MP trolled after giving birth takes aim at online bullies

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 (Siobhan Baillie)
(Siobhan Baillie)

A Tory MP who was bombarded with online abuse after having a baby warned today that social media will remain an “ongoing cesspit” unless action is taken against anonymous trolls.

Siobhan Baillie spoke out last year after she was inundated with messages abusing her for taking four weeks’ maternity leave after the birth of her daughter in May.

She is campaigning for an amendment to the Online Safety Bill that would bring in ID verification to help prevent anonymous abuse.

The former family law solicitor said the problem goes beyond MPs and celebrities, affecting everyone from veterans to social workers and children.

She told the Standard: “I’m quite a tough cookie but it was a difficult labour and I really struggled, to the point where I had to turn all my social media off and let my team deal with it. After that I realised if people can attack you at the point where you’re giving birth just how vicious the online world can be.”

The MP for Stroud said members of the public started to get in touch with her about their own experiences after she went public.

She added: “I met a social worker who has had horrendous time online to the point where she’s taken litigation, and an Army veteran who has had such a terrible time on Facebook with specific groups that attack veterans — and this is a big, tough, burly guy. His story was horrendous.

“I met parents who are terrified about their children going online, whether that’s now or when they’re teenagers. And I just thought something has got to be done.”

The Online Safety Bill, which is approaching the pre-legislative scrutiny phase, aims to make Britain the “safest place in the world to be online”.

It outlines plans to give regulator Ofcom the power to fine social media firms and tech companies that fail in their duty of care to protect users online. Ms Baillie said anonymity was a “real gap” in the legislation but that ministers “genuinely” want to help people, adding: “They are willing to look at all options.”

Under her proposal, accounts would have a verification system, similar to Twitter’s blue tick, in which an individual could choose to be verified. Users who wanted to would then be able to wipe their timeline of unverified accounts.

Ms Baillie has crafted a 10 minute rule Bill that she hopes will go in when MPs return to Parliament.

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