Twitter faces inquiry over internet trolls’ rape threats against MPs and activist, as man is arrested

Representatives from social media company expected to be called by Commons committee over threats of sexual violence against women

Sarah Morrison
Wednesday 31 July 2013 14:23
Stella Creasy MP, left, was threatened after she supported the campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, right
Stella Creasy MP, left, was threatened after she supported the campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, right

Executives from Twitter are likely to face tough questioning by MPs after users of the microblogging website allegedly threatened to rape two MPs and a feminist campaigner.

John Whittingdale, the chairman of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said senior staff from the social media platform were likely to be summoned in the autumn, when the committee debates the issue of harmful online content as part of its child protection inquiry.

His comments came as Twitter faced further pressure to take tougher action against “trolls” who use the site to violently or sexually threaten other users. Scotland Yard has launched an inquiry into abuse directed at the MPs Stella Creasy and Claire Perry, and the activist Caroline Criado Perez.

A 21-year-old man from Manchester has been arrested and bailed until September on suspicion of harassing Ms Criado-Perez, who successfully campaigned to have the author Jane Austen’s portrait placed on the Bank of England’s new £10 note. And a 25-year-old man was arrested in South Shields for allegedly harassing Ms Perez, the Conservative MP for Devizes, and Ms Creasy, the Labour Co-operative MP for Walthamstow, who spoke out in support of Ms Criado-Perez’s campaign.

Mr Whittingdale said it was “very possible” that the committee would want to talk to Twitter in the course of its inquiry. “It isn’t that the law needs to be changed: the question is how you identify people and how you prevent them [from abusing others online],” he said. “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. I think that’s a very live issue.”

Twitter plans to include within every tweet a button for reporting abuse – a feature already available on its mobile application. Its director of trust and safety, Del Harvey, said it was “not blind to the reality that there will always be people using Twitter in ways that are abusive and may harm others”. She added: “[Our] rules explicitly bar direct, specific threats of violence against others and use of our service for unlawful purposes, for which users may be suspended when reported.”

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