Can our MPs, please, tone it the **** down

October 10, 2019 Charles Cummins

Social media, Twitter in particular, is an incredible tool for political monitoring companies like ours. It presents us with huge amounts of data on what politicians are up to, what they’re thinking and what they’re planning, often in real time. It also alerts us to the latest political developments sometimes hours ahead of any Government press release, as journalists vie with each other to break the latest story and secure the best headline.

But whilst it is one of our biggest tools, it’s also our biggest disappointment.

Ever since we launched in 2016, and our database started filling up with thousands of tweets, I’ve been astounded at the language, bickering, and abuse dolled out on a daily basis by our elected representatives. At a time when we expect our politicians to debate and grapple with some of the perils of developing technology, such as the hugely damaging increase in cyberbullying, we also expect them to lead by example and show restraint in their actions online.

In the past three weeks alone we’ve seen an MP tell another MP to ‘shut up you f*****g fool’, call someone a ‘s**t journalist’, tell someone to ‘get stuffed… t****r’, retweet that a Cabinet Minister should ‘f**k off’, and tweet or retweet comments calling the Prime Minister an ‘a******e’ an ‘incompetent b**ls******g idiot’, an ‘authoritarian b*****d’, and a ‘Dickensian f*****g psychopath’.

The caveat ‘retweets are not endorsements’ should not excuse this sort of behaviour. Retweets are a quick and easy way to highlight something you agree with, promote a cause or spark debate. But they are often used as a wall, from which our MPs can hide behind and throw rocks. Put simply, holding up the person effing and blinding about your opponents, like a ventriloquist, is the same as saying it yourself.

The tweets above are some of the more extreme, but increasingly regular, examples of rude and aggressive behaviour we see online. But equally disappointing, and perhaps more damaging are the snide remarks and lazy put-downs that serve little purpose than to throw a bone to those who continue to perpetuate online bullying and hate. Many terms such as ‘arrogant’, ‘pathological liar’ and ‘charlatan’ are frowned upon, if not banned from use in the House of Commons chamber, in an attempt to encourage a calmer, more rational approach to proceedings. However for whatever reason, some still believe this sort of behaviour, often used as a lazy, cheap alternative to rational debate, is acceptable online.

It’s important to recognise the efforts and great restraint of a large number of MPs who do a fantastic job up against streams of faceless aggression and anger online. Similarly, it’s important we view this activity in the context of the wider abuse many MPs receive everyday. For each message an MP tweets, they can expect to receive tens, if not hundreds of tweets back questioning their motives, criticising their principles and, frequently, suggesting they ‘get f****d’.

But we rightly expect our MPs to be our role-models and rise above this sort of behaviour, name-calling and playground-style politics, calling it out where they see it and operating, in every sphere – online or off – on a different level that sets a higher standard for others to follow.

In our line of work, we have to look at this on a daily basis. The angry bickering some of our politicians choose to engage in online is not just deeply disappointing, but, perhaps more importantly, fuels the fire and adds nothing to the debate, at a time when temperatures are high enough as it is.

So I simply ask our politicians, please #toneitdown