UK

Yvette Cooper Tells Radio 4 Today It's Time For 'Silenced' Women To 'Reclaim The Internet'

17/12/2015 10:15 GMT | Updated 18/12/2015 10:59 GMT

Labour MP Yvette Cooper is calling for women to "reclaim the internet", comparing increasing levels on social media abuse to harassment and stalking which had left females to be "silenced" online.

Calling for a mind shift on the trolling of women similar to the debate around domestic violence 30 years ago, the former cabinet minster told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday there is "persistent, co-ordinated abuse" which can make young women in particular feel as though they need to "censor" themselves for fear of being bullied.

Addressing the challenges in tackling the problem, Cooper said that it is important to change the "culture" around online abuse, pointing to how the mainstream debate around domestic violence had evolved in the past three decades.

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Yvette Cooper speaking about her report on internet trolling on Today

The former Labour leadership contender said that, although the internet can be a force for promoting discussion and holding powerful people to account, it can become a problem when some voices are driven out of the debate.

Cooper said: "The real concern is is that young women in particular end up feeling they have to censor themselves on social media because of the abuse they are going to get."

She said an area of concern is where you get "persistent, co-ordinated abuse that is effectively a form of stalking or harassment", highlighting that this would not be tolerated in our day-to-day lives, yet it is on social media.

Cooper's call comes after a series of high profiled cases which saw women being targeted online because of their views.

Following the vote on whether to launch airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria, a number of Labour MPs were trolled online.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, was sent pictures of dead babies and "vile comments" after she voted in favour of military action.

Labour MP Jess Phillips received shocking rape threats online last month after objecting to a parliamentary 'Men's Day' debate.

Teenager Abby Tomlinson, who rose to fame by starting the Milifandom movement, has frequently been the recipient of abuse on Twitter.

In September, barrister Charlotte Proudman posted on Twitter a "sexist" email she received from another lawyer from LinkedIn.

Proudman, who was labelled a "feminazi" by the Daily Mail's Sarah Vine, was sent a torrent of abuse on social media, with many commenting on her appearance and hinting that she had ruined her career by speaking out.

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Cooper's campaign is being backed by Phillips, who in a blog published on the Huffington Post UK on Thursday said that it is not the attack on politicians that upsets her, but the attempt by trolls to stop women having - and sharing - their opinions.

Phillips said: "More than the violent, threatening and blatant misogyny, the worst element of this is the "shut up" bit.

"The "shut up bitch" is working.

"Women are shutting up. Not because they are scared, not because they believe the threats but because it is so tiring that whenever you speak you face hatred because of the make up of your chromosomes."

SEE ALSO: Shut Up Bitch - Get Back to Ironing Your Husbands Socks

Cooper urged women to report abuse they receive online to the police, adding that such threats of harassment and violence would not be tolerated in "real" life and should not be acceptable on the internet.

She also said that cultural attitudes need to be addressed, as police may not be fully "equipped" to deal with the situation.

She said: "Think about to the debate on domestic violence. Maybe 20 [or] 30 years ago it was still acceptable to go in mainstream debates to make a joke about slapping your wife. It's not now.

"And that sort of thing has changed. It's made it easier for people to come forward."

Speaking earlier in the show about her report on internet trolls, Cooper said: "In our daily lives we... wouldn't tolerated threats of violence or intimidation or misogyny or homophobia or racism and too often that is silencing people on social media."

She added: "So just as we had the big campaigns for women's safety on the streets against violence or threats or intimidation, I think we need to do the same.

"Just as we had the reclaim the night campaigns, now we have to do the same for our new streets. And we have to reclaim the internet."

But it seems that Cooper's proposals do not have by-partisan support, with Conservative MP, Anna Soubry saying that the media have "ignored abuse" directed at Tory women for years.

Nonetheless, many people welcomed Cooper's report:

While others still don't get it:

In September, Cooper announced that she was leading a crackdown on online "misogynistic abuse" which risked society being thrown back to the "Victorian age" where women were prohibited from speaking up.

Cooper leads the Commission on Women and Technology campaign.

In the past she has said that "sexist abuse is also increasingly masquerading as political activism", pointing to trolling directed at individuals during the Labour leadership contest and General Election.