Scotland’s most prominent female politicians have spoken out about the online abuse including death threats they receive as they backed a campaign to force Twitter to take action against social media trolls.
Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale have joined forces to support Amnesty’s new “ToxicTwitter” campaign, which highlights the online platform’s failure to prevent violence and abuse against women.
The SNP and Tory leaders and the former Scottish Labour leader have described the distress caused by the misogynist, homophobic, obscene and violent language directed towards them.
Along with other public figures, the three MSPs have shared videos of interviews in which they describe the appalling levels of abuse, which is often posted in the foulest terms imaginable.
Ms Dugdale said she had felt it necessary to report three death threats to the police including one post that suggested she should be “bayoneted”.
Ms Sturgeon said she believed action should be taken against sexist, racist or homophobic posts and spoke of her fear that the abuse is discouraging young women from entering politics. And Ms Davidson, as the first openly gay leader of a political party in the UK, has spoken about the importance of challenging the homophobic abuse she receives on Twitter.
A new “ToxicTwitter” report, compiled following interviews with more than 80 women including politicians, concludes that Twitter is failing to respect women’s rights.
The report warns the social media company that it must take steps to improve how it identifies, addresses and prevents violence and abuse against women.
The report found death threats, rape threats, racist abuse and sexist abuse were being made against public figures with MSPs, MPs and journalists identified as particular targets.
The survey for more than 1,000 British women also found that 78 per cent of those who expressed an opinion do not think the site is a place where they can share their opinion without receiving violence or abuse.
Ms Dugdale said: “There was one particular instance a few years ago now where somebody on Twitter suggested I should be bayoneted.
“That was the occasion that I went to the police. I believed that that could be perceived as a violent threat and I felt that it deserved some attention.
“Probably ten or 20 times a day I am scrolling through absolute mountains of abuse. There’s different levels of abuse and harassment within that spectrum, some of it very serious indeed.
“Three times in the six years I’ve been an elected politician I’ve felt it serious enough to report to the police. It’s definitely the case that I get more directly sexist commentary on Twitter and online from men although it’s not always exclusively men. In Scotland the phrase would be ‘daft wee lassie complex’. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about… she’s too young… too female to really understand what she’s going on about.”
A selection of tweets about Ms Sturgeon included threats to “lynch” her, threats of sexual violence and four-letter terms of abuse. The First Minister said: “Online abuse is unacceptable for women in politics, just as it’s unacceptable for a woman anywhere to suffer that kind of abuse. If there are any comments about any politician that cross that line and become threatening or sexist racist or homophobic I think it is appropriate to take action.”
Ms Davidson said the “sheer volume” of abuse made politicians feel “hunted”. She quoted a study involving Cambridge University and Stonewall which found that online abuse had been linked to self-harming and suicide attempts in young people. The Scottish Tory leader said: “I have a lot of young gay followers on my Twitter, and for me it’s important to call that out….Every now and again, every month or so, I’ll retweet or push back on some of the homophobic abuse [because] I think it’s important that people see that sort of language is not acceptable – you don’t have to take it.”