By Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor
Former Love Island contestant Zara McDermott said “a line needs to be drawn between freedom of speech, and bullying, hate speech and abuse” as she met the UK's digital minister to share her experiences of revenge porn.
The reality star has given her backing to the British government’s Online Safety Bill to tackle abuse and cyberbullying.
McDermott has previously revealed that she faced abuse from strangers in the street after becoming the victim of revenge porn at the age of 14, saying life became “unbearable” and she considered taking her own life.
McDermott said she took the nude photograph of herself as a way of fitting in at school, where she was being bullied at the time.
Intimate images of her were also circulated in 2018 while she appeared on ITV reality show Love Island when she was 21.
McDermott and Ms Dinenage were joined by former England footballer Fara Williams and young players at the training ground of Hackney Laces girls’ team in Dalston, east London, to discuss online abuse and bullying.
McDermott said: “I have been subject to relentless online abuse since I entered the public eye in 2018.
“The Online Safety Bill is going to be fundamental in ensuring our young people feel properly protected online.
“We, as a society, do not tolerate physical abuse – so why, in the past, have we been more tolerant of online abuse? It’s important that those behind social media accounts – often anonymous – are held to account for their words.
“A line needs to be drawn between freedom of speech, and bullying, hate speech and abuse.
“Social media has become a breeding ground for this behaviour and, if it is not moderated sooner, there will be significant consequences to the mental health of our young people.
“I believe the Online Safety Bill is a huge step in the right direction.”
Williams has also been a victim of abuse on social media, in particular when she moved from Everton to rivals Liverpool in 2012 and is now part of BT’s Hope United campaign, which aims to educate people about online abuse.
She said: “The reason I joined Hope United, a squad of athletes from across the four Home Nations, was to help unite the nation in tackling online hate.
“I hope that these new laws will make the online world a safer place to be for everyone, especially girls. If they can prevent young women in future from receiving abuse and hatred online, then the internet will be a better place.”
The Bill, which was published in May, will put a new legal duty of care on online companies to protect their UK users from harm, including people receiving abusive comments, threats and harassment online.
Companies will face fines or bans if they do not remove abusive posts, enforce their own community standards and prevent explicit illegal images – including intimate images shared without consent – circulating on their services.
It came as the family of current Love Island contestant Chloe Burrows said she has been bombarded with abuse and death threats on social media since she joined the show.
Ms Dinenage said: “Women have every right to enjoy social media without suffering despicable criminal behaviour, threats of violence and harassment.
“Yet I’ve heard more powerful accounts today of the unacceptable reality facing not just those in the public eye but all girls growing up online.
“We owe it to future generations to shape a safer internet.”