Living in the digital era where people are communicating more and more frequently via messaging and text, there has at the same time been a truly cruel emergence of online abuse. This online abuse is most viciously targeted at celebrities and those in the public eye. The human element of communication is perhaps lost when you do not actually see the other person and bullies feel they can say extremely hurtful comments.
Women politicians in the public eye have been particular victims of online abuse. The abuse ranges from sexist insults, to sexual abuse, to comments on their appearances. Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, is an example of a politician who had regularly received horrendous online messages and death threats. Siddiq said that she did not “know anyone who has not had to deal with it” and that it was “frightening” that there was an unofficial support group for female MPs. Another SNP MP, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, spoke about the abuse she received which was unsurprisingly, mostly misogynistic.
After what had devastatingly happened to Jo Cox, she can be used a case in point as to the level of abuse politicians can get – and there had been evidence showing that Cox had been harassed in messages over a period of three months. Yvette Cooper had advocated how harassment used to occur on the streets, but now, “the internet is our streets” and “we have responsibilities as online citizens to make sure the internet is a safe space.”
It is hard to track people from online platforms so sometimes female MPs simply shrug of the abuse, or they feel it is just part of the job: but this should not be the case. There have been attempts to try to overcome this issue for women. For example, in April, The Guardian launched a campaign the ‘Web We Want’ that spoke up about how women were more likely to receive abuse. Similarly, a group of female politicians across parties launched the ‘Reclaim the Internet’ campaign, a consultation service for women who received abuse. In general, there needs to be more frequent open conversation about what is not acceptable behaviour online. Moreover, perhaps more legal legislation needs to be put in place to ensure that online abuse is made illegal because of the sheer scale of harm it inflicts.
Saner, E. ‘The web we want’, The Guardian [London] 18 June 2016