politics

Female MPs call for online anonymity to be ‘stamped out’ as they reveal horrific daily abuse


F

emale MPs today called for online anonymity to be “stamped out” as they revealed the horrific abuse they receive online including rape and death threats.

Leading parliamentarians called for tougher legislation, verified accounts and sanctions on social media companies during a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday.

It comes as many woman MPs from across the house revealed the discrimination and harassment they have endured online.

Some said they had made the decision to leave social media platforms while others described daily racial abuse.

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes said: “Trolling might lead somewhere and the reality is that none of us…know which one of our online trolls might turn into a stalker or who indeed might turn in due course into somebody who attends our office, our surgery, our home and threatens us physically.

“This week’s troll could indeed be next week’s attacker.”

Ms Nokes, the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, added: “I do think there is real merit in stamping out anonymity. I think that’s one of the massive challenges that we face. People are emboldened when they can hide their true identity. We know they are also emboldened when they are behind the screen.”

Labour’s Rosie Duffield described online abuse as a “moronic and infinitely stupid waste of energy”.

Tory Flick Drummond said she had come off Twitter, adding: “There is no point looking at comments which are designed to hurt one personally rather than the politics.”

Labour’s Abena Oppong-Asare said she sometimes advises her staff not to read emails on a particular subject or not to check Twitter mentions or take the contents of her post bag “to heart”.

She added: “Because I know it impacts my staff and it’s not just me who faces a sewer of hateful racist and misogynistic abuse.

“Not once in a blue moon, not on an individual issue, but regularly. It is a normality, a fact of life, you get up, you check your phone and you try not to let the hatred get to you.”

DUP MP Carla Lockhart said: “What concerns me more is the growing evidence of online lynch mobs controlled by dark forces who are unleashed on female public figures like a pack of lions to do as much damage as they can to the public figure and the cause they represent.”

Independent MP Claudia Webbe revealed she had faced “horrific violent misogynistic and racist” online abuse including death threats, trolling, threats of rape and lynching. She said she genuinely feared for her safety every day.

The debate was secured by senior Conservative MP Maria Miller who said the evidence was “clear” that online abuse was stopping women taking careers in politics and cutting short the careers of those already standing.

She said the abuse needed to be a bigger priority for both the Government and Parliament and added: “Let’s be clear what this abuse looks like, it isn’t offensive language, it isn’t strongly held views and political debate.

“For some colleagues online abuse is a threat of rape, a threat of murder, a threat of stalking, physical violence towards themselves or their families. Other times it is mass coordinated online harassment by groups.

“Online anonymity can mean that the police can find it difficult to take action swiftly and above all online abuse is an attempt to keep women away from contributing to political life.”

The former minister said action was needed “swiftly” and before next general election.

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage described the issue as “pernicious and distressing” and said the Government was “absolutely committed” to protecting female representatives.

She added: “We will do all we can to not only protect women representatives, but actually all users as part of the Online Safety Bill.

“We’re working at pace to deliver the new electoral sanctions and prepare this legislation and we will ensure that members of both houses, across both houses, can contribute to these vitally important pieces of work.”

It comes as separately Conservative MP Nus Ghani revealed she had been sent photographs of people being beheaded.

She tweeted some of the horrific material, commenting: “Today’s mailbag with photos and photos of beheadings that would make you sick. It’s not unusual for MPs to be dealing with racists and this stuff isn’t new to me, but today I feel exhausted.”



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