Vile social media abuse from Blackpool MP's online trolls

Police were called in to investigate threats of violence against a Blackpool MP, The Gazette can reveal.

Thursday, 6th July 2017, 6:55 am
Updated Tuesday, 18th July 2017, 8:26 am
Paul Maynard has been subjected to abuse in person and online
Paul Maynard has been subjected to abuse in person and online

In the weeks following the general election, abuse aimed at Blackpool North and Cleveleys Conservative representative Paul Maynard and his staff - both online and in person - has reportedly intensified.

A little over a year since Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox was murdered in her constituency, sources say the threats have seen security tightened around Mr Maynard’s team.

In addition to the case which has been passed to police, as it was deemed a credible safety risk, abuse aimed at the MP, who has served Blackpool North and Cleveleys since 2010, have included personal attacks.

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The Gazette understands some have targeted his disability. Mr Maynard has previously spoken about being mocked for having cerebral palsy, which he was diagnosed with at birth.

While his staff have deleted an increasing number of derogatory posts in recent days, some still visible online yesterday included one saying he ‘needs bouncers’ when out in public and another calling him a ‘token spastic’ - a word that has become a term of abuse to refer to people with a disability.

The Gazette also understands posts attacking his disability used the Twitter hashtag #maytard – a play on words based on the word ‘retard’.

A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “We can confirm that we have received a complaint.

“The person who sent the message was traced and has apologised. The matter has now been closed.”

Mr Maynard has not commented directly on the matter.

However, he has come under fire from some contituents for his office’s approach to deleting comments and blocking some users from posting on his official Facebook page.

A screenshot, which was widely shared on social media, appeared to show a response published from the official page to a woman named Scarlett Clegg.

Her post, referring to pay for emergency services workers, came amid a flurry of posts attacking Mr Maynard’s decision to vote against a Labour amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for an end to the pay cap for public sector workers.

In response to Ms Clegg’s post, a reply that appears to have been sent by Mr Maynard’s official page criticised her ‘straw man arguments and mixed up logic’.

It added: “Blocked by Paul... as it’s just so insistent and it’s getting just a tad boring.”

It led to allegations of stifling free speech and ignoring constituents because of their political views.

One Facebook user, David Gregory posted: “As you’ve chosen to use social media to promote yourself, I feel that you should be answering the questions your constituents put to you using the same medium.”

And Lisa Detenysh wrote: “Paul – you are supposed to serve and represent your constituents. You are their public voice, yet you silence them because they don’t fit into your own political agenda.”

However, posts in recent days show Mr Maynard’s office responding to a number of posts criticising the MP or questioning his position on a range of topics.

Commenting on the vote, which has seen several Conservative MPs come under fire for the way they voted, Mr Maynard told The Gazette last week: “This was a vote of confidence in the Government and even if Labour had won it would have changed nothing other than provoking another election.

“Public sector pay is a matter for public sector pay review boards as they have always been the case.”

‘It is easy to sit behind a computer and dish out abuse’

Blackpool South Labour

MP Gordon Marsden, who also has constituency Facebook and Twitter accounts, condemned anyone who abuses social media.

He said: “I take the view that you shouldn’t say things to people in writing that you wouldn’t be prepared to say to their face.

“The use of anonymity on social media sometimes makes things worse. Whatever the circumstances, whether someone is an MP or a member of the public, the same sort of rules should apply.”

Fylde Conservative MP Mark Menzies does not have a constituency Facebook or Twitter account.

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, said Mr Maynard had had a ‘horrendous’ time due to abuse on Facebook.

He said: “Feelings are running very high nationally, and I blame some politicians from all sides for whipping this up.

“I’m open to criticism like anyone else, but there is a vile element.

“It is easy for someone to sit behind a computer and dish out this bile.”

‘You should be able to challenge an MP – but sometimes it gets nasty’

Amy Binns, an academic at the University of Central Lancashire (Uclan), has carried out research into the abuse MPs receive online.

She said Mr Maynard was right to go to the police with his concerns, but added most interaction between MPs and their constituents on Facebook and Twitter was positive.

Her analysis of Twitter found around 15 per cent of messages to MPs were hostile.

She said: “I think Mr Maynard is doing the right thing in taking it to the police.

“If you just accept it, you are saying that is a normal part of political life or political debate, and as a society I think we are all agreed we don’t think that.

“It’s a pain and time-consuming to go to the police but there is a point where you should say there are real world consequences to this abuse.”

Ms Binns, senior lecturer in print and online journalism, said many people did have positive online conversations with their MPs, and used social media at times to congratulate them on a performance.

But she added society was now less deferential in general towards people in authority.

She said: “In general, people are less in awe of people in authority.

“And you should be able to challenge your MP, or your doctor or your child’s head teacher.

“But sometimes it gets nasty and a particular group of people want to get angry and are using social media in this way.”