THE BLOG
29/09/2015 13:54 BST | Updated 29/09/2016 06:12 BST

We Need to Stop the Online Women Haters

We should disregard the perverse arguments - made by some - that the ability to abuse and threaten others is a free speech matter and nothing should be done - because this issue is actually about the limiting of free speech.

There is a real problem for us all if half the population feel they cannot express their views in a democratic society without the fear of being the subject of threats to rape them and other misogynistic abuse.

We increasingly communicate on the various forms of social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and many others , and in the future, some that have not been invented yet. This is not going to change and more of the political and social conversation will go online.

Petitions will be raised - discussions will take place - new ideas will be explored online. So it is vital that everyone feels free to express themselves without being abused. It is vital - not just for those individuals but for all of us that we gain from new ideas that all of our lives can be improved if everyone can contribute.

It is of strategic importance to the UK that women feel able to take part in the online life of this Country. As it is there is evidence that many feel they cannot.

Yvette Cooper has claimed that online misogynist trolling is putting women off joining the Labour party. She is quoted in the Guardian saying "Unless misogyny on the internet is challenged, more women's voices will be silenced, and more women will be oppressed or feel prevented from speaking out just as if we'd gone back to the Victorian age. We cannot let that happen". Whatever your Party sympathies are - this is not a good thing for democracy.

Singer Lauren Hall has suffered online abuse - often anonymous - including calling her a slut and making other sexual suggestions. She has made many of the messages public to draw attention to the problem. How many women will be put off getting involved in music because of this problem?

Caroline Criado-Perez suffered Twitter rape threats after campaigning for a women to be featured on the new ten pound note. You don't have to be a feminist to see that she had a point - that half of our population is not represented on the nation's currency. You shouldn't have to experience rape threats to express and entirely legitimate point of view.

Laurie Penny - who writes for the Guardian argues that women often experience threat of rape on social media - mostly women that have the nerve to actually express opinions.

Everybody stands to risk some sort of online abuse - both men and women - but I think there is a case to say that the particular abuse women experience is different and is a particular problem. It is a particular problem because it takes place against a background of general discrimination and abuse and in too many cases, violence, that disadvantages women in many walks of life.

Not only do the individuals who receive the threats suffer but wider society suffers because so many people will be put off contributing and, potentially, improving all our lives. Even if this was not the case - it is just plain wrong.

I am not sure new laws would help - though there is a moral good case for them. Laws have to be enforced by busy people who are not experts and there will always be unintended consequences. In fact many of our current laws could be applied - and are not.

The companies that dominate social media must do more - they should take action against account holders who abuse others - there is evidence that they do not.

We should disregard the perverse arguments - made by some - that the ability to abuse and threaten others is a free speech matter and nothing should be done - because this issue is actually about the limiting of free speech.

I think we should adopt the notion that no-one should hide behind anonymity when they express their views. Though ironically it will the online abusers who will most easily fear that if they give their real details they might suffer by the actions of people just like them.

Both men and women abuse others online - but there does seem to be a particular problem of some men and boys who feel it is right to express their masculine inadequacies online.

There is something very wrong if even part of half of the population feel they cannot participate in the social media world with its increasing importance to all of us because often anonymous and inadequate individuals can abuse them without a real fear of being challenged in the real world.