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Anorak | Reject new trolling laws: free speech means being free to lampoon and abuse MPs

Reject new trolling laws: free speech means being free to lampoon and abuse MPs

by | 27th, July 2017

British politicians have been subjected to a wave “of racism, sexism and homophobia” on social media, spiking during the General Election. Not all of it is satirical lampooning of our elected and unelected representatives. A fair amount of it is cruel and vindictive. But – yep, there’s the ‘but’ – so what? If you trammel what can and cannot be said to an MP, you have lost an essential part of democracy.

Tory MP Simon Hart said things have taken a turn for the worse. The “robust banter followed by a shake of the hand and a pint in the pub” of past campaigns has mutated into ‘”death threats, criminal damage, sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and general thuggishness”. Was none of that there before? And can the downturn in pubic discourse be linked to the death of pubs, hastened by the smoking ban and tax on booze? The problem is not one of less pubs, of course, but more internet, which has given voice not only to the oppressed and isolated but also to the bigots, prudes, nutters, mentally negligible and mouth breathers.

So Theresa May PM has ordered the Committee on Standards in Public Life to investigate whether existing laws governing threats against MPs are enough. The mood is that new laws are required to keep MPs protected and the less attractive elements of the demos at bay. The Independent says the MPs are looking at “online trolling laws”.

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, had a word on her own experiences. “We are talking about mindless abuse and in my case the mindless abuse has been characteristically racist and sexist,” she said. “And just to outline I’ve had death threats, I’ve had people tweeting that I should be hung if ‘they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight’. There was an EDL-affiliated Twitter account BurnDianeAbbott, I’ve had rape threats, described as a pathetic, useless, fat, black, piece of shit, ugly, fat, black bitch.”

Nasty. But is being “pathetic” the same as being threatened with rape? Can mindlessness be banned? What about the figures?

Research undertaken by Buzzfeed News and the University of Sheffield looked at 840,000 tweets sent during the month before June 8.

It found that male Conservative MP candidates received the highest percentage of abuse on Twitter while male Ukip candidates were second with just over four per cent of their mentions deemed to be abusive.

Male Labour candidates were next with just under four per cent while female Conservative candidates were also on about four per cent.

Meanwhile, just over two per cent of female Labour candidate mentions were abusive.

What’s considered abusive?

 

Moron. Twat. Coward. Should such words be banned? Of course not. A new law that protects politicians from being hailed by such words – a law that criminalises us from using them when addressing one of our elected reps – is abhorrent.

In 1964, the US Supreme Court ruled that “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

Well said.

Freedom of speech is, as AA Gill noted, “what all other human rights and freedoms balance on.” Don’t let them or anyone own it.

 



Posted: 27th, July 2017 | In: Key Posts, News, Politicians Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink