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Jamie Stone calls perpetrators of online abuse 'lowest of the low' as he speaks out over anonymity

By Alan Hendry

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Jamie Stone said robust measures were needed to tackle online abuse.
Jamie Stone said robust measures were needed to tackle online abuse.

North MP Jamie Stone has branded those responsible for online abuse as "the lowest of the low" and challenged the UK government over the issue of anonymity.

"The government is failing to tackle online abuse by ignoring one of its central causes," he said. "Those that feel emboldened to hurl racist or sexist abuse online because they can hide behind a screen need to be stopped."

Mr Stone spoke out after taking part in a parliamentary debate in which he criticised the government for failing to include new limits on online anonymity in its forthcoming Online Safety Bill.

The MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for digital, culture, media and sport.

The government has committed to end an era of self-regulation through the bill, which it says will place significant legal and practical obligations on online companies.

"Social media companies have been marking their own homework for far too long. That's why I've been a supporter of the Online Safety Bill," Mr Stone said.

"Targeted identification needs to be considered by the government so that we can both protect civil liberties and end the scourge of online abuse."

During the debate, Mr Stone said robust measures were needed to tackle online abuse and he accused the government of failing to act on the anonymity issue.

He referred to the experiences of Siobhan Baillie, the Conservative MP for Stroud, who had spoken of the abuse she received online after taking four weeks' maternity leave.

Mr Stone said: "It won't be easy but we have to get the identification issue sorted out and it would be a hugely valuable achievement to pull this one off, because I never want to hear the sort of stuff that I've been hearing in this debate and to hear how the Honourable Member for Stroud and many others have had this dreadful stuff flying at them. It is just the lowest of the low."

Mr Stone emphasised that online abuse has "a real-world impact".

He said: "We've seen the final, awful result of some of this which is young people and other people who have actually taken their own lives as a result of it."

He went on: "Anonymity has its place in all this. It can provide much-needed support for whistle-blowers, to minorities finding a safe online space for self-expression, and to victims of physical abuse connected with a support network.

"So it's a difficult conversation about the anonymity and we may have to make trade-offs in terms of what the bill actually says. Some of these trade-offs we may not like. But, at the end of the day, what I think would be much, much more worrying would be if the rising Online Safety Bill doesn't actually get to the heart of the issue and I sincerely hope it will.

"We already have a variable approach to this. If you want to go and buy alcohol, booze, you have to prove that you are of a certain age, you have to prove who you are. If you want to get a certain job, if you want to take out some sort of loan, if you want to make some sort of financial transaction, you have to prove who you are. So there is a precedent out there for this.

"And we do have the technical know-how on how to tackle this – it is out there and we can use it."

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