Skip to content
Naked Security Naked Security

MP gets 600 rape threats in a night, wants an end to online anonymity

As a female MP Jess Phillips faces threats of violence and aggression every day.

Two years ago, Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, joined others to launch #Recl@im the Internet: a campaign based on the Reclaim the Night effort to enable women to walk freely at night without the fear of being attacked.
After Phillips launched the campaign, she spent a bank holiday playing in the garden with her kids. But while she was enjoying her holiday, Twitter’s bilge pumps went into turbo-drive, resulting in some 5,000 abusive tweets.
There were the initial poison arrows from the troll ringleaders, followed by the troll-lettes that dogpiled on. As she told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire at the time, many of the messages threatened rape. Many others said that Phillips wasn’t worthy of being raped, as if rape was something attackers would only do to someone they liked.
The rate of sewage flow was quite high. Fast-forward to the 2018 Cheltenham Science Festival this past weekend, where Phillips said that she received 600 rape threats in one night and was threatened with violence and aggression every day.
Two years ago, Phillips said that she intended to contact Twitter about the ringleaders of the dogpile. More recently, she has stressed that legal action, be it civil or criminal, is the best way to attack the abusers. Phillips told The Metro that she contacted the police, who’ve issued harassment orders against two individuals for “constantly emailing me with bile and abuse.”
That’s not enough, however. The MP wants the social platforms to join the fight: she said at the weekend conference that she wants trolls to more or less be stripped of their anonymity online. At least, they’d have to disclose their identities to companies such as Facebook and Twitter, but they could still post messages anonymously.
The Metro reports that over the weekend, Security Minister Ben Wallace said that digital IDs could be used to end the online anonymity that enables online bullying and paedophiles’ grooming of kids.
Before that, on Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May used the G7 Summit to call on the tech giants to offer better protection for women and girls on the internet. May called on the platforms to extend their work with the algorithms and protocols used in battling online terrorist propaganda, to bring those tools to the task of ending online abuse targeted specifically at women and girls: the “online rape threats, harassment, cyberstalking, blackmail, and vile comments.”
May encouraged companies to take down online content promoting or depicting violence against women and girls, including illegal violent pornography and rape threats on social media platforms.
The UK government cited recent research from Amnesty International UK that found that:

  • One in five women in the UK have suffered online abuse or harassment.
  • Almost half of women said the abuse or harassment they received was sexist or misogynistic, with 27% saying it threatened sexual or physical assault.
  • 55% said that they experienced anxiety, stress or panic attacks as a result.
  • Only 23% of Facebook and 19% of Twitter users rated the platforms’ response in addressing online abuse or harassment as adequate, versus 41% and 43% who considered it inadequate.

It’s all in a day’s work for an MP, Phillips said – she just lets the spittle from the idiots roll right off. Neither is she afraid for her own safety, or for that of her family.
What she is afraid of is harm to democracy, and she’s now of the opinion that the trolls shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind invisibility cloaks.

I personally have come to the viewpoint that I don’t think people should be allowed to be completely anonymous online anymore. I don’t mind if people appear anonymous online for all sorts of really reasonable reasons.

Phillips cited one example: one of her constituents, a teacher, wanted to speak out against government cuts to schools. The teacher wouldn’t mind Facebook or Twitter knowing their identity, but they’d prefer to appear anonymous to the public. Phillips:

Anyone who wishes to damage our democracy can just write all that stuff. I think we have got to try and do something about this and I think the anonymity debate is probably where Parliament will lead.

It’s worth noting that Jess Phillips’ case isn’t particularly noteworthy. There are 650 UK MPs, of whom 208 are women, and she’s one of many who regularly receive online abuse.

She thinks the answer is an end to anonymity. Given what she’s been through, it’s easy to see why she’d say that.
But whether you agree or disagree with her suggestion, it’s likely just another politician’s pipedream, similar to encryption that only the good guys can break.
On the flip side, achieving true anonymity online is actually very hard, as recounted in the ongoing reel of stories about whatever crook of the day law enforcement has tracked down.
There is no place for rape threats in civil discourse. Let’s hope that Phillips, and all the other targets of troll abuse, get the satisfaction of seeing the most egregious jerks arrested and brought to trial.

Image courtesy of Jess Phillips/Facebook.


This is such a tough problem, and I really feel for MP Phillips and the millions of other women and girls who are regularly abused online. But I’m also a strong advocate of privacy. Consider a situation where an individual is using social media under an oppressive regime (or any persecuted group really), where anonymity is crucial to personal safety.
If the social platform holds personal data on individuals, could that data either be given up through subpoena or other legal methods, or released through a hack or unintentional negligence? Of course. But if the data isn’t collected in the first place then there’s nothing to lose. But that doesn’t help Ms. Phillips or any other women.
I truly don’t know what the answer is. Losing *some* privacy on the back end might be appropriate in some circumstances, if very carefully designed, but what’s to stop the scummiest trolls from simply providing inaccurate information and using a VPN?
Maybe the answer will eventually come in the form of algorithms that can process language and context in big data to a fine enough degree that an automated “respect” score can be generated, and anything falling below a rating of “abusively miserable” must be manually reviewed before the content can be published. Or maybe that’s just another pipe dream.


Slightly baffled as to why your perfectly reasonable response laying out the pros and cons got a downvote? I’m also not sure what the answer is, can we actually trust the likes of Facebook not to cravenly give that information to, say, the Chinese government, for reasons far less justifiable than the prevention of sexist abuse?
I do think those platforms could be doing far more. Twitter in particular only seems to pay lip service to actuallly enforcing any sort of code of conduct.


Ron, NakedSecurity is like any other online community with circumspect trolls and cowards; errant downvotes abound.
You and Gavin (and others) already acknowledged the grown-up thing to do: make a observation like, “yikes, this is a complex problem; while I’m uncertain what the fix will be, we clearly must change SOMEthing. Everyone start making suggestions.”
Sadly there will always be those who’d rather criticize and detract than help find a solution. Tempting to hypothesize on some of their motives in a context like this; I’ll refrain for now.
In maybe four years of reading NS, I’ve probably downvoted about six times. I upvote many comments bolstering the conversation–even a dissenting viewpoint or what might be seen as a “dumb” question, as it often prompts a constructive answer. Those intimidated to say “I don’t know” will never learn anything new.


I think the end of online anonymity is inevitable. It won’t happen this year and it won’t happen in one huge step but it is coming. Not too long ago the big social applications (facebook, twitter, reddit, …) were almost completely hands off when it came to content posted by their members and now all of them have started taking steps to curb online abuse. These changes happen with small steps until you end up in a place you didn’t expect.


Why stop there? Just put all your citizens in jail, that way none of them can commit crimes. Problem solved, permanently!


To the downvoters, this is obviously sarcasm, because this seems to be the direction that Phillips and her ilk who love to play victim are heading.


I’m not sure you can successfully prosecute people’s feelings, such as misogyny, but you can sure fine it. On the other hand, some real good could be accomplished if misogynists were to be offered counseling to reduce their fine, which might address the underlying problem, and produce a more respectable citizen. This could be accomplished now for those accounts that aren’t perfectly anonymized.
Unfortunately, it sounds like a government official is speaking out of both sides of her mouth, in regards to ending internet anonymity. She acknowledges that there are cases where anonymity must be protected. However, if you truly end online anonymity, there is no real way to re-implement it for a select few without the less honorable folks finding out the process. Not to mention the criminals who straight-up hijack accounts, placing the blame on an innocent victim.


The Internet is not the UK, a digital ID is not enough protection, we need a UK only Internet like they have in North Corea this way no outsiders could post comments.
Of course we could also stay off social networks, but that is too difficult, we would miss all the fake news and memes.


As a woman who has been stalked both online and offline; I value my privacy and my anonymity on the internet. — my knowledge of internet security gives me the ability to protect myself. Taking away anonymity would lead to less safety, not more.
Of course, if you break the law and send rape threats to somebody the police should be able to track you down, but ordinary pseudoanonymity for individuals who are not breaking any laws should be protected.


The police are already able to track you down, given that the service (twitter, facebook, etc) keeps a record of your IP address. The service knows which IP address used that account at that time, and the ISP knows which subscriber was using that IP address at that time. Taken together, this provides a link back to a real person. It does however require a warrant to force the companies involved to cooperate.
My worry about statements like the MPs above, is that they know this, and are actually looking for a way to identify users without the requirement of a warrant.


Isn’t this an issue for Twitter and not anonymity? Is it really that hard to write an algorithm to flag words like “rape” for manual review? Anonymity actually helps those that have been persecuted and harassed in real life. Would she really advocate de-anonymising a woman who has been abused by a man so that he can track her down and carry on doing it? Also by that argument we should ban every knife in the country as they can be used to harm people – just spoons allowed as forks can also be a weapon. All letters should be banned too as they can also be anonymous. My advice to her would be to take legal action against Twitter and to try consultation first before forming a knee jerk reaction.


This is a BS article. Jess Phillips is a terrible who likes to paint the picture of being some victim hero in a world overpopulated by men who have nothing but privilege and don’t face any issue in society. If she has such a huge issue with it, notify the authorities, don’t try to push your leftist Marxist agenda of thought policing males.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to get the latest updates in your inbox.
Which categories are you interested in?
You’re now subscribed!