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Online trolls could be stripped of their anonymity in order to tackle the growing torrent of abuse faced by MPs, Priti Patel has signalled.
In the wake of Sir David Amess’s death there are now mounting calls for the Government to take tougher action against social media companies that fail to tackle abuse on their platforms.
While the motive behind the Conservative MP’s murder is still being established, the Home Secretary warned on Sunday that parliamentarians were being subjected to “relentless” and “appalling” attacks online with growing frequency.
Hinting that the Government could now seek to toughen up upcoming online safety legislation, Ms Patel added that she wanted ministers to “look at everything” when asked whether the right to anonymity could be outlawed.
“This is about wider public discourse and I would go as far as to say social media and anonymity on social media, where Members of Parliament are the subject of some of the most cruel comments and attacks, and they are relentless,” Ms Patel told Sky News.
“We can't carry on like this. I spend too much time with communities who have been under attack, basically who have had all sorts of postings online and it is a struggle to get those posts taken down. We want to make some big changes on that."
However, she later cautioned that there was a need to be “balanced” and “proportionate” when assessing anonymity online, citing the safeguards in place for whistleblowers and political activists, such as pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong.
Ms Patel also hit out at social media companies over the use of end-to-end encryption - a method of secure communications - which she has previously warned is hampering the ability of law enforcement to pursue child abusers and extremists online.
Warning that they “cannot carry on hiding behind this facade of privacy”, she told Times Radio: “We will put in fines, sanctions against tech companies that do not cooperate.”
It came as Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, criticised her party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner over her recent “Tory scum” comments, adding that “dehumanising language towards other MPs is a problem”.
Ms Patel’s intervention is the latest in a long-standing debate over anonymous accounts on social media, which critics say is helping to fuel the huge rise in online abuse and coarsening of public debate.
Under the Government’s Online Safety Bill, social media firms will face multi-billion-pound fines of up to 10 per cent of their turnover for breaches of the laws which are designed to protect users - and children in particular - from sexual abuse, terrorists and other online harms.
However, in March, Oliver Dowden, the former culture secretary, suggested a blanket ban on anonymous accounts was unlikely due to there being legitimate reasons for users to hide their identities.
Since then it is understood that ministers have become increasingly convinced that they must find solutions to address the issue of anonymity in the Bill, although the details of any solution are thought to be still under discussion.
“It is being seriously considered,” said one Whitehall source with knowledge of the discussions.
One solution that has been put forward would see social media users required to provide identification, such as a passport or driver's licence, when registering an account.