Voices

Taking away anonymity is the only way to stop trolling

Price’s son Harvey has been targeted by bullies on social media
(BBC)

My name is Katie Price. My son Harvey is disabled. He has an underactive thyroid, partial blindness and diabetes, as well as Prader-Willi Syndrome – and he is also the kind and gentle son of a person regularly in the public eye.

I’ve seen Harvey mocked and belittled since he was a small boy because of his disabilities, and because of his race. Now that he’s eighteen, he understands that the treatment he receives from strangers is cruel and unfair. He’s said it himself: “People are horrible to me.” As a mother, that breaks my heart.

In my opinion, the existing Online Harms Bill doesn’t go far enough in making online abuse a specific criminal offence – or in doing what “Harvey’s Law” intended.

We have no other option: to make the law work, we need to remove people’s anonymity online to ensure that users cannot cause harm by using online platforms to abuse others.

As a family, we have experienced the worst kind of abuse imaginable towards my sweet and disabled son – and it’s my mission to make sure that no one can hide behind an anonymous social media profile. Where an offence has taken place, they ought to be easily identified, reported to the police and punished.

And that’s why I’ve started this petition – we are also calling it #TrackATroll – to track and trace those who abuse people and spread hatred online.

I’m calling for it to be made a legal requirement, when opening a social media account, to provide a verified form of ID. Where the account belongs to a person under the age of 18, I want big tech companies like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to ask for the account to be verified with the ID of a parent or guardian, to prevent anonymised harmful activity – and to allow the offender to be tracked and traced.

We’ve already had more than 142,500 signatures, ensuring that this will now be debated in parliament. I am delighted that Andrew Griffith MP has agreed to support me in this and to take this to the next level, where it so desperately needs to be heard.

No troll should retain the right to be able to hide behind their abusive malicious posts. This is for the public good – but it’s also personal. I will leave no stone unturned – I won’t stop until all of those who bully and victimise people like Harvey are exposed and held accountable.

Social media can draw us together and make positive changes, but it can be harmful, too. We’ve all experienced cruelty online – some, like my son, have been targeted more than others.

Like me or hate me, I am standing up for what is right. I have lived with trolls my entire professional life. I don’t want that for my children, or my grandchildren

Now is the time for action to be taken on trolls. The people who say such horrible things to strangers – particularly disabled children – deserve to be tracked and traced, and the judicial system able to enforce punishment.

If these people are traceable then they are also trackable for arrest – and they should be arrested. Hate and abuse is unforgivable. We’ve all suffered, this past year, during the pandemic. We’ve also spent more time online than ever before. Being kind to each other is more important than ever.

These changes are long overdue to protect us all. There must be consequences for those who affect our welfare. We need protection to be put in place to protect everyone against trolls and bullies – not just the most vulnerable, like Harvey.

Because this behaviour does affect everyone: our children, our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our friends. And we must stand together to tackle it. We must be united and call for action.

This isn’t a problem that will just go away – and neither will I. Like me or hate me, I am standing up for what is right. I have lived with trolls my entire professional life. I don’t want that for my children, or my grandchildren.

I’ve seen criticism that a bill like this would “out” vulnerable people online, such as domestic abuse victims, or teenagers seeking support anonymously for being LGBTQ+. But nobody is being outed – or required to provide personal information. A trackable IP address is not asking for private data – only an address to the IP registrar, which is held on a database by a governing body. If a complaint is raised, the IP can be traced to an address to enable police to identify the source.

My petition is not intended to expose anyone other than trolls and those guilty of malicious online content, whose sole purpose is to harm people like my son. These people cause untold upset and mental anguish.

Regulating social media, with the support of media giants, will not only see the UK, but the rest of the world change their approach and attitude to stamping out malicious content – don’t we want to stamp out racism, hate and bullying? Don’t we need the world to be a kinder place to live in, together? Isn’t it vital that we do?

Now that we’ve reached more than 142,500 signatures, I’m not slowing down until it goes past a million. Once I get my teeth stuck into something, that’s it – there’s no giving up. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to lead the charge for kindness.