Prosecute Twitter rape trolls in name of free speech, says UK victim

Stella Creasy, a UK lawmaker who was threatened with rape and murder on Twitter, seen here on Friday. Chris Ratcliffe / Pool via Getty Images

LONDON - A British lawmaker who was subjected to rape and death threats on Twitter has said those responsible should be prosecuted in the name of free speech.

Stella Creasy, of the center-left Labour party, said she had been sent insulting, abusive and offensive tweets before, but never the kind of criminal threats that began on Sunday and prompted her to call in the police.

Creasy, who represents the east London district of Walthamstow in the U.K. parliament, said the threats began after campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez - the subject of ongoing threats after her successful campaign to have a woman's picture printed on a new banknote - tweeted her thanks for Creasy's support.

"There are at least two or three accounts of people who are sending specific threats. This is fixation," she said in a telephone interview late Tuesday.

"It's horrible. I'm a politician and I have a very thick skin. I want people to think they can disagree with me, make fun of me and banter with me, on- or off-line," she said, but added that this was "serious harassment."

"What I do when people are misogynistic towards me, I call them out on it. Why have I called the police now? Because these people have made direct threats to rape and to kill me," she said.

"It's not a new crime, it's a very old crime -- hatred of women," she added. "I see these things as a function of an unequal society."

"I'm sickened Caroline is still getting these messages and they've attacked some of my colleagues in parliament as well."

She tweeted Wednesday that Criado-Perez was still being targeted.

And she added that people were now making harassing calls to her office.

In Tuesday's interview, Creasy dismissed suggestions that threats were a fact of life or a function of free speech on Twitter. The menacing tweeters were instead "trying to close down voices."

"They are doing it because they don't like women who might speak up," she said. Failing to stop them would mean "we're not defending free speech at all."

Creasy said some people had told her "'just ignore them' or 'don't feed them' -- as if I'm provoking them." "It's a bit like saying to somebody 'don't wear a short skirt, don't go out late at night.'"

Creasy said she had spoken to representatives of Twitter in the last 24 hours and was encouraged by what she had been told.

"They've acknowledged they didn't get it right over the weekend," she said. "I'm cautiously optimistic about the seriousness with which they are taking this."

She said she had asked Twitter to provide information on how many complaints it receives about harassment, threats and abuse and what action it had taken. She also asked them to make sexual harassment an "explicit violation" of Twitter's rules and to work more closely with law enforcement agencies.

She said the new button being introduced by Twitter to report threats and abuse was "interesting," but she questioned what would happen after a complaint is made.

Creasy said there were different ways of dealing with Twitter abuse, citing an example of one Twitter user who suggested she have sex with members of the House of Lords in foul and abusive tweets on Tuesday.

"There's a guy right now tweeting about how the best place for me is ****ing **** in the House of Lords," she said. "I've not reported him to the police ... he's not going to be on my Christmas card list ... [but] there are different ways of dealing with people like that."

One of her strategies for Twitter trolls, she said, was to send pictures of kittens.

But, regardless of the abuse and threats, she stressed she would not be driven from Twitter. "I've been very clear -- these people will not succeed."