Tech bosses should be held accountable for trolls (stock image)
Dame Margaret, 76, also demanded a new law to make tech company directors personally responsible for the internet poison they help spread. The MP for Barking spoke out after being targeted for fighting anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The Community Security Trust, which monitors racial hatred and anti-Semitism, found she had 90,000 mostly-negative online references in October and November.
They included death threats and insults like “Zionist hag”, “Nazi” and “Palestinian child murderer”.
She told the Daily Express: “In the early days, social media was a really democratic way of allowing people new ways of engaging in debates.
“But it has now been abused. It has become a way of shutting down democratic debate. I’ve reluctantly come to the view that we need action.”
This newspaper is demanding that social media companies clean up their messaging platforms or face tougher penalties from the Government.
One of the most popular proposals is for the tech giants to register their users’ names and contact details before allowing them to post.
Campaigners say most keyboard assassins fire away anonymously from profiles identified only by nicknames or handles.
Dame Margaret said: “The analogy is PayPal. You can’t have an account if they don’t know who you are.
“It’s not that the identity would necessarily be made public. You want to protect domestic violence victims, whistleblowers and others who legitimately need anonymity.
“But if they use it for abuse or hate, there is a duty for the company to provide the offenders’ identity to the authorities.”
She also wants the tech giants’ directors to be made personally responsible for breaking laws designed to protect people from trolls.
Dame Margaret spoke out after receiving a torrent of abuse after exposing anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
Despite being a seasoned political campaigner, she was unnerved by the vitriol aimed at her on Twitter, Facebook, by email and through her website.
She said: “As much as the abuse is awful, that campaign to undermine me as an authoritative voice is very, very dangerous.”
Her calls for action echo those of Daily Express columnist Richard Madeley, who also wants social media users to register their identities.
Last week, professional football bodies wrote to Facebook and Twitter to demand more action against racists who troll black stars.
Comment by Dame Margaret Hodge
In the early days, social media was a democratic platform, where anybody could engage in free and open debate.
But sadly, social media has been abused.
It has become a place where democratic debate is shut down. Instead, hate speech and misinformation are widespread.
So I have reluctantly come to the view that we politicians need to act.
We should be strengthening the new Online Harms Bill, to make social media companies take responsibility for what is posted on their platforms.
I’m an old toughie.
I’ve been fighting anti-Semitism for years so I am used to being attacked.
Ten years ago, I fought the British National Party in Barking.
It was a nasty experience with a lot of abuse.
But since the rise of social media the abuse has got much worse.
Before you could control it. Now it feels uncontrollable.
Every day abusers try to characterise me as a shady individual.
They paint me as an evil person, somebody not to be trusted and a liar.
And therefore, if I ever call out anti-Semitism, nobody should listen to me.
It’s a very insidious way of shutting me down and silencing my voice.
With all this in mind, there are two main issues where I want to take social media companies to task: online anonymity and direct culpability.
The likes of Facebook and Twitter should be obliged to identify users before allowing them to use their platform.
It’s not that the identity of users would necessarily be made public.
But if anonymous accounts spew hate speech and incite violence, then there should be a duty for social media companies to provide the offenders’ identity to the appropriate authorities.
It is a good middle way.
It protects anonymity where you need it but doesn’t give a free pass to wrongdoers.
Direct culpability is important so that you can pin the blame on the bosses of social media companies if they don’t change the way they operate.
That way there is always an individual who is held to account for what circulates on their platforms.
These measures would free up social media for what it does best, facilitating healthy discussion and giving a voice to the voiceless.
Dame Margaret Hodge has been the Labour MP for Barking since 1994.