FA pressures government to tighten bill to tackle online harassment

While social media companies continue to ignore calls for action on online harassment, the Football Association is lobbying lawmakers to tighten provisions in the government's online safety bill.

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

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

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

The bill prioritized legal material on child abuse or terrorism, but John says the same should apply to discriminatory language. He uses the example of the monkey emoji, which can be used both innocently and as a racist provocation. "[Legal but harmful content] has not been kept at the required level in the bill before us," he said.

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

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

“We were very clear about the boycott and we didn't expect it to be a magic wand,” he said. “Although there is some progress [it is] that is not at the level we would like. The fact that I can go to one platform, abuse someone, delete my profile, and then re-register another in a few minutes means for me that there is still a problem with the system. ”

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