POLICE have arrested two men in connection with rape threats made on the social-media website Twitter to a leading feminist campaigner and Labour MPs.
The developments last night came as a Commons committee signalled its intention to call in bosses from Twitter to explain why they have failed to tackle so-called “trolls” who anonymously target victims with abusive messages on their site.
A 21-year-old man in South Shields, Tyneside, and a 25-year-old man from the Northumbria Police area were arrested over threats to rape Labour Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and Caroline Criado-Perez, who ran a successful campaign to get
author Jane Austen depicted on £10 notes.
A Tory MP, Claire Perry, who has been advising Prime Minister David Cameron on tackling internet porn, has revealed she has also been subject to serious online abuse.
Last night, Ms Criado-Perez, 29, said the social network was ill-equipped to handle episodes of sustained abuse and needed to work more closely with police to deal with trolls.
Ms Criado-Perez met Twitter directors along with Ms Creasy, who received a similar torrent of abusive messages after she offered support to the freelance journalist. “This will have been a wake-up call for Twitter,” Ms Criado Perez said. She added: “It will hopefully have led them to realise that they are not equipped to deal with this kind of thing properly. They need to get a grip and figure it out.”
The campaigner, who received assurances that Twitter is working to improve its procedures for reporting menacing behaviour, said the police also needed to “step up”.
“We had a positive conversation about making reporting quicker, simpler and more focused on getting results for the victim,” she added.
The uproar led Culture Committee chairman John Whittingdale to announce a hearing into Twitter and other social media networks where abuse takes place.
He said: “I would have thought it very possible the committee might want, in the course of our inquiry, to talk to Twitter.” He added: “It isn’t that the law needs to be changed: the question is how you identify people and how you prevent them [abusing others online].
“That is the big question and it is one we would wish to explore with internet companies to determine whether they are doing as much as they can or whether they should do more.”
The row prompted Tory MP Ms Perry to reveal the extent of the abuse she had received on Twitter. The Devizes MP wrote: “I am tempted to shut down my Twitter account given the trolling going on incl. to me – but that would be giving in.”
Twitter has announced plans to include a button for reporting abuse within every tweet – something already available on its iPhone app.
A Twitter spokeswoman said: “We value the feedback from users and are testing ways of simplifying the reporting process, including a roll-out of in-tweet reporting beyond the iPhone app and mobile web.
“We have processes in place for working with law enforcement and are in communication with the police, as well as the affected parties.”
But critics argue this does not go far enough, only directing users to the existing reporting form which, they claim, is too long and impractical.
A change.org petition calling for Twitter to beef up reporting procedures had drawn more than 80,000 signatures by yesterday afternoon.
Scottish Labour MPs Gemma Doyle and Pamela Nash have also both had to block Twitter trolls. Ms Doyle said: “The violent threats and abuse levelled at Stella Creasy and Caroline Criado-Perez are shocking and despicable. Twitter have been slow to respond but any threats of this sort, no matter how or where they are made, should be investigated by the police.
“Unfortunately, some people abuse the anonymity platforms like Twitter provide but all users should seek to treat people with the same decency online as they would face-to-face.”
Ms Nash added: “The threatening messages I have seen directed at colleagues and campaigners have disgusted me. This is not a bit of banter and it is not harmless. The threat of sexual violence is used to frighten and upset people and it should not be tolerated.”
Attacks up by 10 per cent in a year
COURTS in England and Wales dealt with more than 1,700 cases involving offensive or menacing messages sent online and by mobile phones in 2012, a 10 per cent increase on the year before.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there had already been 597 cases at magistrates’ courts from January to May this year. Last year, 1,716 cases reached the first hearing stage at magistrates’ courts, up from 1,537 in 2011.
The CPS did not say how many cases, which included e-mails, text messages and social media messages, resulted in a successful prosecution.
The figures were released after the BBC made a Freedom of Information request in light of the alleged threats made against Caroline Criado-Perez.