Government proposes banning online trolls from public office

Written by Emilio Casalicchio and Sam Trendall on 31 July 2018 in News

Suggested law change would create a new offence of intimidating political candidates or campaigners

Online trolls who abuse political figures could be given a ban from standing for election or holding public office, the government has announced.

Constitution minister Chloe Smith said "talented people" were being held back from running for office by the scale of intimidation online.

The government has put forward a number of proposals designed to combat this problem, including creating a new offence that addresses “intimidation of parliamentary candidates and campaigners”. Those found guilty of such an offence would be punished with the removal of their right to stand for or hold public office, the government proposes.

Smith said the proposed measures – to be consulted on – would "protect voters, candidates and campaigners".

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A report by MPs in 2017 said social media abuse had played a "significant factor" in the run up to the general election that year.

She said people should be able to "make their choice at the ballot box or stand for public service without fear of being victims of misinformation or abuse".

A study by BuzzFeed News and the University of Sheffield last year found male Tory candidates were hit with the highest percentage of abuse on Twitter in the runup to the 2017 election.

A separate analysis by Amnesty International found shadow home secretary Diane Abbott received almost half of all abusive tweets sent to female MPs ahead of the vote.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Jess Phillips has said she once received 600 death and rape threats in a single day.

And Twitter trolls who targeted Labour figures Luciana Berger, Stella Creasy and Angela Eagle have been charged with abuse.

Lord Bew, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: “Intimidation presents a real threat to the integrity, diversity and vibrancy of our public life. People of all backgrounds should not be put off from standing for public office as a result of intimidatory behaviour.”

About the author

Emilio Casalicchio is chief reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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