MPs say internet firms must give up names of trolls to cut rise in abuse
Raft of measures to protect politicians from online intimidation while out campaigning in elections
INTERNET companies will be forced to hand over the contact details of online trolls who anonymously abuse MPs under Conservative proposals.
Facebook and Twitter must also create a “one-stop shop” for politicians to report threatening messages during campaigns, candidates will not have to publish their home addresses and new police guidance will be issued to bring trolls to justice, the party indicated.
The proposals were put forward by Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the Tory Party chairman, in a letter to a committee investigating MP abuse.
They mark a major overhaul of the rules and laws protecting parliamentary candidates from intimidation, both online and when campaigning.
A string of horrific examples of MP abuse – from death threats and racial slurs to physical assaults and intimidation of family members – emerged after this year’s election. The scale of the problem – which The Sunday Telegraph helped reveal – has raised fears people will be put off from running for office.
Theresa May tasked the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Bew, with investigating what could be done to better protect MPs.
Sir Patrick’s letter, published on Friday, reveals the Tories’ support for detailed proposals including:
Urging social media companies to create a single point of contact for candidates to report abuse through a new code of conduct.
Making internet companies that host websites publishing abuse hand over “underlying registration or contract information” to help legal action.
Getting the Crown Prosecution Service or the College of Policing to reissue guidance to make sure people who are harassing politicians are being brought to justice.
Changing the law so that candidates in all elections do not have to publish their home addresses. Campaign office addresses will still be published.
Lowering the legal bar for successfully prosecuting “election intimidation” amid fears the current requirements are too stringent.
Ensuring online campaign material carries an “imprint” like physical leaflets and adverts, meaning the publisher can face legal action for libel.
The extent of the changes is a reflection of the seriousness with which senior Tories have taken the abuse which emerged at the June snap election.
MPs with decades of campaigning experience said it was the worst they had ever seen, with many pointing to the anonymity provided by the internet as a factor.
Sir Patrick wrote in his letter that there had been “unprecedented feedback of unwarranted abuse in the runup and during the 2017 general election”.
“This included tangible incidents of death threats, obscenity, defamation and slander, criminal damage, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and menacing abuse. Such behaviour af- fected candidates from across the political spectrum. This was not just ‘banter’, but conduct that went beyond the legitimate expressions of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”
He added: “In a free society, critical scrutiny of politicians – and those who aspire to hold public office – is an important feature of Britain’s democratic system and its independent free press.
“Yet, as was initially evident in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, there been a step change in recent years in conduct that crosses the line beyond free speech, to behaviour that seeks to intimidate and abuse.
“Such behaviour ultimately seeks to discourage and prevent others from expressing their own political opinions.”
Recommendations about changes impacting social media companies did not name Facebook and Twitter explicitly, but they are two firms about which MPs have repeatedly raised concerns.
Labour also called for social media companies to do more over online abuse in their submission to the committee, co-signed by Jeremy Corbyn.
Lord Bew is due to put forward his own independent recommendations before Christmas.
‘There has been a step change in recent years in conduct that crosses the line beyond free speech, to behaviour that seeks to intimidate and abuse’