TV star’s call for online homophobia to be hate crime debated by MPs

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionTowie’s Bobby Norris: People wish cancer on me because I’m gay

A call for online homophobia to become a specific criminal offence is being debated by MPs at Westminster.

The event followed a petition calling for a new law that had been organised by the reality TV star Bobby Norris.

The Only Way Is Essex cast member said he had been spurred into action by unacceptable abuse directed at him via social media.

The Home Office has said a range of offences already exist to prosecute hate crimes.

But it added that it had asked the Law Commission – an independent body that reviews the law in England and Wales – to review whether current hate crime legislation was effective in tackling online and offline abuse.

Hateful posts

The Labour Party’s Daniel Zeichner MP, who began the debate, said that laws governing the matter were “fragmented” and that politicians had failed to “get to grips” with regulation of the social media companies involved.

“The promotion of this kind of content contributes to an environment where problematic language and ideas are completely normalised, meaning there’s a degree of desensitisation,” he added.

“We must row back from this and take online homophobia for what its is: hate speech that must not be accepted.”

Earlier on Monday, Mr Norris said the comments he had received had included “I hope you get cancer” and “go hang yourself”.

“I don’t think you can ever fully prepare yourself,” he told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

“I hear from some people who don’t want to leave their houses because it’s got so bad. I’ve heard of people hurting themselves, unfortunately some people even taking their own lives, it gets that severe.”

He added that he thought creating a new law would send out a signal that online abuse linked to a victim’s sexual orientation was unacceptable.

“People feel that little bit more brave when they’re sat behind a computer screen or sat on their phone sending messages to people.

“Some people have specific trolling accounts – sometimes they don’t even put a photo on.

“If we look at how easy it is to set up a social media account, I think people just need to be a little bit more accountable and a little bit more aware of what they are sending.”

‘Utterly cowardly’

More than 152,000 people signed Mr Norris’s e-petition.

That surpassed the 100,000 figure required to have such an appeal considered for debate.

Jeremy Howell, a Conservative MP, also took part in the debate.

He described such abuse as being “utterly cowardly”, since the perpetrators often hid their own identities.

But he added that it needed to be seen in the context of wider hate crimes, and that MPs should take account of the Law Commission’s report due in 2020.

“The more that we can do to try to keep a check on online [abuse]… and that we take action against it, the healthier we will be,” he said.

“This is a very important subject, not just for gay people but for all of us to show our common humanity in this area… and the protection of human rights.”

But Labour’s Angela Eagle MP, who is a lesbian, was critical about what she said was a lack of urgency.

“Whilst the Law Commission review is welcome, it’s never been and can never be an active and effective way to take rapid action against a growing threat.

She added that the commission had itself already acknowledged that the law had “not kept pace with the rapidly changing environment online”.

‘Hate drives profit’

Labour’s Ian Pollard MP, who is homosexual, added that more needed to be done to hold the social media companies responsible too.

“We need to recognise that online hate drives traffic,” he said.

“Traffic is the basis of advertising. And advertising is the basis of the economic model for social media companies.

“So, hate drives profit and we need not to be blind to that.

“When reporting has been made [the tech firms] need to take that seriously because all too frequently when people report online abuse, it’s not actioned by those people at the other end.”

The SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes, who is also a gay MP, added that no political party – including his own – could “claim a clear conscience on the history of homophobia”.

He highlighted that the matter was a devolved issue, but that Holyrood was looking at whether it needed to reform its own laws.

“Crimes against LGBT people in Scotland have risen,” he remarked.

“There is no place for complacency and the Scottish government’s consultation on hate crime is looking to ensure the legislation is fit for the 21st Century.”

According to a 2017 study commissioned by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity Stonewall, one in 10 LGBT people had experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse against them personally via the internet in the month prior to being questioned.


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar