Building policy recommendations through co-production partner workshops
This project, funded by the Research Excellence Development Fund, with Co-Is Evans, Balfour, Maloney, and Merry, brings together themes within the Postdigital Intimacies cluster and offers a unique opportunity to develop recommendations to the Online Safety Bill (OSB) and subsequent legislation regarding online harms and safety. This work will significantly influence legislation and revisions to the OSB and beyond, and will benefit a variety of stakeholders. It has academic, networking, and societal benefits, as well as capacity building for larger, longer-term projects regarding gender and online/digital safety, with plans to continue working on future funding projects with named partners. At the same time our project will increase ties with, and influence within, the policy, legal, and government sectors, as well as strengthening existing relationships with industry partners who will provide additional pathways to impact. Ultimately, our work will be of meaningful and long-lasting benefit to our most important constituency – women and girls, and other at-risk groups (including men and boys) who remain vulnerable online and for whom current online safety legislation is inadequate.
As a casualty of recent political leadership changes within the UK, the OSB originally scheduled for 2022, was not passed, but rather delayed. While the Bill claimed to offer critical changes to legislation that would protect vulnerable or at-risk online users, many charity and lobbying groups had challenged its fitness for purpose. For example, the End Violence Against Women Coalition questioned its coverage of gender as a core component of online abuse (EVAW, 2022), while misogyny and harassment experienced by women and girls has been directly linked in questions to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in relation to ‘Incel’ communities online.
Now stalled at the report stage, the OSB is currently awaiting opportunity for MPs to vote on, ask questions and suggest amendments. The delay to the OSB ascending in government offers us the potential to significantly impact this critical legislation by influencing MPs and parliamentary discussions, particularly around portions of the Bill that concern intimacy and digital culture in relation to (1) platforms that structure the relationship between bodies and selves, (2) digital health tools and services that affect those who identify as women, queer, trans along with other protected characteristics, (3) the benefits or otherwise of using online communities for mental health support, and (4) “toxic” internet communities.
O1: Contribute to a wider understanding around issues connected to the Online Safety Bill (OSB)
O2: Co-build recommendations for the OSB with partners from online industries, government, and advocacy groups
O3: Feed these recommendations back to policy makers and MPs
The outcome of these objectives will include developing impact and visibility around PDI as a research cluster and enhancing existing research partnerships with industry stakeholder and establish new networks towards the development of further funding. Workshops have been organised along the following themes, each led by a member of the PDI team.
WS1: Evans – Bumble, EVAW, Glitch
The first round of workshops draws together industry, advocacy and charity approaches to online abuse, taking a feminist and feminist intersectional approach to highlighting harms online. They are an important first step, as all groups have campaigned on or are working on challenging omissions in the first iterations of the OSB. Bumble’s policy work addresses issues of cyberflashing in the OSB, especially in the context of their dating app; EVAW draws together a large collective of intersectional women’s groups to advocate against misogyny and racism, and have responded to previous OSB detail concerning gender; and Glitch is a charity group campaigning against online abuse and a more systemic approach to the OSB.
WS2: Balfour – SWGfL, ORCHA, FemTech Lab
This round of workshops will focus on provisions in the OSB for users of digital health products. Collaborative discussion that incorporates the tool-building work of SWGfl, regulatory and accreditation services of ORCHA, Tech UK, and feminine digital health startup accelerator FemTech Lab will build OSB recommendations that: a. recognize online gender-based violence as a critical health issue, and b. include provision for women’s digital health (FemTech) within the remit of online safety.
WS3: Merry – Mind, Good Things Foundation, Samaritans
The third set of workshops will involve charities and organisations which support disabled people and those with mental health disorders, as well as other marginalised groups. The requirement for large platforms to remove harmful but legal material has been dropped from the OSB, and replaced by a requirement to provide adults with tools allowing them to control the content they see. This has been criticised by a number of organisations, including the Samaritans. This workshop discussion will develop recommendations regarding protection for adults who are particularly vulnerable to harm in online spaces.
WS4: Maloney – CALM, Men’s Health Forum, Andy’s Man Club
The fourth round of workshops will bring together representatives from the above men’s health organisations to discuss boys and men as potential perpetrators and/or victims of the toxic online cultures the OSB is designed to protect against. From these discussions, recommendations will be drawn to ensure: a. that the OSB is adequately attentive to the diverse range of boys and men’s online experiences (across lines of class, sexuality, and race, for example); and b. that the OSB provides scope for rehabilitative (rather than purely punitive) approaches to promoting healthier online engagements among boys and men.
- Report and list of recommendations, co-published with collaborators/partners, to be submitted to OSB committee, as well as other MPs with vested interest
- White paper and/or POST notes – to be then developed into co-authored publication by the research team.
- Work alongside Holly Higgins, CU Senior Policy Advisor on developing relationships with MPs (and backbenchers) to develop questions to be asked during OSB debate sessions.
- Joint presentation to relevant APPGs (i.e. Domestic Violence and Abuse; Digital Regulation and Responsibility; Mental Health Policy).
- Launch event/debrief with workshop participants and the public to share findings and outputs and to launch policy recommendations.
01/2023 to 06/2023
Coventry University’s Research Excellence Development Fund and Research England