New research detailing the increasing levels of online abuse directed towards politicians sadly comes as little surprise but the widespread nature of such intimidation makes it even more unacceptable.
Findings from the University of Sheffield have shown a substantial increase in the amount of abuse directed towards parliamentary candidates in the 2017 general election compared to the 2015 vote, with many of those responsible setting up ‘throwaway’ Twitter accounts for the specific purpose of sending threatening and offensive messages.
While it is a fundamental part of democracy that the decisions of our politicians are subjected to scrutiny and there will be times when voters disagree with them, the vast majority of MPs are hard-working, honest individuals who genuinely want to make things better for the communities they represent and have done nothing to warrant being targets of such hatred.
The issue is particularly pertinent in this region. Following the murder of Jo Cox in 2016, one in four Yorkshire MPs revealed they had received death threats or abuse in the previous three years. This year, it was revealed Rotherham MP Sarah Champion was given additional police protection after getting death threats in response to comments she made about the involvement of British Pakistani men in child sexual exploitation.
The situation has worrying implications for democracy. If current or prospective MPs who would otherwise have an important contribution to make to society are dissuaded from standing for election because they, for entirely legitimate reasons, do not wish to subjected to such intimidation, our standards of democratic representation will suffer. The bleak reality is it is already likely to be happening as people decide a political career is simply not worth their while.