Police investigate online death threats against political leaders

Police investigate online death threats against political leaders
The Times, by Hamish Macdonell


Police officers are investigating death threats and online abuse directed at Nicola Sturgeon and other Scottish political leaders.


A spokesman for Police Scotland confirmed that officers were aware of the offensive messages directed at the first minister and were looking into the issue. The force was responding to the publication that showed the scale of abuse over the past few months.


Extreme threats against the first minister are now so common that there is an account on Twitter that highlights the messages, of which there are at least 150.


“Police Scotland is aware of this account and work is being undertaken around it,” a spokesman for the force said yesterday.


Some people writing on social media said that they wanted to attack Ms Sturgeon either physically or sexually. Police said that not all threats came from anonymous postings; some individuals had sent abusive messages from accounts under their real names, which the officers were investigating.


A spokesman for the first minister said: “There is a huge amount of abusive material online aimed at prominent politicians, especially female political figures, including the first minister.


“This kind of activity isn’t the preserve of any side or party in the political debate, it exists on all sides and is deeply unpleasant, whoever the perpetrators are and whomever the intended recipient is.”


The spokesman added: “There is no excuse for it and while it’s important that people are aware of some of the worst examples, we shouldn’t give the perpetrators too much of a platform or allow their actions to detract from more important issues.”


The first minister is not the only politician who has faced abuse online. Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, and Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, have both had messages containing derogatory and insulting language.


One member of the SNP was suspended from the party after directing homophobic abuse at Ms Davidson, who is engaged to a woman, during the general election campaign two years ago.


The leader of the Scottish Conservatives said: “We have seen too many instances where people have chosen to use social media to direct invective, aggression and abuse.


“There is no place for it in modern political discourse,” she added.


It is understood that Ms Dugdale has received three death threats on social media since she became leader of Scottish Labour two years ago.


“Social media sites have a responsibility to work harder to remove abusive accounts, and all political parties have a duty to tackle it in their own ranks as well,” Ms Dugdale said.


Twitter has promised to set out the measures that it is planning to crack down on abuse online.


A spokesman for the social media platform said: “We’re approaching safety with a sense of urgency. As such, we will be rolling out a number of product changes in the coming days and weeks — some will be immediately visible, while others will be more targeted to specific scenarios.


“We will update you along the way and continue to test, learn and iterate on these changes to evaluate their effectiveness. You can expect to see meaningful progress in this area.”