MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 18-Jul-16 16:56:57

Guest post: "This is why we need to Reclaim the Internet"

After speaking at the Reclaim the Internet conference, Jess Phillips MP says the online community must stand together to combat abuse

Jess Phillips

Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

Posted on: Mon 18-Jul-16 16:56:57


Lead photo

"The world of open debate social media has a long way to come before we can all feel safe."

'The internet was never yours to begin with. Do me favour and jump off the nearest roof you can find. #reclaimtheinternet'

'You don't have to worry about rape threats because you're not hot enough to be raped let alone get laid of free will.'

I didn't scour for these tweets, I didn't have to search through pages and pages of pictures of cats - these two things were said to me in the five minutes before I sat down to write this.

Welcome to 2016, the era where blithe death and rape threats are an hourly occurrence for some. What a time to be alive. My online life today is a washout. I will not be able to communicate with anyone for perhaps a day or two on Twitter because I will be drowning in abuse. All because I spoke at the Reclaim the Internet event.

Reclaim the Internet is a movement started by a cross-party group of MPs to try to stop online abuse including threats, misogyny, racism, homophobia and intimidation. It is definitely not about protecting MPs from well-deserved scrutiny.

This campaign is calling on everyone to make a stand against abuse. Forty years ago the 'Reclaim the Night' campaign was launched to build a movement against harassment, abuse and violence against women on the streets. Now the internet is our new streets and everyone should be able to feel safe and speak out online.

Forty years ago the 'Reclaim the Night' campaign was launched to build a movement against harassment, abuse and violence against women on the streets. Now the internet is our new streets and everyone should be able to feel safe and speak out online.

Susanna McGuinness, a Girlguiding UK advocate, came to today's conference and spoke about using the hashtag #feminism online. What followed was a barrage of explicit photos, misogynistic comments and threatening messages. She said it made her more wary of speaking out about issues she cares about online. "Women and girls have a right to be seen and heard online just as they have a right to in the real world," she said.

Luciana Berger MP offered a sample of anti-semitic tweets that had been sent to her overnight, including explicit images of women overlaid with racial slurs like 'Kike Bitches' and the hashtag #FilthyJewBitch. ITV news anchor Charlene White spoke about how she received endless abuse simply because she is "black and has boobs."

This has got to stop. Today's conference was the beginning of the process of coming together: politicians, police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service, social media providers and the brilliant online community.

There are many spaces on the internet that are testament to the fact that abuse and trolling needn't be the default setting. Online communities can be a genuine lifeline; for my friend Jess, a forum specifically for parents who had had stillborn babies provided outlet and counsel. It was her space to heal. The Mumsnet community should be proud of how it has have created an online space where heated debates don't necessarily end in death threats. Yet at the same time, it is strange that not anonymously threatening to kill each other has become the benchmark of good practice.

I know online forums can be a force for good. I've seen it, but the world of open debate social media has a long way to come before it provides a platform we can feel safe on.

At the end of the Reclaim the Internet event, commitments were made. Social network platforms expressed their passion for cleaning it up: their bottom line as well as their principles are at stake. The Police and CPS agreed they need to do more and new tech investment in safety and 'trigger' tools is promised. Ultimately though, it is only us, the online community, who can really combat this - so let's all try to be the very best versions of ourselves online and stand together in the space where we all now live.

By Jess Phillips

Twitter: @jessphillips

Xenophile Mon 18-Jul-16 18:38:03

Thanks for all you do for women Jess. I am so sorry that you've been subject to such awfulness on Twitter just lately, and I know that sorry isn't enough.

Too many people men say that death and rape threats aren't real, or that they don't affect you, but they do. Opening my app for a short while was terrifying, knowing that I would be hit with a barrage of explicit pictures and graphic threats was an assault, I'm sure it's felt the same for you and Luciana Berger as well.

It would be great to think that the Police, the judiciary and social media platforms will work together to combat this, but unless we all keep up the pressure, it will get swallowed in the next round of cuts, and women's voices will be eventually silenced.

Take care Jess, you're not alone, and thankfully, there are more fine and wonderful people about than assholes.

BetsOriginal Mon 18-Jul-16 20:37:53

Thank you for putting a voice to this.
I am a mother of three daughters and am stuck between a rock and a hard place as far as the Internet is concerned. Yes, I want to protect them from the hideously twisted, hateful, misogynistic, threatening, sexually explicit side of life on the Internet but closing them off (if at all possible) from this technology effectively limits their skill base, their education and their social connection.

It all scares me to be honest.

officerhinrika Mon 18-Jul-16 21:11:39

I'm glad you and others are trying to confront this. I regularly think that I can't face even looking at Twitter etc anymore as its like lifting a rock and seeing a vile dribbling stream of stuff come out that I don't need in my head or life. What it's like to be in public life and face it I can only imagine - so thanks for calling people on it ( I follow your stuff).
After a while I too think - no, why should I be pushed off the internet - and re- engage, but I still think there's a battle to be fought.

Havingkittens04 Mon 18-Jul-16 21:30:33

Thank you.

I hope the internet is a far less hostile place by the time my young daughter is old enough to use it freely. I really hope so...the alternative scares me x

JacquettaWoodville Mon 18-Jul-16 22:09:40

Thanks Jess

JohnJ80 Mon 18-Jul-16 22:22:47

I'm not the hugest fan of Philips but the fact that she has been treated like this is a disgrace. The internet is basically up-ending organised civic society. Anyone can say anything to anyone: be bullying, abusive, send rape threats. It is like the world has gone fucking mad. At least in the past sexist and racist talk was more or less limited to the pub: now every bigot, crank or disturbed individual has a platform from which to spew hate to millions.

Jo Cox's death was a tragedy waiting to happen. I fear there will be more.


sorenofthejnaii Mon 18-Jul-16 22:56:34

I follow you on Twitter and have seen some of the awful comments you have received. I really hope it doesn't silence you. The police and the law needs to take it seriously and there should be real consequences for people who think it's ok to threaten to rape someone.

Thanks for what you are doing.

user1468890544 Tue 19-Jul-16 02:29:35

What you're proposing sounds an awful lot like censorship. Which is a no regardless of how righteous you believe your cause to be. Free speech is a basic human right, one that should not be removed under any circumstances. If you're planning on creating your own website that openly condones the concept of censorship by all means feel free to do so. The internet itself however should never be censored.

JacquettaWoodville Tue 19-Jul-16 06:40:39

What she is proposing, new user who registered in the middle of the night to opine on the feminism boards, is an end to online abuse.

Rape threats, misogyny, homophobia and racism aren't necessary to convey disagreement. Disagreement isn't being censored.


Solopower1 Tue 19-Jul-16 07:02:33

Censorship, no, but couldn't there be some sort of opt-in system for Twitter? Offensive tweets would be automatically removed, (like on MN), with those who want to see everything simply opting in by switching off the control.

I'm sure this must have been thought of before, but wonder why it doesn't seem to be possible. Is Twitter just too big and unwieldy, maybe?

JacquettaWoodville Tue 19-Jul-16 07:29:45

Solo, MN removes based on reports, there's no automation.

How would that work? Most threats use words that can also be used "normally"

AdelindSchade Tue 19-Jul-16 07:41:48

The Human Rights Act says Freedom of Expression/Speech is a qualified right, not an absolute right, where it conflicts with the rights of others. If somebody stood outside a school saying obscenities to the children you would expect them to be removed. So no, it isn't and can't ever be an absolute right. The argument is about where the line in the sand is drawn, and in my view rape and murder threats are way past that line.

JohnJ80 Tue 19-Jul-16 07:59:44

User: free speech is not a universally applicable human right. This silly, dangerous idea needs putting to bed. No one has the right to say anything they like to anyone else in any context - certainly not threaten women with rape. Originally, freedom of speech was conceptualised as a political principle: it meant people should not be threatened with imprisonment, torture or murder for speaking out against totalitarian regimes or systems of racial apartheid. In the internet age, it just means anyone can say anything they want - as though as someone tweeting 'I'm going to rape you bitch' is the equivalent of a Tianamen Square protester. Insane. People also talk about people who want to limit the access of children to porn as threatening free speech. What is being spoken exactly I am not sure.

Total free speech does not and cannot exist. I cannot go and tell my boss to fuck off without consequences; I cannot spray racist graffiti on the side of my house; a children's TV presenter cannot tell dirty jokes on air.

This modern idea of free speech -beloved of the libertarian right and muddle headed sections of the liberal left - is moronic and adolescent. I cannot believe there is even a debate to be had about whether this vile behaviour should be stopped.

JohnJ80 Tue 19-Jul-16 08:08:34

To add: the idea that the internet should never be censored is so illogical as nto barely merit a response. So child porn, Jihadi beheadings and the messages sent to Yvette Cooper threatening to kill her grandkids should not be removed on the principle of free speech? Yeah, great stuff. I'm sure Thomas Paine would have been happy with that as his legacy.

Spudlet Tue 19-Jul-16 08:51:21

Free speech, free speech, yay! Funny how the people who are generally the most vigourous in promoting their right to this seem to conveniently forget the fact that free speech includes freedom to take the consequences - be they legal consequences if they break the law, or an awful lot of people thinking they are giant cockwombles.

MissMargie Tue 19-Jul-16 12:39:20

Surely the way to stop is to boycott it somehow.
If you're life is wedded to these things then you are stuck until Twitter or whoever decide to police themselves.
Everyone has an IP address so I don't understand why you can't track people ( ok some are shared). So I believe it can be policed.
Try not using Twitter for a week - didn't Amazon decide to increase the tax they paid when there was an outcry.

Babycham1979 Tue 19-Jul-16 12:52:21

Oh dear, another attempt to silence and censor. When will these authoritarian New Labourites learn?

I'm sorry to hear that people in the public eye are facing personal abuse. However, what the likes of Philips is proposing is censorship and is no different from the kind of draconian egomaniacal controls that Erdogan has been criticised for imposing on his Turkish opponents. Ridicule and satire have long been valuable tools to challenge the powerful and yes, Jess Philips, you are one of the powerful, whether you like it or not.

MPs like Philips cannot expect to be as provocative and inflammatory as they like without being challenged on it. Making challenging public statements, that she no doubt thinks are clever and subversive, will inevitably raise the heckles of opponents and inflame the tone of the conversation. Not that this excuses abuse, obviously.

In the same way that modern feminism is struggling to cope with the trans movement adopting many of its strategies (and thereby undermining its victimhood status), complainants like Philips should be very careful. It will not take long before the kind of controls she's calling for - should they be imposed - are used against the likes of her. Then, she'll no doubt be one of the first to cry, 'but, what about free speech?'

LurcioAgain Tue 19-Jul-16 13:45:25

Babycham, let me give you (and mystery anonymous user 12345 etc) an example to illustrate the point.

Jess, much as I agree wholeheartedly with your post above about the need to remove threats of violence, I disagree very strongly with the way you tried to minimise the new year attacks in Cologne by likening them to passing through Birmingham New Street on a Saturday night.

There you go - freedom of speech exercised, political point made in disagreement with some (not all) of Jess's views, without resorting to rape threats, death threats, threats of violence. Not really difficult, is it?

scallopsrgreat Tue 19-Jul-16 14:23:40

"However, what the likes of Philips is proposing is censorship and is no different from the kind of draconian egomaniacal controls that Erdogan has been criticised for imposing on his Turkish opponents." Yeah asking people to stop being abusive is exactly like the kind of draconian egomaniacal controls that Erdogan has been criticised for imposing on his Turkish opponents hmm. The fact you think that is a truly stupid bewildering thing.

"Not that this excuses abuse, obviously." Except you just spent four paragraphs excusing it...

MissMargie Tue 19-Jul-16 15:00:17

I don't get that it's ok to threaten to rape/ kill anyone, or their children . I would be shitting myself if that happened - the suck it up brigade must have no imagination

broccoliflowers Tue 19-Jul-16 15:50:26

"^Free speech^ "

<bangs head on beautifully graffitied wall>

I'm not even going to waste my jammy dodgers on that one.

Fantastic post John.

Society is not a place where 'anything goes'. So, sorry, social networks are not places where 'anything goes'.

Theydontknowweknowtheyknow Tue 19-Jul-16 16:59:17

Good post JohnJ80. Wholeheartedly agree.

RebelRogue Tue 19-Jul-16 17:39:04

Free speech means that you can say whatever you want as long as it's not illegal-hate speech,threats etc are illegal- it does not mean that you are free from backlash if you're being a complete twat. So basically,there's nothing stoping you expressing your twatish opinions but there's nothing stopping me either calling you out on them either . Welcome to free speech!

PacificDogwod Tue 19-Jul-16 17:44:53

What John said, with bells on (although I prefer 'pictures of childhood sexual abuse' to 'child porn', just sayin').

'Freedom' of speech also comes with 'responsibility' of speech, just like any other freedom.

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