Almost 500 abusive posts directed at MSPs passed to police, study shows

Some 8,000 messages sent to MSPs were deemed to be abusive.

Almost 500 abusive posts directed at MSPs passed to Police Scotland, study shows PA Media

A pilot programme has unveiled the level of abuse directed at MSPs with almost 500 posts passed to Police Scotland.

After the death of MP Sir David Amess, the Scottish Parliament set about ensuring the safety of elected members, including increasing their level of security.

And a programme set up last year has shown that, for the 38 participating MSPs, 461 threats were deemed serious enough to be passed to Police Scotland.

On average, each MSP was on the receiving end of 12 abusive posts which were reported to police in less than a year.

It is understood there were no direct threats during the trial period – which ran from mid-June last year to the end of March – but abuse generally centred around protected characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation and race.

In total, the tool used by Holyrood officials found almost a quarter of a million – 245,420 – online comments which met the search criteria for threatening or abusive language but, following an investigation by a security analyst, just over 8,000 were deemed to be abusive.

Some 7,661 comments were deemed abusive but did not rise above the criminal threshold.

Of those treated as abusive or threatening, the vast majority – 6,621 – were directed towards members of the SNP, while 592 were directed at Scottish Tory MSPs, 501 towards the Greens, 282 for Labour and 114 for the Lib Dems.

Most were considered “general abuse”, but 452 – the second highest category – were deemed to be of a racial or religious nature.

The majority of both the criminal or non-criminal abuse was directed towards men, but according to Holyrood’s director of operations and digital Lynsey Hamill, the picture is more “nuanced” than the figures suggest.

“Our search terms are geared towards language and phrases that are physically threatening or directed towards protected characteristics,” she said in an email to MSPs.

“Often, however, we’ll see abuse of female MSPs that is belittling, or of a personal nature, but is not necessarily physically threatening.

“That said, we are still seeing online misogyny and that is reflected in our data.

“Given most abuse is reactive, female MSPs have indicated that they are posting less content or avoiding certain topics, or even turning away from social media altogether.”

Ms Hamill added: “The trial has revealed the scale of online abuse directed at MSPs, including the number of posts which meet a criminal threshold for reporting. Our findings are sobering.

“Members in the trial covered all Scottish regions and all Members received abuse – albeit at differing volumes.”

With a general election expected this year, as well as controversial international incidents like the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and the US election, Holyrood officials expect it to be “highly likely we will see a significant rise in online content that is concerning”.

As such, the Scottish Parliament has made the trial permanent, and will recruit a second security analyst in a bid to accommodate up to 80 MSPs.

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