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MPs call for Twitter abuse action

MPs have told Twitter it needs to make its system for reporting abusive messages more obvious.

Tory Conor Burns, who has more than 6,000 followers on Twitter, said MPs were "slightly more prone to abuse" than other users of the website but none of his colleagues on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee were aware of the company's reporting system.

Twitter faced questions about the way it handled a sustained campaign of abuse against Labour MP Stella Creasy and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez over the call for a woman's portrait to feature on a banknote.

Labour former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw questioned whether the site's procedures for dealing with abuse were rapid enough.

He said: "How can we have confidence, when they are very unhappy with the speed with which you responded to the abuse they suffered, that ordinary people who don't have that level of profile and voice are having their reports taken seriously and dealt with quickly enough?"

Twitter's public policy director Sinead McSweeney said improvements had been made since the abuse against Walthamstow MP Ms Creasy in August.

She told the committee: "I think in some ways what was experienced in that number of days in August is not the commonplace normal experience of the Twitter user. The levels of activity that were directed at those individuals were unprecedented in my time with Twitter.

"I think since then we have done a lot of work to highlight the reporting resources that are there because part of the issue was actually accessing the reporting forms, it wasn't a case of non-responsiveness to a report.

"The key issue that they were talking about was the ability to report, so the in-tweet reporting, greater user access around forms, better tools for users are things that we have improved since and continue to improve."

But Mr Burns told her: "Does it alarm you that you have got three relatively sophisticat ed and regular tweeters and we can't find it? I wasn't aware that it existed."

Ms McSweeney said: "It was rolled out at the end of July. The plan was to roll it out across all platforms by Christmas but, in fact, we achieved that by the end of September.

"If you are saying to me that we need to highlight it more, that's something that I can take away from here and we can ensure that we continue - we've done blog posts, we've tweeted about it, we've spoken to various safety organisations who work in this space."

Mr Burns said that as a result of "the nature of what we do we are probably slightly more prone to abuse sometimes than your average user, and I wasn't aware it existed".

Ms McSweeney appeared alongside Facebook's policy director for UK and Northern Ireland Simon Milner as they set out what their firms had done to tackle abusive and illegal use of their sites.

The session came the day after David Cameron unveiled a series of measures in co-operation with the internet industry designed to tackle online child abuse and provide family-friendly filters for home internet connections.

Ms McSweeney said Twitter had a "zero tolerance" approach to child abuse images and accounts found to have posted such material were suspended and reported to the US authorities, which could then pass on information to the relevant agencies in other countries.

Facebook also had a "zero tolerance" policy for both illegal and harmful content, Mr Milner said, and used the "PhotoDNA" technology developed by Microsoft to scan all uploaded photographs against a known database of child abuse images.

"We will not allow those to be uploaded and we will take action against those accounts, including notifying the authorities about them," he said.

The Prime Minister called Facebook "irresponsible" last month for lifting a ban on videos of beheadings being posted on the site.

But Mr Milner said: "We have refined our approach to this kind of content. I'm sure we are grateful every day that we live in a country where beheadings aren't that normal, random acts of violence don't happen to most people we know.

"But there are lots of people who are using our platform in countries where this is a normal part of life and they want to use our platform to highlight what's going on in their neighbourhood, in their country, in their city.

"Sometimes that means posting graphic content because that's the only way to get the world's attention. So we recognise there is a place for graphic content when people are condemning it.

"So absolutely not to glorify it, not to take pleasure in it. When people are using our platform to condemn this and to bring the world's attention to it we should be able to do that.

"However we also recognise that, given we are a platform that also has young people, people who are under 18, we need to enable people to get more prior warning and we are taking steps to ensure that people share responsibly."

Tory MP Claire Perry, the Prime Minister's special adviser on preventing the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, criticised the way Twitter had responded to the death threats and abuse she had suffered for her efforts to clean up the internet.

She told the committee: "Having been on the receiving end of quite a storm of Twitter abuse over the summer relating to my campaign I have to say I don't think companies do do enough."

Warning of the dangers of anonymity, she said: "People post abuse about how they would like to rape you and kill you because they think you don't know who they are.

"If there was some way of the company knowing and being prepared to verify that identity and to show you that identity was verified I think it would lead to a diminution in that sort of behaviour."

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