Online abuse a "ticking time bomb" says MP as Yorkshire Evening Post's "Call It Out" campaign raised in Parliament

A campaign spearheaded by the Yorkshire Evening Post has prompted a Parliamentary debate on the rising issue of abuse online.

Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 4:48 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 4:52 pm

The YEP's Call It Out campaign calls for tolerance online and raises awareness of the impact trolling and abuse on social media is having on people's mental health.

Halifax MP Holly Lynch has now raised the matter in Parliament off the back of a piece written by Piece Hall chief caretaker Nicky Chance-Thompson for the YEP on abuse she personally faced on social media.

In an article written as part of the campaign, Ms Chance-Thompson said "cowards hiding behind fake profiles" could say "anything they like", with little consequence for them or recourse for the victim.

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Halifax MP Holly Lynch

Speaking at the debate at Westminster Hall this afternoon (Wednesday), Labour MP Ms Lynch said the mounting case of hate and abuse online was a "ticking time bomb" for the public's mental health and urged for a Bill to be published setting out tougher restrictions.

She said Nicky's article proved to be the "catalyst for a broader initiative" agreeing a "constructive way forward" to tackle the issue.

The MP, who successfully campaigned for tougher sentences for those who abuse and assault police officers, compared the effects of online abuse faced consistently over time on public health to that of smoking.

She said: "We proactively fund stop smoking services, have school education programmes, and heavily regulate what is available to purchase and how it is advertised. We do that because we have recognised that smoking was having a detrimental impact on physical health and we invested, not only because it was the right thing to do, but because it was more cost effective to intervene rather than to allow so many people to become unwell as a consequence.

The Yorkshire Evening Post spearheaded the Call It Out campaign

"Now compare that to online abuse and hate and the impact that we know it is having on the well-being and mental health of society, but particularly young people. The question is, what are we doing about it?"

Her comments come as a survey of 14,000 girls and young women worldwide by organisation Plan International revealed that almost 60 per cent had experienced abuse online, with one in five curtailing their use of social media as a result.

Ms Lynch added that unless serious action was taken by online platforms and authorities, society would" look back on this period in history with disbelief and shame that we did nothing in the face of what can only be described as a public health ticking time bomb".

During the debate, issues such as anti-Semitism, coronavirus conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers and the abuse faced by journalists online were also discussed.

Abuse online is a "ticking time bomb" for public mental health, MP Holly Lynch has said

Andrew Percy, Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole, brought up the issue of anti-Semitism online and referenced a recent controversy over rapper Wiley, who posted a flurry of tweets directing hatred against Jewish people.

Misinformation around the Covid-19 pandemic was also raised in the debate, following action taken by Facebook and Twitter earlier this week to delete and hide a post from US President Donald Trump which claimed the virus was "less lethal" than flu.

A White Paper published last year revealed that nearly nine in ten UK adults and 99 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds are online, with the NSPCC estimating that in the first three months of 2020, online sex crimes recorded against children surpassed 100 a day – roughly one every 14 minutes.

Earlier this year, the Government appointed communications watchdog Ofcom as the regulator to enforce rules to make the internet a safer place.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, said at the time: "While the internet can be used to connect people and drive innovation, we know it can also be a hiding place for criminals, including paedophiles, to cause immense harm.

"It is incumbent on tech firms to balance issues of privacy and technological advances with child protection. That’s why it is right that we have a strong regulator to ensure social media firms fulfil their vital responsibility to vulnerable users."

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Laura Collins