Online abuse of MPs has ‘rocketed’, according to University of Sheffield research 

Cybercrime.
Cybercrime.

Analysis of more than one million tweets showed online abuse of MPs rocketed between 2015 and 2017, according to research by the University of Sheffield.    

Twitter insults aimed at politicians rose from about 10, 000 during the 2015 general election to just under 25, 000 during the snap 2017 general election, although the number of total tweets also rose in the same period.

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The abuse seemed unaffected by party or gender, according to project leader Professor Kalina Bontcheva from the University of Sheffield department of computer science.

She said: "The increase in abuse towards public figures is a shocking development and one that the UK Government is right to take seriously.

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"If people are dissuaded from standing for election, then our representation on a democratic level is under threat."

Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth Stephen Doughty said Twitter is not doing enough to tackle abuse.

He tweeted an example of abuse directed at him alongside Twitter's response that it did not violate policies.

He said: "If you wonder why Facebook, Twitter etc are increasingly becoming difficult places, here's another example of abuse we get and the response of the social media companies - who think we deserve a different threshold of abuse "to allow discourse"."

The study shows for the first time that both the proportion and volume of Twitter abuse increased between 2015 and 2017.

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Prominent politicians tended to receive a lot of tweets and also a lot of abuse, but lesser-known MPs received proportionally higher levels of abuse.

Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband received 5.6 per cent abusive tweets when he was party leader in 2015, which fell to 3.3 per cent on his return to the backbenches.

In 2015, users who tweeted abusive replies were more concerned with the economy, but in 2017 these were concerned with national security in the wake of terror attacks on UK soil.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith, responding to the research, said: "It is vital that we prevent the rising intimidation of people in public office and those who want to stand for election.

"That is why this government is consulting on new measures that will protect candidates and campaigners standing for public service.

"We can't let intimidation of people in public life continue unchecked."