Online abuse is deterring women from entering politics, Theresa May warns

Written by John Ashmore on 6 February 2018 in News

The Prime Minister highlights experiences of Esther McVey and Luciana Berger, both of whom have been targeted for abuse on social media

Image credit: PA

Rising online abuse is deterring women from entering politics, Theresa May has warned.

In an interview marking 100 years since women were first granted the vote, the Prime Minister highlighted the experiences of the likes of Esther McVey and Luciana Berger, both of whom have been targeted for abuse on social media.

Speaking to Woman's Hour on Radio Four, she said: "We have very sadly seen an increase in what I would say is a sort of aggressive attitude in politics, which means that I think we do, and we have seen increased intimidation of candidates, parliamentary candidates, most often focused on women.

"I think we also see, sadly, women often suffering from bullying and harassment on social media. And this is across the political spectrum. You know, in my party Esther McVey has particularly suffered from this but Luciana Berger on the Labour benches has suffered from this.

"I think we need to just step back and say that sadly this is, will lead, I think is leading to some women feeling that they don't want to put their head above the parapet, they don't want to take part in public life."

In a speech in Manchester - birthplace of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst - today, the Prime Minister will also warn that a "truly plural and open public debate in which everyone can take part is in danger" because of the harassment of election candidates.

The chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Bew, has previously warned that bullying and intimidation in British politics has already reached a "tipping point".

May will point out that it is still women, LGBT and ethnic minority candidates who suffer a "disproportionate" amount of abuse.

She will set out several measures to tackle online abuse, including a new internet safety transparency report to set out how social media companies are dealing with harmful online activity.

There will also be a Law Commission review to look at updating laws around offensive online communication, along with a new social media code of practice.

May will say: "While there is much to celebrate, I worry that our public debate today is coarsening. That for some it is becoming harder to disagree, without also demeaning opposing viewpoints in the process.

“In the face of what is a threat to our democracy, I believe that all of us – individuals, governments, and media old and new – must accept our responsibility to help sustain a genuinely pluralist public debate for the future.”

And she will call on social media companies to take further steps to root out intimidation.

“As well as being places for empowering self-expression, online platforms can become places of intimidation and abuse.

"This squanders the opportunity new technology affords us to drive up political engagement, and can have the perverse effect of putting off participation from those who are not prepared to tolerate the levels of abuse which exist...

“The social media companies themselves must now step up and set out how they will respond positively to those recommendations. So far, their response has been encouraging, and I hope they will continue in that spirit.”

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