by LAUREN CODLING
PRIME MINISTER Theresa May last weekend urged web companies to do more to protect women and girls from online abuse, as several female ethnic minority MPs called for social media giants to address the issue.
The prime minister made the comments during her speech at the G7 summit in Canada where she detailed plans to prevent gender-based violence, abuse and harassment online.
“Following the UK call for tech companies to do more to help fight internet harms, they have already made significant strides in using new technologies to tackle online extremist content – and we now need to extend that effort to address the growing threat of online violence against women and girls,” May said.
In April, data by natural language processing company Evolution AI revealed BAME politicians receive 15 per cent more abuse than their white counterparts.
Social media platform Twitter has been criticised in the past for favouring free speech instead of protecting users from online abuse.
Last year, charity Amnesty estimated that 25,000 abusive tweets were sent to female MPs in the run up to the 2017 general election.
Labour shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who is black, received 31 per cent of this abuse.
Labour MP Dawn Butler told Eastern Eye there was no doubt that social media platforms could do more to tackle the abuse.
She called for the companies to deal with abusive posts by working harder and quicker to remove users posting the abusive content.
“I would ask [social media sites] to think, do they want to make the world a better place?” Butler said. “If they are blind to the abuse, they are complicit in the crime.”
The MP, who is the shadow secretary for women and equalities, revealed that a large proportion of the abusive comments she has received are of a racial nature. She explained that as a black female politician, abuse had become part of her life and she was aware it was the same for other colleagues from minority backgrounds.
“I have always said that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds often have to be spectacular and jump over additional hurdles in order to succeed in life, and this is reflected by the abuse we receive,” she said. “The amount of abuse and scrutiny is simply wrong and outrageous, and it is something we must tackle in society.”
Labour MP Preet Gill, who was elected as the first Sikh female MP last year, said parliament
would have to legislate for change if social media sites did not do more to protect the public.
“Social media has enabled us to easily connect with each other. However this has come at the price of giving hate-filled intolerance a platform,” she told Eastern Eye.
“The bottom line is that social media sites are fundamentally accountable for what
Gill, the representative for Birmingham Edgbaston, revealed she has been subjected to abuse online, although she said she self-manages it by blocking users who send her abusive content.
“[However,] this shouldn’t be the responsibility of the victim,” she said. “It’s clear that social media sites are not doing enough to combat this scourge of hate speech.”
Labour MP Rushanara Ali told Eastern Eye she had faced racism and abuse both on and offline. While acknowledging that social media companies such as Twitter had taken steps to address abusive content, she said it was “imperative” they continue to put more resources into developing technology that can proactively search and take down racist and abusive material.
“Technology companies also need to act much more quickly to take down content that incites violence and hatred,” she added.
Earlier this month, David William Hall, 72, was given a nine-week suspended jail sentence for sending racist and threatening emails to several politicians including Labour MPs David
Lammy and Eleanor Smith.
Smith, who represents Wolverhampton South West, received an email from Hall in which he stated she should be put on a “banana boat”.
“It’s a reflection of society,” Smith told Eastern Eye. “As a woman, it is more likely you will get abuse. So, as a black woman, you will get it even more.”
Smith said she was hopeful potential online abuse would not deter any females or BAME individuals from pursuing a political career, although she emphasised it had to be understood that it would likely occur.
“However, let me make it clear, we should not be abused. It isn’t what we are here for,”
On Monday (10), Jess Phillips MP called for online trolls to lose their anonymity online, claiming she had received 600 online rape threats in a single night and was subject to daily abuse.
Last Saturday (9), security minister Ben Wallace called for digital IDs to be brought in to end online anonymity that permits bullying and grooming.
“A lot of the bullying on social media and the grooming is because those people know
you cannot identify them,” Wallace said. “It is mob rule on the internet. You shouldn’t
be able to hide behind anonymity.”
Smith also shared similar views, stating anonymity on social media could make people think they can get away with the abuse. She also suggested introducing therapy for abusers could be an option.
“Not all of them, but some [online abusers] have mental health issues and I think we need to look at it from that perspective as well,” Smith said. “Help or therapy could
certainly be put forward [for them].”