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Online trolls can be unmasked says Folkestone MP Damian Collins as Online Safety Bill is prepared


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Online trolls can be tracked down even when they remain anonymous.

That's the message from a politician and social media expert in the wake of the David Amess tragedy.

New legislation is on the way to deal with internet trolling. Stock image
New legislation is on the way to deal with internet trolling. Stock image

The Government has not ruled out banning anonymity on social media to help prevent the torrents of online abuse politicians get.

But Damian Collins, who heads a committee looking at new laws to tackle this, told Kent Online: "I don’t think anonymity should be taken away.

"But if users exploit it to break hate-speech laws or those against incitement of violence, I think social media companies should have enough information on who they really are so that they are able to clearly identify them to the police.

The Folkestone and Hythe MP added: "Not putting your real name to an account should give you no protection from an investigation into terrorist, racist, homophobic, or misogynistic messages you send."

Mr Collins chairs the UK Parliament Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill. which was published in early form in May.

Damian Collins
Damian Collins

It it is to tackle scourges such as trolling, for example by making social media firms remove harmful content quickly or risk multi-billion-pound fines.

A spokesman for the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, said: "We have been clear that our Bill will address abuse online, including anonymous abuse. It will force social media companies to take more effective action to stamp out this abhorrent behaviour on their platforms.

"Failure by a platform to take action on anonymous abuse could result in serious punishment, including multi-billion pound fines up to 10% of global turnover.

"The Bill also includes the power to make managers of social media firms criminally liable if there isn’t action.

"Companies will need to consider whether anonymous profiles increase the risk of online abuse and take steps to mitigate or effectively manage that risk.

Sir David Amess, killed last Friday
Sir David Amess, killed last Friday

" Ofcom will set out steps that companies can take to address online abuse in codes of practice."

The issue of online abuse, particularly to MPs, has come to the fore again after Southend West MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death in his constituency last Friday.

A 25-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of his murder and remains in police custody.

He is detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and detectives are expected to continue to question him until Friday after a warrant of further detention was granted.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke has told Kent Online of "cowards hiding behind social media" and said that she herself has received death threats and "stomach churning vile abuse."

Those who troll can't hide beh]ind a screen forever. Stock image, KMG (52390660)
Those who troll can't hide beh]ind a screen forever. Stock image, KMG (52390660)

Another of Mr Collins' neighbouring colleagues, Ashford MP Damian Green, said he had to beef up security after "vile emails" from an unlicensed gun holder.

Mr Collins was chairman of Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee from 2016 to 2019.

He said of Sir David: "David Amess was a hardworking member of Parliament and good humoured colleague whom it was a pleasure to know.

!"He had friends across the House of Commons, regardless of political affiliation, and he will be greatly missed by members of parliament and everyone else who works in the Palace of Westminster.

"His murder has shocked us all, and has struck a terrible blow for his family.

"It was also an attack on our very system of democracy, striking down an MP as he worked with the people in his constituency, seeking to help them and represent their concerns."

Conservative Sir David, 69, was the second MP in five years to be killed in their own constituency.

Labour’s Jo Cox was murdered by a right-wing extremist outside a West Yorkshire library where she was due to hold a surgery in June 2016. Neo-Nazi Thomas Mair was convicted and given a whole life sentence that November.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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