Social media giants to be forced to reveal scale of cyber bullying on their sites: Companies will be told to publish how many complaints they receive over abuse and what they take down

Facebook and Twitter will be told to reveal the true scale of online hate as part of a major crackdown on the Wild West of the internet.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley will tomorrow unveil a new ‘internet safety strategy’ to ensure web firms face up to their responsibilities on trolling and cyberbullying.

As part of the strategy, social media companies will for the first time be told to publish how many complaints they get each year about abuse – and what proportion of abusive messages are actually taken down.

Ministers want the firms to publish an annual ‘internet safety transparency report’, laying out how they handle complaints and what efforts they made to moderate content.

The Government says the move will expose the ‘true scale of risks and harms that users encounter on their platforms’, with web firms told to disclose how many children and women are targeted.

All the information will be publicly available, enabling parents to shine a light on which social media firms are taking their social responsibilities seriously, and which are not.

The Government hopes it does not have to force Facebook and Twitter to agree to publish the annual report, saying it wants them to agree to do so voluntarily.

Figures show that in the past year, almost one fifth of 12 to 15-year-olds encountered something online that they ‘found worrying or nasty in some way’.

And almost half of adult users say they have seen something that has upset or offended them on social media.

Mrs Bradley will say she wants Britain to be the safest place in the world to go online.

The Culture Secretary will demand that demand that Facebook, Twitter and others sites sign up to a new online code of practice.

The strategy will also include a new push to ensure children are taught the skills they need to be safe online.

The move follows years of complaints about web firms not acting quickly enough to take down abusive messages.

Teachers say cyberbullying is a growing problem. While children used to be able to escape playground abuse by going home, now it follows them home via social media.

Even when children complain to web firms about bullying messages, nothing is done to punish the perpetrator.

MPs – particularly female MPs – have also complained of the rising tide of online abuse. Thousands of abusive tweets were sent to shadow home secretary Diane Abbott alone during the election campaign.

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg has also been the victim of hate tweets sent by hard-left internet users, while Cambridge classicist Mary Beard has been threatened as well.

The Mail has repeatedly highlighted the dangers to young people posed by the internet. Our Block Online Porn campaign persuaded the government to bring in an opt-in scheme ensuring only over-18s could see adult material, and age verification for porn sites will be introduced later this year.

Speaking at the Tory conference last week, Mrs Bradley said: ‘As a government we have a duty to protect children and vulnerable people from the less-family friendly corners of the internet.

‘We have all heard about the dangers of cyber-bulling, Twitter abuse and trolling on the internet. These are problems that Conservatives are tackling head on.

‘I believe Britain should be the safest place in the world to go online and this government is determined to make that a reality. Put simply, behaviour that is unacceptable in normal life should be unacceptable on a computer screen.’

She pledged that her internet safety strategy would be an ‘important step forward’.

Ms Bradley told delegates: ‘As part of this strategy, we will work with key players to introduce a comprehensive response to the problem, including an online code of practice that I want to see every social media company sign up to.

‘A call for companies to think about safety during the design of their products, to ensure that basic safety features are included from the outset; and a plan to ensure that every child is taught the skills they need to be safe online.’

She added: ‘We all have a responsibility to make sure the internet is as safe as it possibly can be. By doing this, and more, we will take a positive step forward in tackling a growing and critical challenge confronting our country.’

The strategy will say the government wants to see the introduction of an industry-led annual ‘internet safety transparency report’.

This would be used as a benchmark by government to check the progress of companies in tackling these issues.

The transparency report would be used to show the volume of content reported to companies, and the proportion of content that has been taken down from the service.

They would also have to reveal how they handled users’ complaints, and how each site approaches moderation and any changes in policy and resourcing.

The information would be broken down into categories of complaints, including under-18s, women, gay people, and on religious grounds.

The Government is said to believe this information would be valuable in understanding harmful content and conduct online, and will help to underpin any future policy interventions in this area.

The information would also be publicly available and give parents an indication of where the online risks were for their children, what was being done to tackle them, and which social media organisations were taking their social responsibilities seriously.

Michel ColaciComment