Ban trolls from voting to deter abuse of politicians, urges electoral watchdog

Ban trolls from voting to deter abuse of politicians, urges electoral watchdog
Social media trolls abusing MPs could be banned from voting as part of new proposals set out by the UK’s Electoral Commission.

The watchdog called for an overhaul of voter regulations that could deter online trolling. Existing rules date back two centuries.

The recommendations, submitted to an inquiry on the abuse of MPs by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, include disqualifying trolls from registering to vote, casting their ballot, or standing for office as a candidate.

Although some regulations are already in place, the watchdog said legislation should be reviewed to create “special electoral consequences [which] could act as a deterrent to abusive behavior in relation to candidates and campaigners.”

The investigation was commissioned by Prime Minister Theresa May.

The BBC reported on Monday that a majority (87 percent) of the 113 MPs it surveyed had been abused during the June 2017 general election.

Up to 51 percent said it was the worst campaign they had experienced in terms of abuse.

Tom Hawthorn, head of policy at the Electoral Commission, said in a statement: “Our strong tradition of free elections are an essential part of a healthy democracy, and people should be able to stand for election and campaign without fear of abuse or intimidation.

“However, many offenses in electoral law have not been reviewed or updated since they were first created in the 19th century. We urge the government to implement proposals made last year by the UK’s Law Commissions to make it easier for everyone to understand and comply with these laws, and for the police and prosecutors to enforce them.”

One Labour MP surveyed asked the BBC: “Does a man coming into my office threatening to bomb it count?”

Another MP claimed to have had a “bottle smashed on me.”

Conservative MPs have also blamed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s followers for the abuse they received, with Tory whips reportedly dealing with three “credible threats” of abuse a week ever since the election, including death threats.

On Monday, a Downing Street spokeswoman said the PM views the abuse of any MP as unacceptable.

“She asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life to have a look at that and we’ll see what they come back with,” the spokeswoman said.

“What she would say is that there is a clear difference between legitimate scrutiny and conduct that is fueled by hate and personal abuse.”

Critics have taken to social media to warn such regulations could damage the fundamental right to freedom of speech, and that the UK is turning into an “Orwellian state.”