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Almost a third of UK MPs experience online abuse and threats

Published: Wed 13 June 2018
Almost a third of UK MPs experience online abuse and threats

Up to one third of UK MPs have experienced online trolling, leading in some cases to mental or emotional distress and even fear for their wellbeing, particularly for female MPs, according to Bradford research.

University of Bradford psychologists carried out a survey of Westminster MPs and every one of 181 respondents reported experiencing some form of online abuse, harassment or even threat.

The findings of the research were presented and discussed at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Psychology, organised by the British Psychological Society, in the Strangers Dining Room at the House of Commons.

The research sought to establish the prevalence of trolling among MPs, different types of abuse and harassment experienced, the psychological and emotional effects this has, and looked for gender differences.

Twitter was the main platform mentioned. Male MPs received more abuse and threats than their female colleagues but this tended to involve defamatory or false information and attempts to damage their reputation. By contrast, abuse and threats directed at female MPs was more varied and included abuse of a racial, sexual or religious nature and threats of rape and violence.

And while male MPs responded more to such trolling, female MPs suffered more mental and emotional distress, reputational damage and problems at work.

Responses included:

  • ’I’ve had death threats, I’ve had people tweeting that I should be hung…I’ve had my car smashed time after time’
  • ‘My car parked on the street has been damaged repeatedly over a number of years, I suspect by the same person’
  • ‘Lower level attacks that make social media a horrible place to be - I hardly use now’

Professor Catriona Morrison (pictured) of the University of Bradford said: “Online trolling of MPs is a very real phenomenon, with almost a third of UK MPs reporting they have been a victim of trolling behaviour. While this is not exclusive to MPs, it is more prevalent than amongst those not in the public eye and with only two trolls having been convicted in the UK to date, we have to ask what we can do about this behaviour, which has a very real impact on people.”

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