Calls for Twitter and Facebook to answer to Holyrood over online abuse
BY ANDREW WHITAKER
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