Revenge Porn Helpline
Supporting adults who are victims of non-consensual intimate image abuse since 2015
Supporting and representing victims to report and remove of legal but harmful online content since 2019
SWGfL has developed several innovative and award-winning digital solutions to ensure everyone can benefit from technology free from harm and these include:
Worlds first device side hashing technology supporting (adult) victims of non-consensual intimate image abuse to prevent their content being shared on social media anywhere in the world.
Self-Assessment solution supporting over 16,500 UK schools in reviewing their online safety policy and practice.
Launched in 2020, a complete children’s digital media skills framework with activities and assessments used by over 43,000 UK teachers
Given this wealth of experience and understanding, to further its charitable purpose, SWGfL publishes a series of annual reports sharing its knowledge, experience and information, most notably
2021data and insights from SWGfL’s Report Harmful Content platform supporting those experiencing legal but harmful online content
2021 research and information regarding SWGfL’s Revenge Porn Helpline - 0345 6000 459 that was created in 2015 and is the world's first helpline supporting adults who are victims of non-consensual intimate image abuse
First published in 2009, this annual assessment report highlights school's policy and practice providing insights from the 16,500 schools across the UK using Online Safety Self-Review Tool for Schools | 360safe
First report highlighting the strengths and gaps of children’s digital media literacy skills across the UK Part 10 — Communications offences Chapter 2 — Register of categories of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search service Clause 81 - Register of categories of certain Part 3 services
Online Safety Bill Written Evidence
The following extract is from its written submission to the Online Safety Bill in Summer 2022.
The latest Online Safety Bill drafting actually removes existing victim support by dismantling existing obligations on services to operate dispute resolution mechanisms
Part 3 — Providers of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services: duties of care, Chapter 2 — Providers of user-to-user services: duties of care
It is important to draw Parliament’s attention to the current Video-sharing platform (VSP) regulation - Ofcom that requires ‘Video Sharing Platforms’ (1) to ‘provide an impartial dispute resolution procedure’. The regulation details this impartial appeals process requirement. With its current lack of any independent ombudsman provision, and as the Online Safety Bill will supersede the existing Video Sharing Platform Regulations, this will have the effect of dismantling and removing the current recourse that victims of legal but harmful content currently have.
SWGfL very much supported the conclusions of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill (2) “that service providers’ user complaints processes are often obscure, undemocratic, and without external safeguards to ensure that users are treated fairly and consistently.” In addition, that “it is only through the introduction of an external redress mechanism that service providers can truly be held to account for their decisions as they impact individuals.”
It is particularly disappointing that the reports recommendation that “The role of the Online Safety Ombudsman should be created to consider complaints about actions by higher risk service providers where either moderation or failure to address risks leads to significant, demonstrable harm (including to freedom of expression) and recourse to other routes of redress have not resulted in a resolution” was disregarded.
Dismissing the opportunity for victims to seek independent recourse or appeal demonstrates a lack of compassion for the distressing impact that legal but harmful content has on victims. User redress and victim support have to be an intrinsic part of the wider ecosystem, requiring platforms to have user redress and victim support measures, policies and systems in place. This user redress and victim support has to be transparent as without it, understanding if platforms are adequately supporting their users will be invisible.
[Online Safety Bill, Part 3 — Providers of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services: duties of care, Chapter 2 — Providers of user-to-user services: duties of care.] Section 18 has to include a duty to operate 'Impartial Dispute Resolution Service'. Where complaints are made and services fail to action or resolve the complaint, users should have access to impartial dispute resolution recourse to independently resolve their complaint.
Section 18 of Part 3, Chapter 2 of the Online Safety Bill should include
A requirement for all providers to implement a dispute resolution procedure, regardless of the size or nature of the platform. This is a separate requirement to the requirement to take and implement appropriate measures to protect users from harmful material. Dispute resolution procedures must be impartial and must allow users to challenge a services implementation of a measure, or a decision to take, or not to take, a measure. A person who provides a video-sharing platform service must provide for an impartial out-of-court procedure for the resolution of any dispute between a person using the service and the provider relating to the implementation of any measure set out the services complaints process or a decision to take, or not to take, any such measure, but the provision of or use of this procedure must not affect the ability of a person using the service to bring a claim in civil proceedings
This drafting is extracted from existing Ofcom VSP regulations that currently require platforms to operate such an impartial dispute resolution service. By not including this will remove existing safeguards. With the object to make the UK the safest place to be online, it is unfeasible that this is not achievable without impartial or independent arbitration of complaints to stand for users and victims
Further note related to the term ‘Easily Accessible’ in context of
(3) A duty to include in the terms of service provisions which are easily accessible (including to children) specifying the policies and processes that govern the handling and resolution of complaints of a relevant kind.
In line with the age appropriate design code, services should be required to publish their policies and processes, specifically terms and conditions and privacy statements in a manner according to the minimum age that the service is accessible by. For example if the service is accessible for users over age 13, the policies should be published in a manner that a 13 year old can be reasonably expected to understand using, for example reading indexes Gunning Fog Index (gunning-fog-index.com)
Intimate Image Abuse
We would ask that Parliamentarians remain mindful of the upcoming report from the Law Commission on the taking, making and sharing of intimate images. The Government commissioned the review in recognition of the reality that the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, section 33 was failing victims in an evolving landscape of online abuse and violence against women and girls. The OSB coming at the same time that this comprehensive report is due represents a significant opportunity for the UK to remain at the forefront of global efforts legislatively to combat this growing harm.
We have contributed extensively to the work of the Law Commission and are hopeful that the following recommendations will be incorporated into their report:
It is important to acknowledge that intimate image abuse is a gendered harm. In the seven year history of the Revenge Porn Helpline, 66% of those seeking support have been female, with 18% male and 15% not known.
The impact on women is disproportionate as we see repeated extreme distress, depression, suicidal ideation, impacts on jobs and careers, damage to personal and family relationships and withdrawal from online spaces and engagement.
We are pleased to see that the OSB includes a new offence to cover “Sending etc photograph or film of genitals” (Section 156). However, we note that the new offence as drafted includes the intention to cause distress or for the purpose of sexual gratification. We would urge lawmakers to avoid making the same error as was made in the CJCA s 33 which also includes the intention to cause distress. The motivations behind behaviours of intimate image abuse are varied and we would prefer to see the focus on the lack of consent of the victim than potential motivations of perpetrators.
Defining ‘legal but harmful’ content
Part 3 — Providers of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services: duties of care Chapter 7 — Interpretation of Part 3 Section 53 and 54
SWGfL has supported victims of legal but harmful content for the last two decades. Whilst the term ‘harmful content’ can be very subjective, legal but harmful content can be just as catastrophic as illegal content.
Whilst Report Harmful Content was finally launched in 2019, it took more than five years to prepare, with the majority of this time spent developing its definitions and understanding of legal but harmful content.
Report Harmful Content exists to support and represent victims of legal but harmful online content to report. With a detailed understanding of platform terms and conditions, it represents victims in reporting and removing legal but harmful content. When it reports content, its takedown rate is 89%.
Report Harmful Contents definitions of legal but harmful is the foundation of the platform. Developed over a five-year period, these definitions are based on a variety of considerations, most notably victim experiences and platform terms and conditions (or community standards). Legal but Harmful content extends to
There are some further specific types of Legal but Harmful content that were identified and included here (reportharmfulcontent.com), including:
Published in its first Report Harmful Content Annual Report 2021 | SWGfL, the Annex A details the report conclusions
Impact of Legal but Harmful content
Recognising that defining legal but harmful content should release pressure or incentive for platforms to over-remove legal content or controversial comments, however it dramatically increases the importance of adequately specifying the scope and detail of this definition.
The impact of legal but harmful content can be catastrophic on victims
To evidence this, in 2020, during Report Harmful Contents first full year of operation, 4% of those seeking its support expressed suicidal ideation (3) meaning the platform has potentially helped to save 25 lives. For example, one victim who was being repeatedly harassed by a relative over social media, tried to report her issue to the police, with no success. At the point she made a report to ReportHarmfulContent she was desperate. She said: ‘I have (already) tried to commit suicide with an overdose but she is still carrying on I don’t know what to do anymore other than another overdose’.
Aside from suicidal ideation, other reported mental health impacts included:
18% of those seeking support experience negative mental health impacts having had sought medical treatment (e.g. medication or therapy).
In addition to causing new mental health problems, harmful online content was described as exacerbating existing mental health issues. For example, one caller had recently left an abusive relationship. Her ex-partner created numerous fake social media profiles in her name, with the aim of continuing his harassment of her. She said ‘I had PTSD because of him and this had settled with a lot of therapy, but has recurred since all this online abuse started again’.
Laying further evidence, the Revenge Porn Helpline routinely supports victims who express suicidal thoughts. To exemplify this, Leigh Nicol, Scottish footballer, speaks on victim impacts of intimate image abuse - YouTube and the impact her situation had on her life
There are individuals who have amplified vulnerabilities to legal but harmful content. SWGfL has worked closely with the Thomas family, whose daughter Frankie tragically took her own life in September 2018 after viewing suicidal content and that the Coroner rules school failed teen who took own life - BBC News. Frankie was 15 and attended an Independent Special School as she had autism. Much research highlights that Special Educational Needs (SEN) extends the online risks, for example Internet-Matters-Report-Vulnerable-Children-in-a-Digital-World.pdf (internetmatters.org) identified that, ‘of these children and young people with special educational needs were 27% view sites promoting self- harm compared to 17% of young people with no difficulties’.
Retaining a focus on victims and the impact of legal but harmful content, Parliament should only approve the types of ‘legal but harmful’ content that platforms must tackle if all those identified here are included
There is much experience of both definition and reporting of ‘legal but harmful’ online content, specifically the UK Safer Internet Centre. How is the Online Safety Bill ensuring that the proposed definitions of legal but harmful content reflects this experience?
Services within Scope and Categorisation
Part 3 — Providers of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services: duties of care
Part 7 — OFCOM's powers and duties in relation to regulated services
It’s particularly important to draw the committee’s attention to the duties, categorisation and register of providers of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services. With duties related to legal but harmful content only applying to category 1 providers, we fear that legal but harmful content will free to propagate amongst all other providers and services. Taking the recent shooting in Buffalo as an example.
In the wake of the Buffalo shooting, which saw the tragic and fatal shooting of 10 people in Buffalo, New York streamed live on multiple platforms, this content has since been shared on other online platforms and presents the opportunity both to consider and test the duties and categorisation of providers drafted within the Online Safety Bill.
Report Harmful Content have responded to 1482 reports between January 2021 and May 2022. Of these reports 62% were regarding content not hosted on the 26 commonly used platforms detailed on the service’s website: https://reportharmfulcontent.com/report/. These range from less commonly used social networks, encrypted messaging apps and streaming sites, forum boards and 3rd party applications. 60% of the content falling into this category was hosted on independent sites which would, as the Online Safety Bill is drafted, not be considered in scope. Where is the mechanism for holding these sites to account? SWGfL’s helplines use a number of ways to contact these type of sites via their hosting providers where moderation/ reporting is not available and would contribute this experience in subsequent discussions about services in scope and definitions of legal but harmful content
Part 8 — Appeals and super-complaints Chapter 2 — Super-complaints
SWGfL notes the details relating to ‘super-complaints’ and that “An eligible entity may make a complaint to OFCOM that any feature of one or more regulated services, or any conduct of one or more providers of such services” is “causing significant harm to users of the services or members of the public, or a particular group of such users or members of the public”
An entity is an “eligible entity” if the entity meets criteria specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State. There are no details as to the criteria and therefore no ‘eligible entity’.
Details have to be published regarding the criteria that an entity must meet in order to make a complaint to Ofcom and how this will provide redress for victims
Summarised breakdown of reports processed by category of defined legal but harmful content
The report also highlighted three common trends associated with legal but harmful content reports
Part 10 — Communications offences
Chapter 2 — Register of categories of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search service
Clause 81 - Register of categories of certain Part 3 services