NICOLA Sturgeon has vowed to tackle the so-called “cybernats” who direct online abuse against the SNP’s opponents, as she warned that party members who “cross the line” will face disciplinary action.
The First Minister said that it is “not acceptable” for people to use social media to “threaten violence, or hurl vile abuse, or seek to silence the voice of others through intimidation”.
Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond have faced repeated calls to take action against after a number of incidents that included an SNP member being suspended from the party after directing foul-mouthed homophobic online abuse at Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.
A number of high-profile Scots, including Harry Potter author JK Rowling and cycling star Sir Chris Hoy have been targeted on the web in recent years for stating their views on issues.
However, Ms Sturgeon said her party would take action against members if postings on social media breached the party’s code of conduct or online guidance as she pledged a zero-tolerance approach to any abuse.
The stark warning came after Neil Hay, the SNP candidate in Edinburgh South, described unionists as “quislings’’ - a word which originates from the name of a wartime Nazi collaborator - on his “Paco McSheepie’’ Twitter account.
Mr Hay, who also mocked elderly voters, was one of the few SNP candidates not elected in May, with Labour’s Ian Murray holding the seat in last month’s election. Ms Sturgeon said: “When tweets or postings from SNP members that cross the line are brought to our attention, we will act - as we have done before.
“That is why I am making clear today that the SNP will take steps to warn those whose behaviour falls short of the standards we expect.
“We will tell them to raise their standards of debate, to stick to issues not personalities, and to ensure robust and passionate debate takes precedence over abuse and intemperate language.
“I am also making clear that where appropriate we will take disciplinary action. In the SNP we have a code of conduct and online guidance for our members. Where that code is broken, members should have no doubt that we will use our disciplinary processes.”
Ms Sturgeon has faced calls at Holyrood from opposition leaders to crack down on the perpetrators of online abuse in her party following a series of well-publicised cases.
Rowling, a Labour supporter who donated money to the anti-independence campaign, has been branded a “traitor to Scotland’’ and “Blairite scum’’.
In the run-up to the referendum, Sir Chris was called “a traitor’’ and a “typical Scots Tory naysayer’’ after he spoke out about the lack of training facilities in Scotland.
Tennis star Andy Murray was also subjected to online abuse last year, after he declared his support for the Yes campaign in the independence referendum.
On the day of the vote, he tweeted it was a “huge day for Scotland” and said: “Let’s do this!’’
A user on social networking site Twitter responded: “Wish u had been killed at Dunblane, you miserable anti-British hypocritical little git. Your life will be a misery from now on.’’
Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said yesterday: “Something should have been done long ago and while it’s good that Nicola Sturgeon has taken a stand, my experience is that this abuse still goes on and that the monster may be out of control.”