Newham councillors tell of death threats and abuse from online ‘trolls’

Council meetings are now broadcast on YouTube because of the amount of online trolling which appeare

Council meetings are now broadcast on YouTube because of the amount of online trolling which appeared in Facebook comments. Picture: LDRS - Credit: Archant

Councillors say they and their families have been subjected to “stalking, threatening phone calls and death threats” from online trolls.

Several members of Newham Council on Wednesday, October 21 spoke out about the abuse they received on social media.

The full council meeting heard that most councillors had been subjected to racist, sexist or homophobic comments with many claiming their employers, families and societies they are members of had also been bombarded with abuse aimed at them.

Councillor Mas Patel said trolling had become “increasingly prominent over the last four years”.

He told the meeting he had received calls from men threatening him and his family and his elderly parents had been subjected to “disgusting and graphic” messages from people who did not agree with his political views.

“I was even stalked online and received death threats,” he said. “The only thing I can ever find as to what I have done wrong is to serve in a Newham Labour administration.”

Cllr Patel submitted a motion calling for the town hall to lobby the government to persuade social media companies to ban all anonymous accounts. The motion, which was passed by the council, also asked that elected members who have been subjected to online abuse get proper support from the local authority and those who may know the identity of perpetrators are encouraged to report them to the police and the borough’s legal department.

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He added: “This motion is a means whereby we as elected members of this council can say ‘enough is enough’.

“This motion is aimed at the anonymous trolls where an individual decides to use the anonymity of social media to hide behind their keyboard and spew their venom at people serving their communities. They swim in the murky world of people peddling online hate. Vile, nasty, filthy, libellous and occasionally racist.

“It has infected our borough for far too long, with one particularly nasty online forum seemingly dedicated to trashing the reputation of Newham’s politicians.”

READ MORE: Newham councillor told she should die from a STD by racist trolls on TwitterCllr Rohit Dasgupta said he had been subjected to “homophobic insults, racist tropes and defamatory comments” since he was elected 18 months ago.

“Some have been from comrades in the party and also from a lot of anonymous accounts, which have been specifically set up to intimidate and harass us,” he said.

“Threatening phone calls have been made to my employer, emails have been sent to societies I belong to. On more than one occasion I have considered resigning because of the sheer pressure of it all.”

Cllr Joshua Garfield said online abuse was discouraging women, ethnic minorities and others from marginalised communities from getting involved in politics.

“I’m speaking as this council’s only Jewish representative and I have personally received anti-Semitic abuse in this borough from people who wish to see my voice silenced and my engagement stilled,” he said.

It comes after the council stopped streaming its meetings live on Facebook this month after abusive “trolling” in online comments.

It now broadcasts all of its meetings on YouTube, where the comment function can be turned off.

A council spokesman said: “We have been alarmed recently at the use of the Facebook Live online forum to engage in ‘trolling’ of individuals during meetings and debates.

“Our meetings will continue to be made public via YouTube to ensure transparency and public involvement in the democratic process.”