As an MP since 2010, I am used to having abuse hurled at me. Every Member of Parliament gets used to it, often from our time as candidates. To an extent, facing anger is part of being what one pillar of our community described as being the safety valve on the pressure cooker that is society.
But things daily go too far. Apart from several threats of death and grievous assault, vicious abuse under my posts on social media has become routine. I have decided not to tolerate it any more, not least because much of it comes from dedicated political opponents outside the constituency, conspiracy theorists and people consumed by hate of one kind or another.
The public rightly believe that as an elected representative, they should be able to engage with me in all forums. Members of the public usually do that in a civil and constructive way. However, there are a small minority of people whose engagement with MPs descends into abuse, sexual threats, and threats of violence including to kill. It should be uncontroversial to state that no one should have to put up with that in their life, including MPs.
There is never an excuse to threaten someone, whether an elected representative or worse still, our staff. You might disagree with me in good faith about the level of taxation, if Boris Johnson should have remained as Prime Minister, who I am supporting in the Conservative Party leadership contest or the merits of one religion or another, but that is no excuse to be threatening or otherwise hateful.
Moreover, I find that long-term abuse is beginning to make me numb. I have seen what happens when people stop caring about others’ suffering and that is not where I want to be. I also remember that whenever I receive a death threat on social media, it doesn’t just affect me, it also impacts my family and my staff who fear for my safety and their own.
After over a decade of threats and abuse on social media, I have decided to trial the use of Arwen’s software on my social media. Arwen’s software will scan the posts of those who comment and almost instantly remove any posts that are threatening or abusive. The use of this software will not affect the vast majority of the public who engage with me in a civil, constructive and often passionate way. But if you are abusive or threatening, your comments will be automatically hidden or deleted and you will be blocked, constituent or not.
According to Arwen’s statistics, abusive content makes up just 3-5% of the total on social media, yet it drives a huge 37% people out of the conversation. People stop posting openly because they fear being jumped on and abused by others.
I believe in free speech but not threats, abuse or incivility. Legitimate public debate needs cleaning up in this country and across the world. I am glad to help begin the process. And as ever, if you live in the Wycombe constituency, please drop me an email in parliament if you would like to discuss this or anything else.