Jess Phillips, a Birmingham MP, has become the target of a series of hateful tweets that have caused a storm online, and raised questions about free speech.
MP Jess Phillips received tweets from YouTuber Sargon of Akkad saying ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’. This was followed up by a number of other users mentioning Phillips.
Phillips reportedly received more than 600 rape threats and 5000 mentions, but the one tweet from Sargon caused the biggest stir.
Sargon, who takes his name from a Semitic king of the 3rd millennium BC, produces alt-right and anti-feminist content for YouTube. Anti-feminist rhetoric has taken off in recent years on the internet. Anti-feminists decry the state of modern feminism, believing it to be ineffective.
Yardley MP Jess Phillips is a vocal feminist and founder of Recl@im the internet, a campaign inspired by the Reclaim the Night protests. Those campaigns saw women take to the streets en masse to object to being told to stay inside to avoid street harassment and rape. Recl@im the internet calls for everyone to ‘make a stand against abuse’ so that every voice can speak up online.
The YouTuber had produced a video, broadcast on the 29th May, titled This Week in Stupid, a series Sargon runs regularly, in which he called Recl@im The Internet ‘social communism’.
Sargon, whose real name is Carl Benjamin, in particular picked out an article by Phillips in the Huffington Post on freedom of speech.
It was in the video that he first said ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’, commenting on a section of the article reading ‘People talking about raping me isn’t fun but has become somewhat par for the course’.
Phillips believes that to achieve freedom of speech on the internet the loudest, most offensive voices must be silenced because they prevent others from speaking who do not want to incur harassment or abuse. Sargon believes that freedom of speech means allowing everyone to talk.
Speaking on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme Phillips said ‘I don’t normally when I’m walking down the street feel the need to say to people ‘I’m not going to mug you’ because we’re normal human beings.
‘It’s as if I should be thankful that these people are saying they’re not going to rape me’.
Since then Phillips has said in the Telegraph that Twitter’s failure to ban Sargon is colluding with abusers.
Twitter says Sargon has not broken its code of conduct, but the YouTuber may still face legal action for harassment.
In her original article on freedom of speech Phillips says: ‘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 backdrop of an over-stylised, naked manga woman toting a bazooka. I wouldn’t trust Megadog and his mates to achieve, well, anything.’
Many commentators demonise the alt-right as ‘childless single men who masturbate to anime’ in the words of GOP strategist Rick Wilson, speaking on MSNBC in January.
In Sargon’s commentary on Phillip’s article he remarks that ‘feminists aren’t known for being honest’.
Alt-right commentators such as Sargon, or Milo Yiannopoulos, believe that there exists a cultural acceptance of white men as the villain, whereby it is acceptable to discriminate against white men without recourse.
The alt-right argues that women in the western world are no longer oppressed and that modern feminists fail to tackle real oppression in Middle Eastern nations, for fear of being labelled racists. Sargon has before said women are not oppressed if they are able to go to university.
New EU law passed on the 31st of May which criminalises online hate speech. Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube have all agreed to work together with the EU to prevent harassment.
Karen White, Head of Public Policy for Europe at Twitter has said of their new regulation: ‘Hateful conduct has no place on Twitter’.