Steve Reacts to Latest Trolling Victim

(August 06, 2013)

steve in office

Labour MP and anti-trolling campaigner, Steve Rotheram, has spoken after the tragic death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith.

The Walton MP explained to Radio City, "This is firstly a tragedy for Hannah, her family and friends who mourn her loss at this time. No parent should have to come home to find their child has taken their own life because of the misery caused by internet trolls. It is a cowardly practice and as we have seen today, it has the potential to ruin families' lives.

"In June this year I met with industry experts, academics, the CPS, Home Office officials and the police to ascertain what more can be done to change the culture of online trolls and stamp out this vile practice. There is the requirement to respect the right of freedom of speech – but ALSO for people NOT to abuse that right by abusing /bullying or causing offence to others.

The debate between where the boundaries of free speech lie and where censorship starts are complex, and polarise opinion, but my rule of thumb is simple – if you wouldn’t say what you post on-line to someone OFFLINE, then it probably shouldn’t be said. We need to campaign to change online culture and I believe that the likes of Twitter and Facebook can do more.

"With regard to prevent, policing and punishing offences, it is clear that this is very much a resource issue. The police and prosecutors simply cannot cope with the sheer volume of reports of abuse that they receive and so the threshold for prosecution is set incredibly high. In other words, in order for a troll to be prosecuted, their online offence must have a credible inference to a real world threat such as a rape, murder or in some cases bombing.

"I made clear in my speech in the Commons back in February that this approach misses the, (at times deadly), psychological impact that trolling can have, as in the case of Hannah Smith.

"Before we can accurately assess what steps need to be taken, we need to become more informed in the different types of trolling and the loopholes that currently exist which allow this kind of behaviour to go unpunished. I believe there is a very real difference between what most people would consider to be a bit of banter and the specific targeting of an individual designed to cause fear, harm or offence.

"For instance, we now know that often trolls engaged in what academics have termed 'troll raids' whereby they 'meet' in an online forum to discuss when and how they will attack an individual or a group online. We need to look at whether social media sites and forums should fund a new watchdog, charged with specifically looking into reports of serious abuse in the same way that the Internet Watch Foundation is charged with looking into reports of online child abuse.

The public will expect to see progress on this issue and politicians need to provide a lead to address the growing phenomenon of trolling.





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