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Twitter, our lives are under threat – stop allowing abusers to thrive on your platform

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Dawn Butler
The level of abuse and threats have got to the point where we cannot guarantee the safety of ourselves, or our staff (Picture: Robert Perry/Getty Images)

Enough is enough.

That is the clear message that I have sent to Twitter regarding online abuse that takes place on their platform.

I have been disappointed with the social media giant’s lack of action for a long time, but what sparked me to write a letter to them demanding answers and change, was hearing what happened to my fellow MP, David Lammy.

After receiving a death threat on Twitter, which said he would ‘hang from a lamppost’ if he ‘wasn’t careful’ – along with racist language – David went to the police.

He then tweeted earlier this month that he was told the Met Police had to drop their investigation into the threat because Twitter had allegedly refused to assist.

This is unacceptable and I’m proud that over 90 other politicians have joined me in sending this strong message by signing my cross-party letter over a seven hour period.

A Twitter spokesperson said following David’s tweet that they were ‘cooperating with the Metropolitan Police, having now received and processed the correct information’.

But any delay in them acting on such a serious matter beggars belief.

And the truth is, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their inaction over online abuse and hate.

Unfortunately, I know this only too well from personal experience. I am targeted daily by Twitter trolls and people on Facebook (a platform that also must do more) with threatening and racist language.

At certain times – like after I recorded myself being stopped by police in Hackney – the abuse can reach unbearable, incessant levels.

In these moments my office will spend hours at a time forwarding abuse to the police.

Social media companies may say they are taking the issue seriously, yet the evidence of their inaction is clear for all to see. It is, quite frankly, an outrage.

Prominent Black, Asian and minority ethnic MPs have seen a rise in abuse, both in volume and ferocity – this is undeniable.

I’m truly shocked that @Twitter refused to cooperate with @metpoliceuk’s investigation into a death threat made against @DavidLammy.
We cannot allow extremists to thrive on social media. In just 7 hours we got over 90 politicians to sign my letter to @Jack.
We demand change!👇🏾 pic.twitter.com/EKTECxhPUa

— Dawn Butler MP✊🏾 (@DawnButlerBrent) October 9, 2020

We already know that in the run up to the 2017 election, Diane Abbott received half of all the online abuse sent to female politicians.

The level of abuse and threats have got to the point where we cannot guarantee the safety of ourselves, or our staff. I shut down my office, partly for this reason.

The hate we receive takes a toll on the mental health of those who read it too, not just MPs and their teams. People often message me to say how appalled and disturbed they were to read these awful comments.

So why won’t social media platforms do more to take them down?

Sadly, like David Lammy, I too have received death threats. Someone was recently arrested for a threatening comment made against me online, while another person is being investigated by the police.

I am concerned that this latest incident involving David represents part of a worrying trend that social media companies are failing to take sufficient action to tackle abuse, discrimination, racism and death threats across their sites. It is exhausting and incredibly frustrating.

That is why we have come together and written to Twitter to ask them when enough will finally be enough.

We learnt in 2016, after the murder of my dear friend Jo Cox by a far right neo-Nazi that threats aren’t always empty.

Therefore, it is absolutely vital that social media platforms cooperate with police from the offset, so they can help assess whether the risk to our lives is credible or not.

Free speech is important, and I have no problem with people disagreeing with me on social media. But no one should be able to cross the line and abuse, threaten or make racist remarks against someone, and get away with it.

To those who say we should just ignore it or log off, I say that the MPs being able to access the public online is a vital part of our democracy. It is the abusers who must be removed.

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The Government, too, has an important role to play in this.

There has been an unacceptable delay in bringing forward the proposed Online Harms Bill, which would hold websites accountable if they don’t act on harmful material.

I can’t help but wonder why the Government is dragging its feet on this. We needed it yesterday!

I hope more people will join us in calling out Twitter and all social media companies to finally take this issue seriously. We cannot allow abusers and extremists to thrive online.

It simply cannot wait any longer. We need change and we need it now.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk.

Share your views in the comments below.

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