A Parliamentary report has laid bare the sickening scale of abuse suffered by MPs – with threats of rape and violence described as “commonplace” and death threats “frequent”.
The founder of the Digital Democracy project, which tries to make abuse-proof social media engagement between electors and the elected possible, believes “the only thing the report gets wrong is that it doesn’t go far enough”.
The report, by the Houses of Parliament Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, details MPs being afraid to take their grandchildren to the seaside or even return to their homes after online abuse, and even preventing their staff from accessing their social media channels out of concern for their mental health.
The committee states that social media:
“Can be a tool to foster democracy, to enable people to discuss the issues of the day and to allow people to learn about and assert their rights. But it is also used by people who anonymously threaten MPs and by those who whip up hostility and violence towards MPs”
The Committee recommends social media companies should allocate “significantly more resources to ensuring their platforms are safe. Responsibility for preventing and taking down harmful content must lie more squarely with those who profit from it.
“Social media companies need to respect the laws of the countries in which they operate. Moreover, threats, intimidation, and harassment online should be treated as seriously as such behaviour offline: the internet should not be a place where there is effective impunity for all but the most serious breaches of the law.”
Joel Popoola, founder of the Digital Democracy project, responded to the report.
The project has developed the free Rate Your Leader app, which allows confirmed voters to communicate directly with the elected representatives from their phones or tablets in a way that makes abuse impossible, as well as rating them for responsiveness.
“The only thing the report gets wrong is that it doesn’t go far enough.
“We are a small project, but we have been able to roll-out the Rate Your Leader app, which makes it difficult for abusive messages to be sent. That a social media giant can’t do this with its $7bn income tells me that they just don’t want to.
“What MPs really should be considering is boycotting these platforms. There are plenty of alternatives out there which allow twenty-first century engagement between electors and the elected, but which also determined to ensure that that engagement occurs in a safe space, within which democracy can flourish”.
The Rate Your Leader app is available from the Apple and Google Marketplaces. The app has a five-star rating on the Google market, with one reviewer writing “This is the new level of politics…better communication of leaders with the electorates and accountability”.
An ever-increasing number of MPs, councillors, MEPs and Police & Crime Commissioners have already taken advantage of the free democracy app to stay in touch with the people who elect them and to get their message out to confirmed voters in their constituencies, helping them truly understand what matters most to the people who elect them.