Theresa May calls for new laws to ban the abuse of politicians on social media

Theresa MaySky News

  • Theresa May says new laws are needed to outlaw the
    online abuse and bullying of politicians and other public
  • The prime minister says the bullying of politicians
    online has become a growing “threat to democracy” which must be
  • MPs from all parties have reported receiving death and
    rape threats online.
  • New official review will examine which new laws are
    required to stop online abuse.

LONDON — Theresa May today called for a new legal crackdown on
the abuse of politicians and other public figures on social
media, saying that online “bullying” has now become a growing
“threat to democracy.”

The prime minister said that social media platforms, such as
Facebook and Twitter, had “become places of intimidation and
abuse” for public figures and said that new laws were now needed
to make sure “what is illegal offline is illegal online.”

In a major speech to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage in
the UK, May said the Law Commission would look at which new laws
were needed to crack down on “offensive online communications”.

Speaking in central Manchester on Tuesday afternoon, May said
that a new “tone of bitterness and aggression has entered into
our public debate,” due to the rise of social media.

She said the government would also consult on making the online
intimidation of political candidates a criminal offence.

The government will also look at the “legal liability” of social
media companies for abuse that takes place on their platforms.

The prime minister said public figures “from candidates and
elected representatives to campaigners, journalists and
commentators” now “have to contend with regular and sustained
abuse” online.

She said she believed abusive behaviour was now a real “threat to
our democracy” which must be tackled by both the government,
technology firms and the media.

MPs from across the House of Parliament have spoken out recently
about a surge in online abuse and intimidation in recent years,
with female politicians, in particular, subjected to repeated
rape and death threats while online.

The prime minister said that public figures who were female and
from ethnic minorities had been most targeted both “in terms
of scale and vitriol.”

In order to deal with the problem, May said the government will
now publish a new social media code of practice later this year
which will set out new rules for social media platforms as well
as a new annual “transparency report” which will “track
companies’ progress in stamping out online abuse.”

The prime minister said that failure to tackle the problem would
“squander the opportunity new technology affords us to drive up
political engagement, [and] have the perverse effect of putting
off participation from those who are not prepared to tolerate the
levels of abuse which exist.”

A spokesperson for the PM would not be drawn on which new laws
the prime minister would like to bring in however, telling
Business Insider that they would await the findings of the Law
Commission report.

Reacting to the speech, Labour today warned against any attempt
to restrict free speech.

“Real democracy is about opening up debate and decision making to
all,” the shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said.

“Closing down that space, whether it comes from government, the
media or online trolls is anti-democratic. The Tories should end
their personalised attacks, curb the abuses from sections of the
media and impose effective sanctions on social media giants which
allow abuse.”

Online bullying

Theresa May Cabinet
Theresa May’s


May’s speech followed a meeting of her Cabinet on Tuesday
morning. A spokesperson for the prime minister said that a large
number of members of the prime minister’s top team had spoken out
about the “need to do more to tackle online bullying” and abuse.

This is the second time in recent weeks that May has singled out
technology firms for failing to do enough to protect the public
from abuse and online extremism.

In a speech last month, the prime minister
accused social media firms
of giving a platform to
terrorists, slave traders and paedophiles.

She told the World Economic Forum in Davos that new forms of
technology were being exploited by people with “malevolent
intentions,” and called on technology firms to stop their
platforms becoming the “first choice for paedophiles” and