Jess Phillips MP headshotJess Phillips Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

Reclaim the Internet - Fighting for Freedom of Speech

May 26, 2016 - 9:24am By: Jess

I am often told that I am trying to stifle freedom of speech. I've been called the thought police, the Stasi and, as is currently so very de rigueur, a Nazi. I'm not trading secrets on the streets of East Berlin, holding rallies or burning books, I'm just saying "dude don't be such a douche on the internet."
The funny thing is about all the so-called libertarians on Twitter shouting up for free speech is that they are promoting the exact opposite. Let me put it this way: If you had to choose, who was best going to fight for the rights and freedoms of your children would you pick me, a democratically elected representative with a history of doing just that or Megadogyourmom485 (this is made up, don't search for it) whose personal info states "Free thinker, expect to be offended" written atop the back drop of an over-stylised naked manga woman toting a bazooka. I wouldn't trust Megadog and his mates to achieve, well, anything.
The real truth is, that I and the other women behind Reclaim the Internet are promoting free speech for everyone. Yesterday I attended a meeting held by to celebrate the success of a brilliant young campaigner, Laura Coryton, and Paula Sheriff MP, who fought and won to end the tampon tax. Laura told us of the backlash she had received on the internet just because she started a petition about tampons. Other women in the room spoke of how they have held back from their own campaigns because it is just so tiring dealing with the backlash.
I know the feeling. It is not the viciousness of attacks I get on the internet that bothers me. People talking about raping me isn't fun but has become somewhat par for the course. What is a real pain is the thousands of tweets or Facebook notifications that join in. I think my record is 700 people blocked in one night.
Every time a woman who has faced this internet mob goes to say anything, she pauses and thinks, have I got energy or the time to deal with this today, and she puts her phone down. She is silenced, and she might have had the wittiest, most insightful thing to say. It could have been ground-breaking. She could have been about to launch the campaign that will end the unlawful detention of pregnant women. She could have been about to start the first communication that would change the state of mental health services for all. She could have been frickin' amazing but instead she stopped.
Recently Grayson Perry made a brilliant series about men and masculinity in modern Britain. I could be mistaken but I didn't notice a huge backlash from a women on the internet screaming, "why oh why is this programme all about men?" No one jumped in and started saying, "if you believe in equality why don't you ever talk about women, it is all men men men with you." If this had been a TV programme made by a woman about women you can bet your bottom dollar that Megadog and his friends would have been right there saying we cannot talk about women because it hurts the mens. On a quick glance at the comment section of a number of newspaper articles about Grayson and this documentary it seems even there women are the target for attack. One lovely trustworthy sounding commenter named Jizzodessy pipes up with this comment on the episode about men in the banking sector: "Bankers have to work long hours. Women bankers need to get home at a reasonable time to make their husbands dinner". What a time to be alive when we can so easily connect with Jizzodessy and his nuggets of wisdom which I think we can all agree give Oscar Wilde a run for his money.
I want Grayson Perry to be able to make interesting programmes about men without a female backlash, but I'd like the same for us womenfolk. Reclaim the Internet is not about being the internet police, it is not about making loads of new laws to stifle what is a magnificent, progressive, usually jolly, environment. It is the start of a conversation with the public about what we can do so that all of our voices can be heard. It is a listening project to find out what we can do to limit the kind of behaviour which offline is totally unacceptable. Have a look at the website give us your feedback, tell us your views, perhaps what you say can change stuff around here.
Reclaim the Internet is trying to make sure that freedom of speech for all the amazing girls and women is not drowned out by faceless avatars. I want spunky women shouting up and facing honest to goodness debate and challenge. Not men with spunky names bullying women in to silence.
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First published online on 26/05/16 at

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