Daily Mail

BRING THE WEB GIANTS TO HEEL

Facebook and Twitter fuelled poll abuse of Tory MPs Paedophile­s openly using social media Thousands of children gambling online Now watchdogs demand ...

- By John Stevens Deputy Political Editor

Facebook and Twitter helped fuel a tide of vile abuse against Tory general election candidates, a major report found yesterday.

The official ethics watchdog identified the social media giants as ‘the most significan­t factor’ in harassment before the June poll.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life said 68 per cent of Tories were victims of abuse, compared with just 36 per cent of Labour candidates. They suffered threats of violence, sexual assault and damage to property.

Social media giants faced a further barrage of criticism yesterday:

A separate watchdog said gaming on sites including Facebook was behind a doubling in the number of child gambling addicts;

Twitter was accused of letting self-confessed paedophile­s peddle their vile fantasies online;

Facebook was forced to admit not fully grasping its ‘responsibi­lities’ in its early days after a former boss accused it of ripping society apart.

Yesterday’s ethics report blamed an EU directive for letting the internet giants off the hook on harassment. The ruling treats them as ‘hosts’ of online content – allowing them to escape responsibi­lity for illegal or threatenin­g content.

The committee urged ministers to take advantage of Brexit to make online firms liable for curbing the ‘persistent, vile and shocking abuse’ suffered by many politician­s and public figures.

The ethics committee took aim at the social media giants directly, saying it was ‘deeply

concerned’ about their approach. It also said party leaders needed to do more to rein in fringe groups, such as Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-Left backers in Momentum.

It heard evidence how the influx of new members into the Labour party had contribute­d to the vitriolic nature of the election campaign. Today’s report was commission­ed by the Prime Minister in the wake of widespread concern over the abuse endured by candidates, particular­ly Tories, at the general election.

One of the party’s candidates told the committee a canvasser had her home broken into and was told ‘we’re going to kill you’ because she had worn a blue rosette.

Another of the party’s MPs said she was driven off Twitter and had to install panic alarms after she was targeted by rival activists. The report said: ‘Evidence submitted to the committee suggests that Conservati­ve candidates were more likely to be subject to intimidato­ry behaviour than candidates representi­ng the other political parties.’

The survey of 950 parliament­ary candidates at the 2017 general election found Tories were twice as likely to face abuse.

Tim Bale, a professor at Queen Mary University of London, told the inquiry this was partly due to Mr Corbyn’s supporters.

He said: ‘Politics has become more polarised since 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn took over the Labour Party, and there has been an influx of people into the party who are rather more used to a kind of factionali­sed and vituperati­ve culture of politics in which it is perhaps a little bit more normal and acceptable to conduct debate in these very polarised and in some ways violent terms.’

The committee urged ministers to legis- late to shift liability for illegal content on to social media and other internet companies to tackle the ‘intensely hostile online environmen­t’ that many candidates were forced to endure.

Facebook, Twitter and Google were ‘not simply platforms for the content that others post’ so ‘must take more responsibi­lity for illegal material’, it said.

‘Social media companies do not have liability for the content on their sites, even where that content is illegal. This is largely due to the EU E-Commerce Directive (2000), which treats the social media companies as “hosts” of online content. It is clear, however, that this legislatio­n is out of date,’ the committee said.

Its report added: ‘Some have felt the need to disengage entirely from social media because of the abuse they face, and it has put off others who may wish to stand for public office. Not enough has been done. The committee is deeply concerned about the limited engagement of the social media companies in tackling these issues.’

Lord Bew, who chairs the ethics committee, said the ‘increasing scale and intensity of this issue demands a serious response’.

‘We are not alone in believing that more must be done to combat online behaviour in particular and we have been persuaded that the time has come for the Government to legislate to shift the liability for illegal content online towards social media companies,’ he added.

The committee was also ‘deeply concerned’ about the failure of Facebook, Twitter and Google to collect data on how long it takes them to remove illegal content.

‘None of these companies would tell us if they collect this data, and do not set targets for the time taken for reported content to be taken off the platform. This seems extraordin­ary,’ said the report.

Tory party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin said: ‘This is a welcome but hard-hitting report, that rightly highlights how public figures are routinely subject to unjustifia­ble abuse, fuelled by social media.’

Nick Pickles, Twitter’s UK head of public policy, said: ‘Abuse and harassment – no matter the victim – have no place on Twitter.

‘As the report notes, our team uses technology to proactivel­y find abusive content and provides users with a single report that they can email to the police.’ He said action was being taken on ten times the number of accounts each day compared with last year.

Simon Milner of Facebook said: ‘We want parliament­arians and election candidates to feel safe on Facebook. During the 2017 election we offered advice and training to over 5,000 candidates on how to report abusive content and keep their accounts secure.

‘We also provided a dedicated rapid response channel so that we could respond to their concerns quickly, and tried to educate as many candidates on this useful tool once the snap election was called.’

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