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17 January 2023

The pressure on Sunak to curb the spread of online misogyny is increasing

Labour shadow minister says it is “astonishing” that the Prime Minister is still failing to take this issue seriously.

By Zoë Grünewald

Labour and campaign groups are calling on the Prime Minister to do more to prevent the spread of misogynistic ideas in schools and online. The government is expected to address calls today (17 January) to strengthen legislation to keep women safe and protect young people from extremist views.

The Online Safety Bill returns to the Commons for its remaining stages and a public petition will be presented to parliament by the End Violence Against Women Coalition and the charity Glitch. It calls for better protections to end violence against women and girls online.

The Labour MP and shadow minister for tech, gambling and digital economy, Alex Davies-Jones, supports the petition, after calling Rishi Sunak out in PMQs last week for failing to address the spread of online misogyny.

“The Prime Minister has been too slow to recognise the damage this is causing,” said Davies-Jones. “What has he done? What is his government doing to tackle this misogyny, this incel culture, and the radicalisation of young men in this country? Will he commit to giving teachers the resources they need to address this problem head on?”

For some MPs, Sunak’s response was inadequate. He referred to the Autumn Statement announcement of £2bn of extra funding for schools and existing protections in the Online Safety Bill, but refrained from condemning online misogyny.

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Teachers across the country are already reporting that they are having to develop their own guidance and strategies for dealing with the spread of extremist online content in schools – and some have told the New Statesman they would like more support from the state in both the surveillance of harmful content, but also guidance on how to deal with it.

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Pressure is also being applied by think tanks. Hope not Hate has told the New Statesman that it has been developing its own resources to support teachers, stating: “Schools are poorly equipped to tackle far-right extremism in the classroom. The language and nature of the problem shifts quickly, and without proper training and guidance teachers can’t keep up.

“We [Hope not Hate] work with teachers, pupils and parents to help them recognise and tackle the signs of hate through education workshops and training.”

Many are also concerned about the lack of protections in the Online Safety Bill. Hope not Hate is calling for the continued inclusion of the “legal but harmful” clause, while Labour has tabled a number of amendments to toughen up proposals. Tory peers are also expected to strengthen the provisions on the prevention of violence against women and girls.

Davies-Jones told the New Statesman that Sunak’s refusal to act on or condemn the growing scourge of online misogyny is out of step with the image he presents: a Prime Minister who has said on multiple occasions that he is committed to ending violence against women. “It is astonishing that even after Andrew Tate’s viral misogyny, the Plymouth shooting fuelled by incel culture online [in 2021], and the damning Molly Russell verdict,” she said, “the government is still failing to take this issue seriously, or even condemn it when they have the chance.

“The business models of social platforms are built around algorithms which often promote all sorts of harmful content to young people who would never normally seek it out. The government must strengthen, not weaken, the Online Safety Bill while it still has the chance.”

[See also: What are the latest amendments to the Online Safety Bill?]