Mrs May will warn that public debate has become coarser, particularly onlineShe will confirm that a social media code of practice will be published this year But the PM will also praise the "enormous strides we have taken as a society"By Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For...
- Mrs May will warn that public debate has become coarser, particularly online
- She will confirm that a social media code of practice will be published this year
- But the PM will also praise the ‘enormous strides we have taken as a society’
Online abuse and bullying is driving women out of public life, Theresa May warned today ahead of a speech to mark 100 years since women won the vote.
The Prime Minister said there had been an increase in ‘aggressive’ politics in recent years and confirmed her plans to review the law to protect candidates.
Mrs May told the BBC‘s Woman’s Hour that women on both sides of the divide had been subject to campaigns of abuse and problem was not confined to any political tradition.
In her speech later, Mrs May will warn that social media giants are undermining British democracy by allowing ‘intimidation’ online.
And she will say that what is illegal offline ‘should also be illegal online’ and urge social media companies to do more to take down abusive material.
Online abuse and bullying is driving women out of public life, Theresa May warned today on BBC’s Woman’s Hour (pictured with host Jenni Murray) ahead of a speech to mark 100 years since women won the vote
Theresa May (pictured centre in purple today) posed with women from both the Commons and Lords in the Central Lobby of Parliament today
Ahead of the event in Manchester the Prime Minister told the BBC’s Woman’s Hour: ‘We have very sadly seen an increase in what I would say is a sort of aggressive attitude in politics, which means that I think we do, and we have seen increased intimidation of candidates, parliamentary candidates, most often focused on women.
‘And that’s why I think it’s right that we are consulting on a new offence of intimidation of parliamentary candidates and campaigners.
‘I think we also see, sadly, women often suffering from bullying and harassment on social media.
‘And this is across the political spectrum. You know, in my party Esther McVey has particularly suffered from this but Luciana Berger on the Labour benches has suffered from this.
‘I think we need to just step back and say that sadly this is, will lead, I think is leading to some women feeling that they don’t want to put their head above the parapet, they don’t want to take part in public life.’
Mrs May said women on both sides of the divide – highlighting Tory Esther McVey (left) and Labour’s Luciana Berger (right) – had been subject to campaigns of abuse
The PM will praise the ‘enormous strides we have taken as a society’.
But she will warn that public debate has become coarser and embittered, with the worst excesses found online.
She told her Cabinet this morning that online bullying is having a negative impact on young people which is ‘hugely worrying’.
Recounting discussions in Downing Street this morning, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet also discussed the Government’s digital charter which aims to make Britain both the best pace to start a digital business and the safest place in the world to be online.
Theresa May (pictured outside No 10 today) discussed plans to make Britain the safest place to be online in the world with her cabinet at No10 this morning
‘A number of Cabinet ministers said that social media companies must do more to tackle online bullying harassment and intimidation as well a terrorist an extremist content.
‘The Prime Minister said the impact which online bullying was having on young people and their mental health was hugely worrying.
Royal Mail marks 100 years of women’s vote with special stamp set
The eight stamps, available from February 15, feature photographs including a parade of women carrying posters in around 1907, a 1908 Suffragette protest, and the release from jail of the first Suffragette window smashers, Mary Leigh and Edith New.
The Royal Mail said: ‘We are proud to mark the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act [which gave] women the opportunity to have their voices heard.’
‘The Prime Minister will set out in speech’ the action we will be taking to tackle abusive and offensive behaviour on social media and taking the issue of what is illegal offline should also be illegal online.’
The PM will announce a new annual transparency report to expose the worst firms for failing to tackle the problem.
Officials will publish data on the scale of harmful content which is reported to different companies, how much is removed and how quickly. Firms will also be measured on how well they respond to complaints.
Mrs May will also confirm that a social media code of practice will be published later this year setting out what ‘minimum standards’ they should conform to.
Speaking in Manchester – the birthplace of Emmeline Pankhurst – the Prime Minister will praise the women who ‘transformed British democracy’.
‘Those who fought to establish their right – my right, every woman’s right – to vote in elections, to stand for office and to take their full and rightful place in public life did so in the face of fierce opposition,’ she will say.
But Mrs May will also warn that to protect democracy, social media must be a force for good, saying: ‘I worry that our public debate today is coarsening. That for some it is becoming harder to disagree, without also demeaning opposing viewpoints in the process.
‘In the face of what is a threat to our democracy, I believe that all of us – individuals, governments, and media old and new – must accept our responsibility to help sustain a genuinely pluralist public debate for the future… A tone of bitterness and aggression has entered into our public debate.’
The PM will also say that those who participate in public life, including candidates, elected politicians and journalists, face ‘regular and sustained abuse’ which is disproportionately aimed at women, ethnic minorities and gay people.
She will say it ‘can have the perverse effect of putting off participation from those who are not prepared to tolerate the levels of abuse which exist’.
The Royal Mail will mark 100 years of the women’s vote with a set of eight special stamps
Mrs May will tell social networks to do more to confront intimidation in public life. At the very least they should be tracking down persistently abusive users.
The code of conduct will insist on robust guidelines to cover material posted online and how users report harmful content.
Separately, the Law Commission will examine digital laws to ensure ‘that the criminal law, which was drafted long before the creation of social media platforms, is appropriate to meet the challenges posed by this new technology’.
Last month Facebook admitted that the ‘toxic discourse’ on its site was damaging democracy.
Executives confessed that social media had become a vehicle for fake news and ‘dishonest campaigns’ designed to drive society apart and undermine elections.
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