Shortly after the death of Batley and Spen’s MP, Jo Cox, I wrote an article noting female colleagues in the Houses of Parliament are suffering online threats, many of which are deeply offensive with sexual undertones. I observed there is a particular kind of person that hates women in authority; this prejudice is not confined to men.
Misogynistic online bullying is not, of course, confined to Members of Parliament. Many women in the public eye, from historian Mary Beard to Caroline Criado Perez, who campaigned for Jane Austen to be on a banknote, to school children have been affected. Bullying of any kind, whether online or offline, is absolutely unacceptable and I completely agree with the Minister for Women and Equalities that there is absolutely no place for misogyny or trolling in our society.
I welcome therefore that the Government has set up the Stop Online Abuse website that offers practical advice, with a focus on LGB&T people, including on social media. This excellent new resource also gives information on how to complain about sexism and bullying on websites, social media sites and in the press and advertising.
It is also important to educate young people against this sort of bullying in the first place, to ensure they are robust and resilient if they come across unwanted images or cyberbullying. A range of websites help children and their parents discuss these issues, and the Government has invested £3.85 million in a second phase of the ‘This is Abuse’ campaign called Disrespect Nobody, which challenges young people to rethink their views on abuse and consent in relationships.
What is illegal offline is illegal online. I welcome recent developments, such as a Twitter director saying he thought the company was doing better on dealing with trolls, but I was glad that the site also recognises more must be done.
Eric Pickles is a British Conservative Party politician and Member of Parliament for Brentwood and Ongar.