MP Diane Abbott has spoken at length about the vicious sexist and racist abuse she receives on a daily basis, saying that the internet has played a part in the increase in recent years.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate about intimidation of candidates during elections, Abbott – who has previously described last month’s general election campaigning as “defined by the politics of personal destruction” – said such abuse was not new or unique to this year’s election, but had been “turbocharged” by the internet and had worsened in recent years.
Describing some of the vile insults she receives via email, Twitter and Facebook, she explained how the abuse is repeatedly fixated on her race, gender and weight: “We are talking about mindless abuse, and in my case the mindless abuse has been characteristically racist and sexist.
“And just to outline I’ve had death threats, I’ve had people tweeting that I should be hung if ‘they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight’.
“There was an EDL-affiliated Twitter account [called] ‘hashtag BurnDianeAbbott’, I’ve had rape threats, [been] described as a pathetic, useless fat black, piece of shit, ugly fat black bitch and n*****.
“N***** over and over again.”
Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, pointed out that one of her members of staff had said the “most surprising thing” about working for her was “how often she has to read the word n*****.”
She referred to technology’s role in enabling people to fire off threats easily, and often anonymously.
“I think the rise in the use of online has turbocharged abuse because 30 years ago, when I first became an MP, if you wanted to attack an MP you had to write a letter, usually in green ink, you had to put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and you had to walk to the postbox,” she said.
“Now they press a button and you read vile abuse which 30 years ago people would have been frightened to even write down.”
She continued forcefully: “I accept that male politicians can get abuse too, but I hope the one thing we can agree on in this chamber is that it’s much worse for women.
“And I think as well as the rise of online [avenues], anonymity is the thing. People would not come up to me and attack me for being a n***** in public, but they’ll do it online. And I’m telling you, this isn’t once a week, during the election – this is every day.”
The Labour MP also said that media commentary had some impact on online abuse, saying her office sees a “spike” in abusive messages “after there has been a lot of negative stuff in the media”.
Abbot faced criticism during the election campaign for disastrous media interviews shortly before she took time out for ill health. Her break prompted speculation on her health and the effect of the abuse she’s dealt with throughout her career, with a fundraising page even set up in order to send her a ‘care package’.
She later revealed that she’d stepped back to get on top of the type 2 diabetes she was diagnosed with two years ago, saying she’d not eaten properly while doing back-to-back interviews.
In the same interview, she told The Guardian that she felt Conservative campaigning had “singled her out”.
“The first time I became aware that I was a target of a national campaign was when people in marginals in the north were WhatsApping me to say there were ad vans talking about me, with a picture of me and Jeremy [Corbyn] on.
“Then there were these targeted Facebook ads. There was one which was a mash-up ad which made it sound as if I supported al-Qaida. We did contemplate taking legal action […] It was literally fake news.”
Asked by the interviewer if it felt like the “most vicious” general election campaign she had experienced, Abbott said “Yes” and that she thought it was wrong for the Conservatives to target her.
“The Tories need to explain why they singled me out. It felt terrible, it felt awful – you felt you were in a kind of vortex – as I became aware of what was happening – the Facebook ads, the Tories name-dropping me for no reason.”
Abbott said on her Twitter feed that the abuse she’d discussed in the debate was not more prevalent in one party than another.
Main image: Rex Features