MPs in trouble: PM urged to enact “David’s Law” over Sir David Amess’ murder
November 4, 2021
3 min read
What's going on here?
In the wake of the murder of MP Sir David Amess, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to “toughen up” the Online Safety Bill currently being scrutinised by Parliament.
What does this mean?
What's the big picture effect?
Amess’ murder comes just five years after the death of Labour MP Jo Cox, killed by a far-right extremist in 2016. These events have seen an outpour of MPs coming forward with concerns for their own safety. Sir David himself had even directly expressed such concerns in a book he wrote last year where he disclosed that he had frequently been sent anonymous online abuse as he called for an urgent update in the current law.
While the motives of the MPs campaigning for ending individuals’ right to anonymity are honourable, their practical implications of such a measure are concerning. Removing the right to online anonymity could place many individuals at risk such as whistle-blowers, pro-democracy dissidents in authoritarian states and victims of domestic abuse. For activist groups such as the Women of Belarus and pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, online anonymity can be lifesaving. Hiding behind pseudonyms allows such individuals to alert others of malpractice and criminal behaviour. Without the benefit of anonymity, restrictions are placed on the freedom of speech of these groups, forced to use their real identities and risking exposure to persecution or harm.
Furthermore, studies have proven that many online trolls actually have few qualms about shedding their cloaks of anonymity when sending abuse. An investigation by Twitter in the aftermath of the abuse of England footballers after the Euros 2020 found that ID verification “would have been unlikely” to stop such abusers as 99% of their accounts were not anonymous.
The parliamentary committee currently scrutinising the Bill is expected to report its findings to the government in December this year. It remains to be seen whether it is possible for a balance to be struck between the right of individuals’ freedom of speech and the right of MPs to feel safe.
Report written by Lucy Reynolds
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