Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley, received around 5,000 abusive posts on Twitter this Bank Holiday weekend after she joined Yvette Cooper and Maria Miller (chair of the Women and Equalities Committee) to launch a cross-party campaign against online bullying called 'Reclaim The Internet'. The campaign highlights while the internet must be a forum for freedom of speech, that also means that every voice should matter, and that noone should be silenced by abuse online. In her own words, this is what happened next.
'I like lively debate. I'm not the shrinking violet and I've been known to throw snarky shade at people I disagree with. Politics is a game of rough and tumble - if you don't like people hating you, I'd suggest it's not your bag, perhaps a career in floristry or long distance lorry driving might suit you better.
I expect people to slag me off on the internet, on the telly, in newspapers and magazines. I do not expect, over the course of one day (and a bank holiday to boot) for thousands of people to send me messages, emails and make videos delighting in musing over whether they would rape me or not. Call me old fashioned.
Now, for the third time, in only one short year since I was elected to parliament, have I been hit with a tsunami of abuse. On each occasion, every hour hundreds of messages pour in to my Twitter mentions, some seeping out to my email. To block and report all of those retweeting, favouriting or joining in the debate with their own unique (they are never unique) little message would be a full time job. When an online "dog-piling" starts, there is nothing you can do but wait for the storm to pass.
People often misunderstand the point of this torrent of abuse. The people doing it, especially the people starting it, use frequency as their weapon. The things they say are violent and offensive, but in a world where increasing traffic is king, it is volume that breeds and ends the argument. I cannot respond, I cannot communicate with anyone, I cannot speak because all I can see is message after message along the lines of: "I wouldn't rape you even with someone else's dick." Anyone who interacts with me in support will have their timeline poisoned. One bloke who tried to stand up for me this week sent me a private message asking me when the abuse would stop. He had been forced to delete his original tweet in support for me and was up to 150 messages from the pack in an hour. My only response was to wearily tell him, it might take a few days.
So how do I cope? Simple, I put down my phone, put my iPad in a drawer and carry on living my life. On the most recent occasion of harassment I think people thought I was devastated, sat endlessly wading through the bile. In fact, I was drinking margaritas in my garden with twenty of my friends and family, playing obscure Swedish garden games which allowed me to legitimately throw bits of wood at my many brothers.
I do not cry, I am not scared. People ask me how it feels to be abused and bullied online like this. The truth is, it is very, very tiring. I feel weary. I'm conscious of being careful of what I might say in the future that will start it all up again. I think about how I might have been able to avoid it. I feel weighed down by the fact that so much of my abuse is misogynistic and I feel burdened about how far we have not come.
Online bullying like this ruins people's lives. Not big-shouldered broads like me, who spend half their lives surrounded by armed guards. I won't be silenced. But it's not about me. I recently bought my eleven year old son his first mobile phone. As we took off the wrapper together I shuddered at the thought of what it might expose him to. I meet young activists all the time who tell me they daren't speak up or start campaigns because of online bullying.
Online bullying takes many forms. The flavour I mostly encounter is bitter misogyny by men (and some women) who think that my fight for equality hurts them. Somehow me and my sisters having it all is directly to blame for the inadequacies in their lives.
Personally, I think they are making a pretty good fist of being inadequate all by themselves, no help from me required.
Others suffer terrible racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia and homophobia. Others have their reputations completely ravaged by online bullies weeping over their successes. Young people suffer revenge porn, their private moments spread far and wide to belittle and control them. All by snivelling cowards too weak of spine to come out from the shadows.
So to the solution. What can we do? "You will never change it, what's the point in trying," I hear you cry. Well, we sure as hell won't change it by doing naff all. So a group of us from all the major UK political parties have got together to launch Reclaim the Internet. The point of the campaign is to work with legislators, regulators, internet providers, social networking platforms and most importantly Internet users to try to do something....anything would suffice after the week online I've had. We want to put the question to you, the online community to see what you think. Our collective hive brain must be able to come up with some solutions.
For my two pence worth, I'd say we need to go after the perpetrators of the dog piling attacks. People who use crowdfunding websites and YouTube click payments to fund their hate and harassment. I'd also like to see a function on Twitter that stops me seeing any message that mentions me alongside anyone I have previously blocked. If nothing else I'd like to encourage anyone who sees this happening to join in the rebellion with a deluge of cat pictures (other entertaining memes are available).
I won't be leaving social media sites any time soon. I will face these bullies again and I will fight back just as I have before. Call me a fool, call me a fat, feminazi bitch if you have to, just make sure you don't sit by while we turn over the greatest tool of our age to people we would never sit next to at a bar.'