by Rowena Mason
17 December 2015
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Sexist online abuse should become as outdated and unacceptable as making jokes about domestic violence, Labour’s Yvette Cooper has said.
The MP, who is backing a campaign called Reclaim the Internet, said institutions, political parties and social media platforms should not tolerate aggressive misogynist behaviour by their members.
She compared it to the struggle in past decades to ensure domestic violence is taken seriously. She said the most serious cases of online threats and abuse that amount to stalking must be reported to the police.
Cooper said membership organisations had a role to play in making clear that lower level online abuse is also tackled, using warning systems and even expulsions.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “If you think about what happened in the debate about domestic violence 20, 30 years ago, it was still acceptable to make a joke about slapping your wife. It’s not now. There is a challenge for institutions, social media platforms and political parties.”
She said there was a particular danger that women’s voices would drop out of online debate if they were continually targeted.
In an article for the Guardian, Cooper raised the cases of Kate Smurthwaite, a comedian who received 2,000 abusive tweets for objecting when a men’s rights activist called her “darling” in a TV debate; the historian Mary Beard, who received hundreds of messages attacking her appearance; and Emily Grossman, a scientist who received so many hostile tweets when she talked about sexism in her profession that she took a break from social media.
However, she also highlighted the less publicised plight of online abuse against some female social media users who are not public figures. “I’ve heard stories of teenagers who have stopped going into college, women who have withdrawn from social media or been forced to change their work after being bombarded with online attacks,” she said.