Conservative MP hits out at ‘cowardly’ online abuse
A Conservative MP has hit out at “cowardly” online abuse.
Virginia Crosbie, who represents the constituency of Ynys Môn, and has reported around 30 threats, abusive emails and social media posts to the police since being elected, criticised “keyboard warriors” who “hide behind unidentifiable usernames”.
She made the comments in a debate about Online Anonymity and Anonymous Abuse in the House of Commons, and said that the problem had gotten worse since the Covid-19 crisis hit.
They were discussing a petition that called for making verified ID a requirement for opening a social media account as well as for a ban anonymous accounts on social media.
In the debate Crosbie, who deleted her Twitter account after the abuse she received, backed an online harms Bill which would put a “duty of care” on social media companies and would be “overseen by an independent regulator”.
She said: “Anonymous online abuse is dreadful to experience. I do not suppose there is one among us here today who has not experienced it in one form or the other. It is not, of course, the preserve of politicians, the high profile or celebrities: it creeps into every crack in society, as keyboard warriors hide behind unidentifiable usernames.
“However, as Members of Parliament, we represent every constituent who is on the receiving end, and it is therefore incumbent upon us to take action on their behalf.
“If I am honest, online abuse was not something that I experienced personally before becoming a politician, but in the past 16 months, I have felt the full force of it.”
“Friends and colleagues tell me that it has become more commonplace over the past year, as people have been locked behind closed doors, struggling through the confusing ups and downs we have all experienced since covid hit; it seems to have become more acceptable to take it out on others online.
“On online platforms and public fora, egged on by an often equally anonymous audience, some people say things they would never normally dream of saying publicly, purely because their username gives them a level of anonymity.
“For those on the receiving end, even those who have strong, resilient support networks to protect them, the effect can be devastating, leading to mental and physical health crisis and even suicide.
“Abuse like this is cowardly. These people have no respect for differences or democracy.
“They do not represent the vast majority of the population, yet despite the fact that we all recognise how abhorrent it is, it still goes on.
“Before things go too far; before more people suffer; before we hand a life of unhindered online bullying to our children, we need to take action.
“The online harms Bill will help to tackle anonymous abuse by putting a duty of care on companies towards their users, overseen by an independent regulator.
“There will be clear safety standards, mandatory reporting requirements and strong enforcement powers to deal with non-compliance.
“It removes the excuse that is sometimes rolled out that this is freedom of speech, or that such behaviour cannot be tackled when an account is anonymous.
“We need to be absolutely clear: abuse is not the same as freedom of speech and being anonymous does not give anyone the right to abuse anyone else.”