BASINGSTOKE MP Maria Miller said she was a victim of cyberflashing when she was sent a photograph of a man’s penis whilst on a train travelling to London.

Mrs Miller has spoken to the Gazette about her own experiences of online abuse as part of her campaign to tackle the issue for everyone.

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The Online Safety Bill was introduced in government last week, marking a milestone in the fight for a new digital age which is safer for users and holds tech giants to account.

Mrs Miller described the bill as “a ground-breaking piece of legislation which many countries in the world will want to look at carefully. It’s the first time that tech giants will be held to account”.

The bill will keep people safe online, including protecting children from harmful content such as pornography and limiting people’s exposure to illegal content, while protecting freedom of speech.

It will require social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites allowing people to post their own content to protect children, tackle illegal activity and uphold their stated terms and conditions.

Speaking about her own experience of online abuse, Mrs Miller said that as an MP she has become accustomed to “a fairly regular bombardment of online verbal abuse, rape, and even death threats.”

However, she said her own experience is not unique, with many others suffering the same.

She said: “We know that women MPs receive twice the level of abuse that their male counterparts so there are societal issues that we have to tackle where abuse towards women is more common than abuse towards men.”

Referring to one incident, the 57-year-old mum said she was on a train travelling to Waterloo when a man sent her a photograph of his penis.

She said: “Like any other woman in Basingstoke I have received abuse online and I have received a cyberflashing image of a man’s naked genitals.

“Like any other commuters to Waterloo you don’t want to see a picture of a penis when you are on a packed train. It was someone on the train with me and I wondered who it was.

“This law will make it against the law and the same offence as flashing. I think women expect this to already be in place.”

Mrs Miller believes people should not be able to remain anonymous online, explaining the dangers of this: “It means anyone can say things that they wouldn’t be allowed to say offline. Now, tech giants will be held to account.”

The MP said it is a myth that the law will “impinge on people’s ability to speak freely”, adding: “People are hiding behind the fact that for too long the online world has been a place where people who break the law can exist without being punished. It won’t stop people having controversial ideas and sharing them online but it would stop people who do harm others from doing so.

“We need to stamp out illegal content and stop the online world being policed differently from the real world. If people want to share online, they can still do that, but with rights comes responsibility.”

Mrs Miller said the bill will “finally grasp the nettle of online abuse, to create a safer, more respectful online environment, that will lead to a kinder politics too”.

She added: “Abuse, bullying, and harassment on social media platforms is ruining lives, undermining our democracy, and splintering society.”

The bill was introduced in the Commons last week, as the first step in its passage through parliament to become law.

A first draft was published in May 2021 and several changes have been made since then, including criminalising cyberflashing.

New measures were also added to clamp down on anonymous trolls to give people more control over who can contact them and what they see online.

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