'Abuse should never be part of democracy' - MP backs YEP's Call It Out campaign

They say a week is a long time in the world of politics.

By Laura Collins
Saturday, 10th October 2020, 4:45 pm

But over the last five years Labour MP Holly Lynch has had a front row seat to some of the fiercest debates to rage across the country.

From the controversial air strikes in Syria through to the contentious Brexit vote – these issues have had the power to split and divide a nation.

And that debate has been further heightened by the power of social media.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Over the last five years Labour MP Holly Lynch has had a front row seat to some of the fiercest debates to rage across the country.

Before social media a strongly worded letter or a conversation during a routine MP’s surgery would be the way that politicians could test the mood of their constituents.

But now it is all too easy at the click of the button to temperature check that debate.

While that debate is vital for a democracy to thrive, there is also a fine line between freedom of expression and hate, which is why the Halifax MP is leading the charge to clean up the internet.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post Ms Lynch said: “The last five years have been difficult for the country to go through and they have evoked a strong feeling within people.

The YEP launched its Call It Out campaign to tackle online abuse earlier this year.

“On the back of that comes lots of online abuse and dealing with threats.

“It has been a really serious time for the country that has required us to come together.”

And, while social media can provide a platform to join forces like never before, Ms Lynch is all too aware of the dark side of the internet.

“Almost all MPs will have lived experience of some of the worst types of threats you can go through,” she said.

This week saw Ms Lynch powerfully speak about the impact of social abuse and continue her quest to hold the Government to account for its Online Harms Bill. Picture: Shutterstock

“When you’re elected as a politician you know that it is about transparency and openness as people will challenge your decisions – that’s part of a healthy democracy and you need to be prepared and accept that.”

But she expresses a real concern that many young people, in particular young women, will be put off from entering the political sphere or put themselves in the public eye because of the abuse online.

She said: “We see more and more people who have a great deal to contribute, but don’t want to enter into politics or life in the public eye in any way because they worry they wouldn’t be able to put up with online abuse.

“When I go into schools and children talk to us about this, it’s clear my generation has a real responsibility to sort this out and to attract the brightest and the best to be the next politicians.

“Politics should be available for anyone but I fear so many will be put off. It’s at the point where you have to say enough is enough and it’s really important for the future of a healthy democracy that we find ways of restricting that abuse that has no place in democracy.”

She adds: “People are of different opinions and challenging those opinions are part of the job – that’s democracy.

“But that can stray into abuse and threats on social media and that should never be part of democracy.

“We need safe spaces for those discussions.”

And that is what has spurred the MP to lead a team to look at how to tackle the threat of online harms.

She was approached by the chief executive of the Piece Hall in Halifax, Nicky Chance-Thompson, about the abuse she faced on social media.

Ms Chance-Thompson, who is also the deputy lieutenant for West Yorkshire, has backed the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Call It Out campaign and, as part of that, she spoke about the pressing need to tackle abuse.

Ms Chance-Thompson said: “It’s time to speak up and take action – the silence is killing people.”And that quote really stuck with Ms Lynch. She has worked alongside Ms Chance-Thompson to pull together a working group from across all sectors to drill down into the issue.

Among those supporting her are Stop Funding Hate, the Conscious Advertisers network and Journalism Without Borders alongside the editors of the Yorkshire Evening Post and our sister title The Yorkshire Post.

Ms Lynch said: “We have all shared personal lived experiences.

“We are all adults who have jobs in the public eye.

“Our opinions and decisions will come under a degree of scrutiny and we accept that.

“But it’s tough for us as adults to deal with the abuse on social media that comes with this.

“So then when you think about children and vulnerable adults that are subjected to some of the worst horrors of the internet without any online filters to protect them.

“We really have got a moral obligation to sort this out and protect the next generation from this online abuse which can take so many forms.”

And she was incredibly touched by the support she received from colleagues and different organisations who shared the strength of feeling about getting a grip on the issue.

Ms Lynch said: “I was absolutely overwhelmed to secure the debate and so many organisations got in touch to share their research and evidence, such was the strength of feeling and support for much tougher regulation of the internet. Having secured the debate I was then approached by the Petitions Committee with four petitions attached which were signed by more than 500,000 people.”

Another approach the work group is undertaking is looking at piling pressure on advertisers.

“We all enjoy social media when it works well and we want our young people to enjoy it too but it needs to be a safe space and at the moment it’s not,” she added.

“We need society as a whole to we want to go in a different direction now. We’ve still got a long journey ahead of us but we’re taking the right steps.”

A message from the Editor:

Leeds has a fantastic story to tell - and the Yorkshire Evening Post has been rooted firmly at the heart of telling the stories of our city since 1890. We believe in ourselves and hope you believe in us too. We need your support to help ensure we can continue to be at the heart of life in Leeds.Subscribe to our website and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe. For more details on our newspaper subscription offers click here.