Farmers are being urged to share their views on a new Online Safety Bill which is currently passing through parliament.

The Bill, available to view in draft form on the UK Parliament website, was introduced in the House of Commons on March 17, 2022 with a second reading held more recently on April 19.

It has five policy objectives:

  1. To increase user safety online;
  2. To preserve and enhance freedom of speech online;
  3. To improve law enforcement’s ability to tackle illegal content online;
  4. To improve users’ ability to keep themselves safe online; and
  5. To improve society’s understanding of the harm landscape.

How is this relevant to farmers?

The Countryside Alliance believes that believes that farmers, meat processors and many others that work in the rural community are often the targets of online hate campaigns and thus, their voices should be heard before the bill passes through parliament.

The rural organisation wants to tackle the encouragement or incitement of both criminal and harmful online activity, including the secondary targeting of businesses, which includes butchers and abattoirs.

Animal rights activists it said, including some working for registered charities, have long run campaigns encouraging aggressive online activity targeting companies associated with farmers involved in the badger cull, shoots and hunts amongst others.

In recent years, negative reviews of pubs, butchers and restaurants on online sites from people who have never set foot in those establishments have also become a common tool of extremists, the Alliance added.

According to the Alliance, when it last surveyed members and supporters it found that 62% of respondents reported having experienced online bullying for supporting country sports.

David Bean, Parliamentary and Government Affairs manager at the Countryside Alliance said: “To make the case for effective legislation to the government and MPs we need those victims of online bullying to help in updating our research and gathering case studies to illustrate the impact that online abuse can have on rural communities.

"We know from our own past work that there are many people out there that suffer from online harm daily.

"The time has come and we must do all we can to tackle this scourge and crack down on those that operate their campaigns of hate from the murky corners of the internet.”

Sharing views

The Alliance has launched an survey on online bullying on its website, the results of which will be used to put forward to parliamentarians. The survey is completely anonymous.

The Countryside Alliance is also encouraging people to send it their experiences and examples of the harassment they have received online. These stories submitted separately will also be kept anonymous unless the Alliance has obtained your permission to do otherwise.

Those interested can also submit views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee which is going to consider this Bill.

The Public Bill Committee will scrutinise the Bill line by line. The first sitting of the Public Bill Committee is expected to be on Tuesday, May 24, and the Committee is scheduled to report by 5:00p.m on Thursday, June 20.

However, when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline. Therefore, it is strongly advised to submit written evidence as soon as possible.