Calls for Twit­ter and Face­book to an­swer to Holy­rood over on­line abuse

Sunday Herald - - 19.03.17 NEWS -


PRES­SURE is mount­ing to bring ex­ec­u­tives from Twit­ter and Face­book be­fore the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment to ac­count for the cat­a­logue of threats, abuse and in­tim­i­da­tion di­rected to­wards in­di­vid­u­als on so­cial me­dia. It fol­lows rev­e­la­tions in the Sun­day Her­ald last week that Ni­cola Stur­geon and op­po­si­tion lead­ers in Scot­land have suf­fered a hor­rific cat­a­logue of on­line abuse.

Scot­tish Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Michael Mathe­son told the Sun­day Her­ald that the so­cial me­dia gi­ants “have a moral re­spon­si­bil­ity” to help po­lice catch the ag­gres­sive trolls re­spon­si­ble.

He said UK ex­ec­u­tives from the com­pa­nies had to “show lead­er­ship” as pres­sure grows on them to ap­pear at Holy­rood. Last night, Mathe­son branded the abuse a “hate crime” and chal­lenged the so­cial me­dia providers to get to grips with the is­sue.

Jus­tice Com­mit­tee mem­ber Mary Fee said the firms should be sum­moned to Holy­rood. She warned that so­cial me­dia “has dark cor­ners where misog­yny, racism and ha­tred live and it is right that a light is shone on these ar­eas and ac­tion is taken”.

The Labour MSP added: “All so­cial me­dia sites must face up to greater ac­count­abil­ity for what takes place on their plat­forms. Twit­ter, Face­book and Google must be will­ing to come in front of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment and ex­plain what ac­tion they are tak­ing to find and stop abu­sive ac­counts.”

Green MSP Ali­son John­stone echoed the call. She said: “As we head to­wards an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum it’s es­sen­tial we keep the de­bate as cor­dial as pos­si­ble. There is also a role for so­cial me­dia plat­forms to ex­plain what they can do to curb abuse, while en­sur­ing free speech is not re­stricted.”

Jus­tice Com­mit­tee con­vener Mar­garet Mitchell, a Tory MSP, said: “On­line abuse has got to the stage where the big providers have to be held to ac­count. There must be a way of polic­ing the more ex­treme posts whether it’s against politi­cians or any in­di­vid­ual. There should be a look at in­vest­ing in in­fra­struc­ture to im­prove pro­tec­tion as it’s be­come so cor­ro­sive for so­ci­ety in terms of men­tal health and sui­cide. It re­ally needs not just a na­tional so­lu­tion, not just from one par­lia­ment – it’s got to be for global or­gan­i­sa­tions to look at, like the UN.”

Leg­is­la­tion to reg­u­late the in­ter­net re­mains re­served to West­min­ster. Both Twit­ter and Face­book have so far re­fused to say whether they would ap­pear be­fore MSPs.

Speak­ing to the Sun­day Her­ald, Mathe­son said: “There is no ex­cuse for any form of hate crime. It is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able for any­one to ped­dle ha­tred, abuse or big­otry on­line. There is no such thing as a vic­tim­less crime and those who in­dulge in such cow­ardly be­hav­iour should be held to ac­count.

“While the leg­is­la­tion in this area is re­served, we sup­port the work of our law-en­force­ment agen­cies to tackle this is­sue.”

He added: “As we seek to max­imise the un­doubted ben­e­fits of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances and greater con­nec­tiv­ity, it is es­sen­tial that all so­cial me­dia com- pa­nies and ISPs take re­spon­si­bil­ity and show lead­er­ship by con­stantly re­view­ing their pro­ce­dures to tackle un­law­ful and un­ac­cept­able com­mu­ni­ca­tions. They have a moral re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that the peo­ple us­ing their ser­vices are not need­lessly ex­posed to abuse and con­tinue sup­port­ing our law-en­force­ment agen­cies to pur­sue those who fail to get the mes­sage.”

As the Sun­day Her­ald re­vealed last week, Po­lice Scot­land is in­ves­ti­gat­ing a tor­rent of on­line abuse against Stur­geon, in­clud­ing death threats, threats of vi­o­lence and sex­u­alised in­sults.

Scot­tish Labour leader Kezia Dug­dale and Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive leader Ruth David­son have also been on the re­ceiv­ing end of on­line at­tacks.

A Twit­ter spokesper­son would not say whether the com­pany’s ex­ec­u­tives would ap­pear be­fore MSPs, but stated it had made a “host of new safety changes” in re­cent weeks. Face­book de­clined to com­ment on the calls for it to ap­pear.

Scot­tish Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Michael Mathe­son says that so­cial me­dia gi­ants ‘have a moral re­spon­si­bil­ity’ to help po­lice catch on­line trolls

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