As arguments over Brexit rage, the tide of online hatred is starting to inundate real-life public discourse with women a particular target, writes Ayesha Hazarika.
I always love a trip to Glasgow. Especially for the old banter with the black cab drivers which tends to be much funnier and lighter than the usual London rant about Brexit and Sadiq Khan.
On my way to Glasgow airport last week, I was chatting away to a very nice driver who had been nothing but charming until we started talking about politics. I (stupidly) asked him what he thought of our political leaders.
“Alex Salmond – chancer. Nicola Sturgeon – chancer. Jeremy Corbyn – clown. And as for that Gina Miller – I want to see her hung and swinging from a lamppost ... stupid bitch.”
It all went a bit quiet after that.
This type of aggression is not just on the rise, but it’s part and parcel of how we discuss our politics. You can’t just disagree with someone. You can’t debate policies or ideas using facts, evidence or history.
No. You have to call them thick, evil, demonise them, then call them a traitor.
It also helps to find something really personal about them or their family to attack them about – their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, appearance or disability. Demanding they go home is also good one. And the icing on the cake is a physical threat of some kind.
It helps if it’s a woman you’re attacking, as you can always terrorise her with sexual violence like a rape threat or good old-fashioned murder. Welcome to Britain in 2019. Don’t you feel a warm glow?
I read vile things online on a daily basis. About myself and about other female politicians, writers and pretty much any woman in the public eye with an opinion.
But it feels like there’s a level of menace which risks moving from our screens into real life – as we saw with the murder of Jo Cox in 2016 by a right-wing extremist.
Women of all political stripes get abuse. Diane Abbott is the most targeted female politician and most of her abuse is violent, racist and sexist. Anna Soubry was physically intimidated and abused outside Parliament by protesters because of her stance on opposing Brexit.
The same men also threatened left-wing commentator Owen Jones. A man was arrested earlier this month for alleged death threats against Yvette Cooper.
And of course, we have seen the shameful anti-semitic and political abuse of Jewish MP Luciana Berger, which has resulted in three men being jailed for threats in separate cases over the last three years. One sent her a message saying she “would get it like Jo Cox”.
And it’s not just high-profile MPs. Female councillors are also subject to harassment and often don’t feel safe during their surgeries. Recent research from Sheffield University found that online abuse of MPs more than doubled between 2015 and 2017.
I get that people are engaged, passionate and indeed furious about a whole range of political, economic and social issues from Brexit to austerity to Scottish independence.
It’s good for people to care about issues, but we are also becoming a country which can only seem to communicate in ways which are hateful, venal and aggressive.
And what becomes normalised online risks bleeding into real life, especially if you’re a woman with a view. And that scares me, as it should us all.