Social media giants must protect MPs from abuse, demands ex-minister

Social media giants must do MORE to protect MPs from ‘deluge of abuse’ from trolls after David Amess murder – as Priti Patel refuses to rule out law to BAN anonymous accounts

  • Conservative MP David Warman calls on tech giants to protect politicians
  • Sir David Amess was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery on Friday
  • Home Secretary Priti Patel has refused to rule out banning anonymous accounts
  • MPs regularly directed attention to deeply offensive insults and threats online 

Social media giants must do more to protect MPs and their staff from receiving a ‘deluge of abuse’ from anonymous trolls online following the murder of Sir David Amess, an ex-digital minister has demanded.  

Conservative MP David Warman, who until last month worked in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, urged the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter to make it increasingly difficult for social media users to hide behind anonymous profiles and abuse politicians online.

The government is currently drawing up plans to increase the liability of tech giants following a report by the Committee of Standards in Public Life calling for social media companies to take immediate action against online abuse.

However, Mr Warman has called for further action to tackle anonymous accounts that provide confidence to abusers. 

His comments come in the wake of the fatal stabbing of Southend West MP Mr Amess, who had been meeting constituents at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Friday afternoon.

Conservative MP Sir David Amess poses for pictures at his daughter’s wedding on August 23, 2021. He was killed at a constituency surgery on Friday

Police officers at the scene near Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where the Conservative MP died after he was stabbed several times

A growing number of floral tributes have been laid for Mr Amess in the road in Leigh-on-Sea where the MP was tragically murdered

Conservative MP David Warman, who until last month worked in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, urged tech giants to make it harder for users to hide behind anonymous accounts

He said: ‘Major platforms have to take faster action when councillors and MPs report the kind of behaviour that would be illegal in the real world, and that starts with accepting that anonymity provides cover for language that would never be used to anybody’s face.’

Home Secretary Priti Patel has since refused to rule out banning anonymous accounts on social media as part of government efforts to tackle online abuse and trolling.

She told Sky News: ‘I want us to look at everything. There is work taking place already. We have an Online Harms Bill that will come to Parliament, there is working taking place on it right now.

‘I’ve done a lot of work on social media platforms, mainly around encryption and areas of that nature.

Boris Johnson (left), Sir Keir Starmer and Priti Patel pay respects to Mr Amess at Belfairs Methodist Church

Home Secretary Priti Patel, left, reads the note on a bouquet of flowers while standing with Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Lindsey Hoyle

‘But we can’t carry on like this. I spend too much time with communities who have been under attack, basically who have had all sorts of postings online and it is a struggle to get those posts taken down.’  

MPs have regularly highlighted deeply offensive insults and threats they have received on social media since its inception. 

Two men who uploaded and shared a viral racist video mocking the Home Secretary were jailed in August.

Jake Henderson, 30, was jailed for 10 weeks for recording a video in which he made a racially offensive mark during a Covid briefing, while Robert Cumming, 26, was jailed for six weeks for sharing the post.

Labour’s Nadia Whittome, Britain’s youngest MP at 24, took a break from work earlier this year when she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder just weeks after complaining of death threats, racist abuse and incessant trolling online. 

Labour MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome took a break from social media earlier this year after being diagnosed with PTSD

The details of Ms Whittome’s condition are not known, but she has previously spoken about receiving online abuse since entering Parliament

MailOnline uncovered abusive, racist and threatening messages sent to the young MP in the past year

Conservative MP Andrew Bowie said comments he had received included ‘greedy s***’, ‘demented’ and ‘Tories can’t even be trusted with fish and chips’

Fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips was also forced to call in a locksmith to her home as part of an effort to ramp up protection for her family amid streams of abuse on social media.

She also told of how she was bombarded with 600 rape threats online in a single night in 2018. 

Amber Rudd made a video with the Joe website in which she and other female MPs read sickening examples of the sexist abuse and threats they have received online. 

Conservative MP Andrew Bowie had to endure a barrage of abuse after he posted a picture of his fish and chips dinner on social media. 

Government plans to increase accountability, which will be set out in the upcoming Online Harms bill, follow the murder of Jo Cox during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

All MPs will be offered face-to-face police protection or private security guards while they hold their constituency surgeries following Mr Amess’ death. 

Shadow minister for domestic violence Jess Phillips has also been targeted by trolls on Twitter and claimed she received 600 threats of being raped in a single night

The Labour MP posted a picture on Twitter of locksmiths at her family home after receiving abuse online

Mr Harman added that he has met with Twitter and other companies to assess what further action can be taken to better protect MPs online.

The Online Harms Bill aims to protect young people and clamp down on racist abuse and threats online, while also safeguarding freedom of expression.

Although yet to pass through Parliament, it would place more responsibility on social media companies to remove and limit the spread of illegal and harmful content online. 

However, tech companies are yet to have introduced many of the measures the bill proposed to create.

Mr Warman continued: ‘Too many young staff in Parliament are deluged by the abuse and threats aimed at their bosses.

‘Social media platforms increasingly provide extensive support for their own staff but aren’t doing enough to make it manageable for others.’

The new bill would see Ofcom given the power to fine companies up to £18 million, or 10 per cent of annual global turnover, if they are found to be failing in a new duty of care.

A new criminal offence for senior managers has also been included as a deferred power if tech firms do not step up their efforts to improve safety. 

Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood Cat Smith called police after she received vile messages claiming she should be ‘raped by 100 Muslims’.

Jada Botterill, Yvette Cooper’s former office manager, said earlier this year that she resigned due to the number of death threats she read at work.

Official statistics from Twitter showed a 132 per cent rise in posts removed in the second half of 2020, compared to the first six months of the year.  

Met Police chief Cressida Dick also warned that the criminal abuse and harassment of MPs is running at unprecedented levels following the Brexit referendum at a parliamentary committee in 2019. 

Twitter says it prohibits content that makes violent threats against an identifiable target. 

Its guidelines add that it does not tolerate content that wishes, hopes, promotes, incites, or expresses a desire for death, serious bodily harm or serious disease against an individual or group of people.

Known terror threat Ali Harbi Ali ‘plotted attack on Tory MP Sir David Amess for a week’: British Muslim, 25, lives on celebrity-studded London street of £2m houses and his father is a former Somali official left ‘traumatised’ 

By Glen Owen, Jake Ryan, Abdul Taher and Scarlet Howes for the Mail on Sunday 

The killer of Tory MP Sir David Amess planned the murderous assault more than a week in advance, security sources have told The Mail on Sunday.

As police continued to question a 25-year-old British man of Somalian descent last night, sources revealed that the attacker had booked an appointment at Sir David’s constituency surgery before stabbing the politician 17 times.

The suspect was named last night as Ali Harbi Ali, the son of a former communications adviser to the prime minister of Somalia. Harbi Ali Kullane, confirmed that his son was in police custody following the stabbing and said he was ‘traumatised’ by the arrest.

Ali, who is thought to have been targeted by the Government’s anti-terror Prevent programme, may have lived in Sir David’s Southend West constituency in Essex in the past.

A plain-clothed police officer enters a house believed to be an address belonging to a man arrested in connection with the killing of British MP David Amess

His most recent residence is believed to be in London. Officers have been carrying out searches at three addresses.

The security services are providing assistance to Scotland Yard, which is leading the investigation. Last night, detectives were granted a warrant of further detention, allowing them to keep Ali in custody until Friday.

Police officers were yesterday standing guard outside the North London council house where Ali lives. It is in a street of £2 million three-storey townhouses where neighbours include broadcaster Giles Coren and, formerly, the late actor Roger Lloyd Pack, who played Trigger in Only Fools And Horses.

Sir David, 69, who had been an MP since 1983, met the public every fortnight and advertised the details on his parliamentary website.

Shortly before his killing, one Minister told this newspaper that the Government feared a wave of fresh terror attacks as the country emerged from the Covid pandemic, due to an ‘epidemic’ of ‘bedroom radicals’ who spent lockdown hunched over computers plotting atrocities.

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