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

The Sunday Telegraph - - Tories in manchester - By Ben Ri­ley-Smith AS­SIS­TANT PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

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’

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