LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A gay TV star from one of Britain’s leading reality shows called on the government on Thursday to do more to protect people online after receiving almost daily death threats and homophobic abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.
Bobby Norris, star of “The Only Way Is Essex” or TOWIE, said new laws that could trace and block IP addresses would prevent “trolls” from simply creating new profiles if banned from social media platforms as they could then be identified.
Norris told a parliamentary committee of crossbench lawmakers via weblink that people had to submit more information to get a supermarket loyalty card than a social media account.
“I feel like the law hasn’t had a chance to keep up with how big social media has become,” said Norris, who is leading a campaign for tougher sanctions for online trolling.
“I have a list of people who have taken their own lives as they couldn’t handle the abuse.”
A third of LGBT+ people in Britain have experienced online abuse because of their sexuality or gender identity, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. Many said they found it harder to report abuse than their heterosexual peers.
Norris, 33, who joined the reality TV show in 2012, was the first witness to submit evidence to parliament’s Petitions Committee as part of a new inquiry into tackling online abuse.
A parliamentary spokesman said there was no set length for the inquiry but a report would be submitted eventually to the government for consideration.
The session was triggered after more than 130,000 people signed an online petition posted by Norris calling for trolls to be held “accountable for their online abuse” via IP addresses.
Norris said he suffered abuse almost daily and had seen a significant increase in online trolling since the lockdown which came with potentially catastrophic mental health implications.
“As a gay man of 33 I think I’ve built up quite a thick skin and I do have a strength,” said Norris, one of a group of real-life mega-tanned men and women from the county of Essex whose lives, loves and scandals are followed on the reality TV show.
“That is not to say it doesn’t hurt and it’s certainly not right, but I’ve built up this immunity.”
Many lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people have experienced some form of online abuse, added Hugo Minchin, director and co-founder of Talk to the Rainbow, a Bristol-based LGBT+ therapy centre.
“It’s undeniable that online abuse contributes to depression, anxiety and for certain people it can, very unfortunately, lead to suicide,” Minchin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org