Three ‘social media’ stories grabbed my attention in a week where we commemorated the passing of the Queen and saw Truss reveal she thinks contradictory actions of uncapping bankers’ bonuses, cutting taxes, borrowing billions and raising interest rates will grow the economy.
First, broadcaster Jeremy Vine hit out on Newsnight at social media firms after Alex Belfield was sentenced to five and a half years for stalking four people. The sentencing judge, Mr Justice Saini, told Belfield one of his victims had been “seconds away from taking his own life as a result of your conduct”.
Second, at 14-year-old Molly Russell’s inquest into her 2017 suicide, her father said he believes social media was a key factor in her death. Ian Russell commented safety measures, such as speed limits on roads, were accepted in the offline world but “are not put in place in sufficient quantity in the digital world”.
Third, the Electoral Commission reported that many candidates at the May elections reported experiencing abuse, threatening behaviour and intimidation. The report claimed four in 10 candidates reported experiencing problems with intimidation in elections, with most abuse, from members of the public or anonymous sources, verbal or experienced online.
Craig Westwood, the Electoral Commission’s Director of Communications, Policy and Research said: “Urgent action is needed to prevent the abuse and intimidation of candidates and campaigners at elections. It is vital that candidates can participate in elections without fear.”
I agree one hundred per cent with Craig’s call for action to prevent abuse and intimidation in politics. During the Covid pandemic lock down in 2020 I was called ‘Labour scum of the earth’ in a unsavoury incident that was dismissed by the Berwick town council’s town clerk as me being ‘discomforted by a verbal altercation and some photographs’.
All three stories highlight our desperate need to tackle social media abuse and for technology giants to take their responsibilities to protect us seriously.
Vine said he was “disgusted by their lack of values” and also criticised Twitter as he said Belfield still possessed an account despite being in prison.
As politicians and party activists, we have our own duty of care to each other to ensure we behave responsibly and challenge the national government and local councils on issues and not personalities. The Labour Party is very clear where it stands and has published its own ‘social media policy’.
Ironically, former deputy prime minster Nick Clegg is now one of Facebook’s most powerful global executives, promote to the post of President for Global Affairs at Meta Platforms. A fancy and impressive title, but their time would be better spent safeguarding their users!