West Yorkshire MPs express safety fears as they call out online abuse and violent death threats

Two West Yorkshire MPs have spoken out on the explicit abuse and violent threats they have received online.

By Abbey Maclure
Monday, 20th July 2020, 4:45 pm

Alex Sobel, Labour MP for North West Leeds, recalled facing hundreds of disturbing comments after making an emotional speech in Parliament on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2018.

Mr Sobel, who is Jewish, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “The comments were horrendous, absolutely horrendous. Huge amounts of antisemitism, I got personally blamed for the murder of Palestinian children when I’m actually an opponent of the current Israeli government.

"Twitter is particularly bad, you put something out and you get bombarded with comments. Often you have to step away from it to protect your mental health.

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MP Andrea Jenkyns has received violent threats including a message to 'kill herself' at her constituency office

"Other times you feel like defending your position and it’s a judgement call what you do.”

After receiving death threats Mr Sobel has taken several steps to protect himself online, including muting hateful accounts and never sharing the location of his community visits until he is leaving.

Mr Sobel added: "People will just attack you for anything. There have been some cases where people have responded to my tweets with threats of physical violence.

"If it’s a one-off you generally ignore it, but if it’s a pattern you are concerned that it might be more than some keyboard warrior.

MP Alex Sobel faced hundreds of disturbing comments after making an emotional speech in Parliament on Holocaust Memorial Day

"Thankfully I’ve not been physically assaulted by anybody, but we all live in the context of what happened to Jo Cox. That is in the back of our minds.

"People think social media has no real-life consequences, that it’s just people sitting behind their keyboard at home and nothing will ever happen.

"But in West Yorkshire, we’ve got a very real-life sign that the absolute worst thing can happen and that social media and the internet have a big role to play in that."

Andrea Jenkyns, Conservative MP for Morley and Outwood and Deputy Chairwoman of the European Research Group, has faced a torrent of online abuse including explicit rape threats.

Andrea worries about the impact of online abuse on her son, pictured here at nine months, as he grows up

She has received threats of physical violence and graffiti has been sprayed on her constituency office telling her to 'kill herself'.

Ms Jenkyns said: "I used to take my toddler to community events on my own, it has made me really nervous to do stuff like that.

"I’m quite broad-shouldered and I think you need to be in politics, but when people start telling you to kill yourself it’s getting beyond people just ranting, it’s horrible."

Ms Jenkyns has noticed an increase in threats and abuse towards MPs over the last three years and said it has changed the way she approaches the job.

The Yorkshire Evening Post's Call It Out campaign is sharing real life experiences of abusive online behaviour

Her office has installed an intercom and she has had to increase security measures at her home.

Ms Jenykns added: "We need to call out these people to show that it’s not acceptable. Why should we put up with it?

"When you’re in the public eye it’s very sad that in the end you expect it. It shouldn’t be the new normal in politics.

"I worry about the impact on young people and think of my little boy growing up - that's not a society to grow up in.

"It can have an impact on the mental health of anybody, I’ve seen how constituents are abused on social media. It’s unacceptable, it’s against people of all walks of life this is happening to.

"The media, politicians, the general public, charities - everyone needs to pull together and stamp this out.”

The Yorkshire Evening Post's Call It Out campaign is sharing real life experiences of abusive online behaviour and asking our readers to help play their part in reporting it to account admins, social media platforms and, where needed, the police.

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