lawmakers to tighten provisions on the government's online security bill.

Leaders from across the game met with lawmakers on Tuesday to ask for support in making changes to the draft bill published this month. Actors Thierry Henry and Lucy Bronze also gave personal testimonies of their abuse experiences.

Some critics of the bill warned that the law could prove to be a license for online censorship, but Edleen John, FA's director of equality, diversity and inclusion, is the best hope for the bill to bring about the change needed to stop "industrial scale" abuse by players and officials.

There is a central demand for “legal but harmful” content. "There are a lot of things we see on social media platforms right now that are already illegal," John said, "but there are things that are legal and absolutely harmful."

Legal material on child abuse or terrorism was prioritized in the bill, but John says the same should apply to discriminatory language. He uses the example of monkey emoji that can be used both innocently and as a racist provocation. “In the current bill [legal but harmful content] is not kept at the level it should be,” he said.

Another concern for football is stakeholders, the amount of personal information a user must share in order to send it to a platform. “The issue has historically been presented by social media outlets as a real dilemma of providing all of your information or not,” John said. "We say there should be a gray element in the middle."

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John says FA and other football organizations continue to talk with social media companies about reforms, but the last four-day boycott has not materially changed the situation.

“We were very clear about the boycott and did not expect it to be a magic wand,” he said. “Although there are some advances [it is] not at the level we would like. Being able to go to a platform, abuse someone, delete my profile and then re-register another in a matter of minutes means for me there is still a problem with the system. "

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