Luciana Berger, the shadow Minister for Public Health, has expressed her disappointment with the social media site’s handling of abuse and called for it to ban racist words such as ‘kike’, (a derogatory term for Jews) “which can never be used in a positive way”.
Talking for the first time since she was the target of thousands of online messages attacking her for being Jewish, Miss Berger told Telegraph Wonder Women: “At the height of the abuse, the police said I was the subject of 2,500 hate messages in the space of three days using the hashtag: #filfthyjewbitch.
“Online hate needs to be taken as seriously as offline hate – but it isn’t. Twitter’s response isn’t good enough. It has a responsibility to do more to protect its users. The site is letting me and many others down who have been the subject of lots of hate… It could start by proactively banning racist words which aren’t allowed to printed in newspapers or broadcast on TV that could never be used in a positive way – such as kike – a derogative and anti-Semitic term for describing a Jew.”
The online attacks began in October this year after an internet troll, Garron Helm, 21, was jailed for sending Miss Berger anti-Semitic messages. He tweeted an image of the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree with a Nazi yellow Star of David put on her forehead using the hashtag “Hitler was right”. He also wrote: “You can always trust a Jews to show their true colours eventually,” and referred to Miss Berger as a “Communist Jewess”.
After Mr Helm was sentenced to four weeks in prison, the barrage of copycat anti-Semitic messages on Twitter directed at Miss Berger began in earnest. A series of anti-Semitic cartoons of the Labour MP wearing a concentration camp uniform and yellow star began appearing across the site.
Miss Berger said she personally texted Twitter’s UK head of Public Policy, Nick Pickles, in a bid to have her abuser’s accounts suspended and the offensive images of herself and messages taken down from the site.
“Twitter let me down. It took well over a week for some of the abusive content to be removed and even when it was, the approach was sporadic and very haphazard,” Miss Berger told The Telegraph.
“Twitter has made some improvements on the site and it’s important that you can report people – but when you are getting the level of abuse I was, it’s an onerous task reporting each and every person.”
Miss Berger said the online abuse was led by white supremacists and neo-Nazis from the US and the UK and that the experience has forced her to upgrade the security in both her constituency and London homes.
“The Special Branch [of the police] has done an assessment of my home in Liverpool and where I stay in London. I now have a different alarm system, shatterproof film on my windows, CCTV cameras and a bomb bag at the back of my post boxes… The whole episode has shocked and surprised me. I now always travel with someone,” she explained.
Soon after the online hate campaign began, which Miss Berger said spread to her email, YouTube account and Facebook, police also arrested a group of people in Liverpool, understood to be neo-Nazis, for planning an attack outside her constituency office. They are now out on bail.
She said that some of the abusive messages also made sexual references too. Police are still investigating the perpetrators.
Miss Berger expressed her concern about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe as a whole. There was a spike in anti-Semitic attacks this summer across France, Germany and the UK after Israel’s latest incursion in Gaza. However, she stressed that the abusive messages she received were purely about her religion – rather than Israel’s policies – and stemmed from white supremacists.
A Twitter spokesman said: “We’re working hard to improve the experience of people who encounter abuse on Twitter and have recently made changes so that reporting content is easier. Blocking individual words is generally ineffective at stopping unwanted behaviour and may incorrectly block legitimate content.”
The Telegraph has also seen a letter Twitter wrote to Miss Berger at the time of the messages which said that a global team were reviewing the abusive accounts targetting her “around the clock”. In the same note, a Twitter executive said the company was heavily investing “in technical and process measures to make it hard for serial abusers to create accounts and to perpetuate abusive behaviour”.