MPs Don’t Own the Problem of Online Abuse

Theresa May has set up a new inquiry that will look at abuse suffered by MPs during the recent election.

I’m interested that nobody set up an inquiry that looked at the continued racist abuse suffered by Gina Miller. (The 4th Viscount St Davids called her a “fucking boat jumper” from a “steaming jungle”, for example, and will probably go to jail for it.)

Why has online abuse been reframed as a problem that only affects politicians? Particularly those on the right?

Everyone that participates in social media discussion has seen this happen. There are well-known examples of threats against people like Mary Beard and Stella Creasy, but those reports are the tip of the iceberg. I’ve had this kind of abuse. I’m sure you have too. I’ve just turned down a BBC interview that could have helped my business because I don’t want to escalate the problem.

There are a couple of points that stand out in the debate that MPs had yesterday.

First, one MP (unnamed in this article) mooted the banning of anonymous social media accounts as a possible antidote to the problem. Unless you’re going to run some kind of UK-government-controlled, ID-verified social media network, this is impossible. But in that respect, it’s just the latest example of a political class that doesn’t understand the internet.

Secondly, I’m really interested in the examples that were put forward on a Channel 4 news report on MP abuse. The images included photos of “election posters daubed with graffiti”. (I’m not talking about the swastikas – I’m talking about people writing protest messages.)

As Ally Fogg pointed out, interfering with posters isn’t the same as sending racist tweets to MPs.

Would kicking a campaign placard count as abuse against an MP? And how would you compare defacing a poster with something like this?:

Gina Miller tweet

We have a social media problem based on a wider problem of hate speech, bullying, and racism. Social media controls won’t change that, and the fact they’re being discussed is concerning. Last month, Theresa May was talking about regulating the internet, and we know that politicians would quite like to restrict access to encryption. If online abuse gets wrapped up with terrorism as justification for either, we will be in a bad place.

The only solution is to clamp down on abuse on any platform, irrespective of who’s on the receiving end.

Regardless of what you think of Diane Abbott, the abuse that she gets is disgusting and completely shames us as a country. But she doesn’t get it because she’s an MP. She gets it because a minority of people are hateful thugs that pick on perceived weaknesses.

Online abuse is everyone’s problem. Watch who’s reframing it and why.


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