Swinson and Farron speak out against online abuse after threats sent to Labour MP Jess Phillips

The internet can be a torrid place, as we all know. If you’re a woman, especially one who dares express an opinion that doesn’t sit well with a very small minority of men, you are likely to get a particularly brutal form of abuse, usually coupled with threats of sexual violence.

When Labour MP Jess Phillips reacted with incredulity to Tory Phillip Davies’ request for a debate on International Men’s Day, she was subjected to some awful abuse. You know it’s bad when one of the milder things written was an observation that seeing her spirit die would be a rewarding experience. Who could possibly think that that was ok to say to anyone about anything?

Buzzfeed UK has the full story including the full tweet. They are pretty stomach turning.

It’s important to realise that women have to put up with this sort of nonsense every day. Yes, men get abuse too, but there is a gendered aspect that is chilling. A few years ago, I wrote about how demeaning it felt when a man sat next to me on a flight reading his lad’s mag with photos of very scantily clad women. I suggested that this might be something that they should not be doing in the public space and was told that I deserved to be raped, like brutal sexual violence was an acceptable reaction to disagreeing with someone.

Those tweets that contain specific threats should be reported and dealt with according to the law, but leaders do need to step up and speak out against it and show solidarity with those women who experience it whether they agree with them politically or not.

Jo Swinson and Tim Farron have both condemned the abuse:

Tim was horrified when he read what had been written to Jess Phillips:

This sort of abuse should not be the inevitable by-product of women challenging the way society works. In terms of what to do about it, I still favour the Mary Beard approach.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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18 Comments

  • Graham Morgan 30th Oct '15 - 5:23pm

    The action required, John, goes far beyond the cold-shouldering of social media, as I am sure you will agree if you have clicked the Buzzfeed link. Cold-shouldering will do nothing whatsoever to improve matters.
    I hope that it is possible to identify the culprits, and deal with them in the courts, but particularly the authors of the most vile of those comments. Sectioning ought, in my opinion, to be seriously considered.

  • “It’s important to realise that women have to put up with this sort of nonsense every day”. What an absolute load of tosh! I’m absolutely sure that the abuse this MP had directed at her was disgraceful, but the very reason that this stands out and is highlighted on LDV, is because it is unusual and doesn’t happen every day. Take your blinkers off Caron, there are good and bad among both sexes.

  • Jess Phillips is one of the best adverts for AWS you’ll ever see. Without it, the historical data (not to mention more recent data from other parties like the Lib Dems) suggests she’d very likely still be an unheard-of Birmingham councillor instead of knocking sense in to the nation’s misogynists like this. I’d like to be a fly on the wall if anyone dares tell HER she’s not in Parliament on merit…

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Oct '15 - 9:14pm

    Malc, I’m glad you feel you know more about this than I, Jess Phillips and the many other women who experience it.

  • Ruth Bright 30th Oct '15 - 9:43pm

    Malc please do not “speak” to Caron like that. Women experience this stuff all the time.

  • On another forum, my pseudonym is gender-neutral and it’s quite striking how many folks assume I am a man and also the difference in how they address me. The men call me ‘mate’ in a ‘all blokes together’ sort of way and some of the women accuse me of being sexist! I get comments such as ” only a man would think like that” or ” yes but we women…” . It tickles me because my comments are exactly the same as they are on here! Which is to say, erring on the feminist side but not unwaveringly so. An example was a discussion not so long ago about women’s safety in the tube and in trains. As the mother, aunt and family friend of various young men and young women, I was concerned for the safety of all of them, regardless of gender.

    Malc the treatment of many women not just on social media but also in many other routine situations in life has to be lived to be believed.

  • Phyllis – I have no doubt most women have at sometime been treated badly or unfairly by men or systems create by men, I also accept that because I am not a woman I can’t appreciate fully what it is like to be one – but that works both ways. I just don’t recognise the description of “women have to put up with this every day of their lives” when talking about very serious abuse. Now it may seem hard to believe but I am married and have many female relatives and friends. I honestly believe if I ran a survey to see if they would prefer a male or female as a boss, work-mate, doctor, MP, friend etc the result would be pretty even. I have a niece who has 3 lovely mixed race children and the only time she suffered racist abuse was at the hands of two women. Also lets not forget that when these social media abuse cases come to court the accused are not always male, so I say again there are good and bad among both sexes.

  • Labour MP in ‘vile idiots use the Internet’ shocker.

  • http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-mp-philip-davies-speaks-for-90-minutes-to-stop-carers-getting-free-hospital-parking-a6715641.html
    This article says a lot about the kind of person Philip Davies is, the kind of Tory government that has been elected, and kind of people we used to be in coalition with. Philip Davies happens to be a man, but I’m more concerned about the fact he is blocking parking for carers than that he asked for an international day for men. Why? Because I think its a greater issue and it says more about the Tory party, which these days has plenty of women MPs who can deal with Philip Davies when the time comes. Ie women, have representatives, albeit not enough of them, but carers and the sick seem to have invisible representation in this parliament.

  • Malc makes some reasonable points. Quite a few people who have commented on the horrible abuse directed at Jess Phillips have, perhaps naturally, assumed the perpetrators are men, but given the outcome of the Caroline Criado-Perez case where one of the two people sent to prison was a woman, we really should keep more of an open mind. I hope nobody thinks it sexist to point this out, but at least some of the sexism and misogyny in the world comes from people who happen to be women. You only have to read any edition of the Daily Mail, and analyse its reader demographics, to realise that’s true.

    So I prefer it when this kind of debate is framed in a sexist/non-sexist way, rather than a conflict between males and females.

  • Malc I find nothing to disagree with in anything you say above. I also belong to a Facebook group on a well known radio programme and the most mysogynistic comments about a certain female character are from other women! She is criticised for not being a good cook, for not organising her household properly, for letting down her husband, about not cleaning the house or getting the shopping done. Despite the fact that she and her husband both work full time, and their kids are grownup she is the one targeted with pretty strong abuse.

  • One should note that the people behind the harassment of Jess were the same ones who instigated a vexatious series of complaints to the party regarding me because I made a joke about them to other women. Glad to see her not giving them any traction.

  • Eddie Sammon 31st Oct '15 - 1:08pm

    The unacceptable abuse has turned a story from being a debate about what I think is a good idea, an international men’s day, into one about abuse and the fault of this is the abusers.

    Threats should be dealt with by the police, but nasty abuse should be Twitter’s domain.

  • Assuming that the BuzzFeed article has done what Journalists tend to do and selected the most extreme examples they could fins at the time of writing.

    The initial tweets identified are pointless as they are insulting and contain no refuting arguments, though Philip Davies was asking to have a discussion about high suicide rates to which laughed, well I don’t agree with sending an insult lacking in argument but I’m not concerned that someone would say someone was a “disgusting human being.”

    Then to the “Rape and Death Threats” they are obscene and clearly written by people with issues. However they do not appear to have been “sent to her” as she appears to be showing a screen shot of comments on a website (apparently from the forum “Voat”), she hasn’t shown. I imagine she doesn’t frequent this site as she references the need to google it, which she clearly has.

    If person A upsets person B and person B goes and sits with their friend person C in a pub and says “someone should kill person A, in some horrible way” they are not threatening the person (could claim they are conspiring but that is a stretch), they are not expecting person A to be in ear shot.

    None of that excuses weirdoes on the internet fantasizing about horrible things happening to people but also it needs to be clear there is no evidence in the article (or presumably provided by Phillips) of people sending either rape or death threats via twitter, plenty of unconstructive criticism.

    So why does that matter? Well there is a regular complaint that ‘when women speak out they receive abuse, rape and death threats’ yet often this isn’t the response, often ideas are just criticised with fairly balnd insults thrown in. The admin of a local forum near me often slaps people down when they make comments like ‘did you hear about that mugging/burglary etc’ on the basis that any discussion of crime must be specific and contain location dates etc. The reason is that it is very east for 10 people to all discuss the same event and not realising that they are speaking about the same event and to create the impression of a very dangerous community when it is a single incident. As a result we should be as specific as possible. It is already a joke that on the internet:
    Abuse = A view I disagree with
    Death/Rape threat = people were nasty to me.

  • If you want people to engage you shouldn’t exaggerate the situation but should also call-out out-of-order behaviour when you see it.

    I understand that people often feel overwhelmed when they disagree with someone and get a response from a large number of people (if someone argues with someone with a large following) and people can feel ‘attacked’ even when most of the messages are just variants of ‘you’re wrong.’ What that does mean is that people should expect to be prepared for that response and try and think of how to respond when they get an overwhelming reaction. The people responding may just want to engage is a discussion but it probably feels rather different.

    The cynic in me would assume that Philip Davies was being cynical knowing that at least one Labour MP would say that high suicide rates among men didn’t matter, if that was the case he got an outcome he will be happy with. I’m not sure the whole episode or the response has actually been a good outcome for the country though.

    Eddie
    I’m not convinced these things are actually best addressed as a ‘mens issue’ I don’t see reducing things to genders are exactly helpful. Suicide deserves attention but not through a ‘men’s lens’ identity politics doesn’t really help matters.

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