A politics of online abuse

We have seen a marked rise in online abuse of women and minorities in public life in recent years. Aimee Challenor, the Green Party's Equalities Spokesperson, speaks about her experiences of online intimidation at the last election

Over the last few years, politics has grown increasingly divided, with politicians, candidates and supporters on all sides taking to using personal attacks and divisive rhetoric.

During last year’s General Election, this intimidation and abuse reached such a level that the Committee on Standards in Public Life was asked to conduct a review of the intimidation to which parliamentary candidates, especially women, ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT community, were subjected.

Candidates that are female, BAME or LGBT are disproportionately targeted in terms of scale, intensity and vitriol. The intimidation experienced by those who fit into more than one of these groups can be even worse.

In September last year, I gave evidence to the Committee on behalf of the Green Party. I spoke at the time about
the abuse I had received during the election period, and answered questions asked by the committee about what we in the Greens think needs to be done about the issue of intimidation, as well as what we are already doing.

I was personally affected by intimidation and abuse during the election campaign, largely because I am an openly transgender person in politics. I received tweets or direct messages calling me a ‘delusional child-abusing freak’. I had people telling me to kill myself and comments saying: ‘Zero debate needed, just point and laugh hysterically. This
**** needs bullying’. It was scary and overwhelming receiving comments like these on a daily basis during the campaign. At times, my mental health suffered as a result. It is clear that there should be greater support available to candidates, especially those from diverse backgrounds.

The Committee’s report was published in December and made a number of recommendations for a number of sectors, from political parties to social media companies. The work of the Green Party Liberation Groups, such as Greens of Colour, LGBTIQA+ Greens, and Green Party Women, was praised and highlighted as good practice to support candidates from different backgrounds. If left without the necessary support, members from these groups may choose to withdraw from public life due to the intimidation and abuse they have suffered.

Commenting on the findings and recommendations of December’s report, the Chair of the Committee Lord Bew said: “Intimidation of parliamentary candidates does not just affect those who receive it directly, it affects all of us.
It affects the volunteers, supporters, staff and families; it affects those who are considering standing for public offices, particularly if they are women, LGBT or from a religious or ethnic minority background. And it threatens the core democratic freedoms that all of us enjoy: the freedom to speak and the freedom to participate in public life.”

It is clear from the last election, and from the report’s conclusions, that there is plenty more we can be doing in the Green Party to combat this rise in intimidation. A few of these actions need to be taken urgently before the local elections in May, while others should be done by the end of the year. For example, we need to ensure there is a process available for people who aren’t members of the Green Party to make complaints about Green Party members, we need to act quicker on complaints and we need to provide better support for candidates who are victims of intimidation or abuse. We can, and indeed need to, act on this, to bring about a safer and more respectful politics in the UK.


You can read the full report on Intimidation in Public Life at http://bit.ly/CSPLIntimidation

Aimee’s evidence to the Committee is available at http://bit. ly/GreenIntimidation