Female politicians speak out over Twitter abuse

Media caption,
Campaign targets toxic social media abuse

Scotland's three most prominent female politicians have backed calls for Twitter to clamp down on online abuse against women.

Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale said they had received death and rape threats on the social media platform.

They are supporting an Amnesty International campaign which claims Twitter has become toxic for women.

Twitter says it disagrees with the human rights group's conclusions.

The company said it "cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society", and explained it had made more than 30 changes to its platform in the past 16 months to improve safety, including increasing the instances of action it takes on abusive tweets.

Amnesty's #ToxicTwitter campaign has been launched as Twitter celebrates the 12th anniversary of the first tweet being sent.

It includes a report, compiled from interviews with more than 80 women, which details the shocking nature of violence and abuse they are receiving on Twitter, including death threats, rape threats and racist, transphobic and homophobic abuse.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Women who use campaign hashtags such as #metoo are often singled out for abuse

Amnesty said public figures, MSPs, MPs and journalists are often particular targets.

But people who are not in the public eye also experience abuse, especially if they speak out about issues such as sexism and use campaign hashtags.

'Goes unchecked'

The charity's Scottish director, Kate Nevens, said Twitter had originally been a "vital source of news" but had now descended into a place where women receive threats of rape, extreme violence, and even death as well as abuse related to their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

She added: "Our video interviews with Scottish political leaders and activists illustrate just how toxic some of the abuse they receive is - abuse which largely goes unchecked.

"In the last year, we have seen a wave of online solidarity and activism from women and men around the world - much of it powered by social media platforms such as Twitter but the impact of the #MeToo or #TimesUp movements will be limited if women fear speaking out in the wake of abuse."

Here's what Ms Sturgeon, Ms Davidson and Ms Dugdale had to say about their own experiences.

Image source, Amnesty International

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister

Ms Sturgeon, a regular user of Twitter, says she believes social media has increased political engagement and has largely been a force for good overall.

But she said it had also given people who want to hurl abuse a means of doing so that they had never had in the past.

She said there was undoubtedly a gender element to the abuse women in politics receive, ranging from abuse about how they look and what they wear to threats of violence.

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Ms Sturgeon regularly receives threats of violence on Twitter

The first minister said: "If there are any comments about any politician that cross that line and become not just abusive but threatening or sexist, racist, homophobic, then I think it is appropriate to take action.

"What makes me angry when I read that kind of abuse about me is I worry it is putting the next generation of young women off politics.

"So I feel a responsibility to challenge it not so much on my own behalf, but on behalf of young women out there who are looking at what people say about me and thinking they don't want to ever be in that position."

Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative leader

Ms Davidson said the sheer volume of abuse can sometimes make her feel "hunted" online.

She added: "Because I'm openly gay there was a lot of homophobic abuse. I have a lot of young gay followers on my Twitter, and for me it's important to call that out."

Ms Davidson said it was important for people to see that the use of that kind of language is unacceptable, and that "you don't have to take it".

She said: "Just because you're saying something on a keyboard and not to someone's face doesn't mean it doesn't matter - it does and it can have a huge impact on people."

Image source, Amnesty International

Kezia Dugdale, former Scottish Labour leader

Ms Dugdale said she has reported three online death threats to police in previous years, including one post which said she should be "bayoneted".

But she said female politicians were also subjected to "daft wee lassie complex" - suggestions that they don't know what they're talking about because they are too young and too female to really understand what is going on.

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Ms Dugdale highlighted the prevalence of what she calls "daft wee lassie complex"

Ms Dugdale said: "First thing I do when I wake up in the morning is look at Twitter and it's more often than not the last thing I do before I go to sleep because it's the best means by which to consume breaking news, political commentary, and to see what people that you follow think of those events.

"You have to tune into that to find out what's happening or you'll find yourself out of touch with the news very quickly.

"If I were to show you my Twitter mention column just now, 90% of it would be abuse. I have to look at that every time to scroll through the good stuff trying to find those people who are genuinely trying to engage on an issue or ask a question about the substance on something you've raised in the Scottish Parliament."