Wigan Council to debate disgusting online abuse

A motion condemning abuse of public figures online has been proposed for full council by Coun Paula Wakefield (left) and has been criticised by independent candidate Jim Ellis (right)
A motion condemning abuse of public figures online has been proposed for full council by Coun Paula Wakefield (left) and has been criticised by independent candidate Jim Ellis (right)

The targeting of high-profile public figures, especially women, for disgusting abuse online is to be debated by Wigan Council this week.


Elected representatives will discuss a motion at full council on Wednesday to condemn social media attacks on those in office and for stronger police intervention against misogyny.

The motion also calls for the town hall to write to the Government demanding it influences large social media companies to up their game to protect users.

Astley Mosley Common representative Coun Paula Wakefield, who proposed the motion, says her experiences as the borough’s youngest female councillor and working for Leigh’s first woman MP Jo Platt have made her realise what public figures face.

The leader of the opposition has acknowledged there are problems online but the motion has not met with universal support, with one critic questioning both its timing and content.

Coun Wakefield says there is a huge distance between constructive criticism and some of the physical andverbal threats MPs, councillors and senior civil servants are confronted with.

She said: “There has been a rise in online abuse and as a council we should be at the forefront of challenging this and saying it is not acceptable.

“The worst of it is directed at women in public positions and the 24/7 nature of social media means it has a big psychological impact.

“Statistics show that it’s female MPs who bear the brunt of abuse online, with horrific threats of violence, rape and murder. I welcome debate but that is not debate, that is hate.

“It is known that these online comments are putting women off joining in conversations through fear of retaliation and humiliation and getting involved in politics. At 38 I’m the youngest female councillor in Wigan. If we want to inspire the younger generation we need to set better precedents going forward.

“Ministers should be pushing for better legislation. At the moment social media companies set their own guidelines and police their own sites and it’s not good enough.

“If these things were happening outside social media it would be taken far more seriously. Online threats and harassment should be treated the same as they would be if they were made face to face.”

Wigan Council has recently started posting online some of the more repellent comments employees have faced.

Opposition leader Coun Michael Winstanley said he agreed there was work to do on the tone of internet debate.

He said: “The abuse on social media is a very great concern and everyone is affected.

“People need to be held accountable and responsible for messages they put on social media and they should be challenged on all the abuse that is taking place.”

A former councillor who received a payment from Wigan Council in a defamation row says the motion is deliberately being debated during the election campaign when those in power are put under scrutiny by the opposition.

Jim Ellis said: “Why does this need to be put up for full council now? It’s obviously to counteract all the negative publicity coming out about the council and the Labour group on the election trail.

“This should be put up after the election. I think it’s being used to affect the outcome and for political purposes.

“The town hall has a willingness to attack opposition councillors.”

Mr Ellis is standing in Hindley ward in the May election against Neil Hancox (Green), John Skipworth (Lib Dem), Jim Talbot (Lab) and Margaret Winstanley (Con).