‘Sick social media abuse must stop’ says targeted parliamentary candidate Lana Hempsall
PUBLISHED: 17:21 13 July 2017 | UPDATED: 19:21 13 July 2017
A parliamentary candidate whose children witnessed the vile online attacks she suffered during the general election campaign has called for people to stop ignoring abuse.
Tory candidate Lana Hempsall, who was beaten by Clive Lewis in Norwich South, has described some of the appalling abuse she received during the campaign in the wake of an inquiry being launched by the government.
One Facebook message left under a story about Mrs Hempsall read: “Shoot her then pull her teeth out of her jaw whilst she fades away.” Another YouTube post showed someone setting fire to a picture of Mrs Hempsall meeting the prime minister.
Theresa May has asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life to launch a review into the apparent rise in personal attacks. The probe will assess the current protections in place and report back to the prime minister with recommendations on ways to tackle abuse in the future.
Broadland councillor Mrs Hempsall said: “There were several really nasty pieces on social media and an absolutely shed-load of low grade stuff. It was without doubt the nastiest campaign I have been involved in and it makes me very concerned for the future.
“My kids did see a video of someone burning a leaflet which had a picture of myself and Theresa May on it. Obviously, it’s not a very nice thing to see.
“I welcome the announcement by the prime minister that we need to seriously consider the way candidates and MPs are treated. Longer term we must decide, as a society, that we will not tolerate it – no-one should have to put up with abuse. That probably means police clamping down on social media attacks.”
She also believes people who use social media often ignore messages abusing others because they have become desensitised.
“The thing that upsets me even more than the threats is that on social media lots of people just say nothing,” she said. “People should be calling others out for making these disgusting remarks.
“By ignoring the abuse people are allowing it to happen. Some people do say things on social media threads but often threats or just plain abuse is ignored. That empowers other people to join in and then we have this very dangerous mob, bullying mentality.
“It will put people off running for public office. It will impact on the decisions about whether to run or not and that means potentially good people, good candidates thinking ‘is it worth it?’
“I think it is hugely important for us all to condemn this kind of behaviour in the strongest possible way every single time it happens. It has become acceptable and the norm and we must change that.”
Liberal Democrat North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has fought every general election campaign since 1992 and he believes there has been a shift in the way people treat politicians.
“It is every single person’s right to shut their door in an MP’s face,” Mr Lamb said. “But the big change has been social media.
“As an MP you have to grow a thick skin. As a elected official that is to be expected. But there is a line that is now being repeatedly crossed and it is often, although not exclusively, women who are the target.
“If death threats are made they must be reported. The law is there and it is used from time to time successfully. It can be easier to shrug it off but people should report incidents.
“Politics must attract the best people but I fear great candidates are being put off.”
Attacks on social media have often been blamed on left wing group Momentum and Mrs Hempsall believes their members have created a toxic atmosphere. But a Momentum source said: “Every organisation has good and bad people. But there is a tendency to simply attack Momentum members for this abuse but I have never seen any proof.”