Trolls, please get out of my life - the language you use is a form of verbal terrorism

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says she has been the victim of abuse on TwitterReuters

The Electoral Commission protects the status quo and operates under electoral laws which go back to 1800. Unexpectedly, a modern blight has roused the usually dozy watchdog, which this week suggested that those who use the Internet to tyrannise politicians should be denied the vote. Dumb idea. Most trolls, I reckon, never vote. Why would they? They loathe the system and all who work within it.

Several years ago the BBC's Andrew Marr described the bullies as "socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men". We know through new research that most are, indeed, anti-social, narcissistic males. And that they particularly target women, people of colour, religious minorities, vulnerable children and the weak.

I get abused much online. The words are like vomit thrown up after hard drinking, so I avoid going near the stench and slops. That avoidance strategy worked well enough until last year. Not any more.

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The volume and nature of malevolence is becoming unbearable. A few years back, that distinctly odd Tory MP Michael Fabricant tweeted that he wanted to punch me in the throat. I got angry and took him on.

Fabricant's unwanted attention now seems tame. The stuff that is thrown at me these days is so malicious that I feel exposed when I am out and about. Sometimes paranoia takes over. I have lost weight and have sleepless nights. At times, I have to get in the police to deal with threatening trolls. Acknowledging hurt is hard as it replenishes those who love to hate.

Since the run up to the EU referendum, racists, sexists and other vexatious Britons have been emboldened to pick on, stalk and savage people in public life. Their heads are like continually-stoked fires coal fires emitting toxic fumes. Free speech is their weapon, democracy their spurious excuse. I was a panellist this week on The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 . When we discussed this subject, a chap called in and said he was entitled to abuse anyone he pleased because he lived in a free country. For those who suffer perpetual harassment, the UK has become an unhappy and unsafe place. The most persecuted and least protected are our incredibly hard working politicians.

These men and women go through gruelling elections, and serve both the state and demanding, needy constituents. An excellent female MP I know has decided to quit because she has had enough of the intimidation and invective: "I hardly see my own kids. Work 80 hours a week. Am on trains day and night. And they come for me online. I have even been told I deserve this because all politicians are scum."

A BBC Radio 5 Live survey found that nearly 90% of MPs had experienced some kind of abuse with some saying the 2017 election was the worst ever. Dianne Abbott, whom I have known for over 25 years, gets more vile abuse and violent threats than any other MP.

A study carried out by Amnesty this year found that of 25,688 extreme abusive online messages, half were to Abbott. When she talked about this on This Morning GMTV, she was criticised for repeating what was said to her.

This is verbal terrorism. Words hurt and disable humans, sometimes even more than blows and slaps. What kind of progress is this which allows and encourages behaviours we would not put up with at bus stops, in restaurants or at school gates? Who gave these brutes the licence to wound? Do they teach their kids to swear and silence other kids?

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The kind of language we long thought had been buried in the cesspits of Nazism and racism has been interred and is now used liberally. Many hoped the murder of Jo Cox would lead to a new, kinder politics. In truth, since then, things have got worse. If you thought political vigilantes only operated in 'backward' countries like Zimbabwe and Egypt, think again.

I confess in recent months I have thought of quitting and disappearing from public life. But a defiant voice in my head tells me to stay focused, carry on, for my sake and the sake of nascent journalists. Young women who contact me say they are too scared to go into the media because of Internet bullying. Their talents and ambitions are being suppressed by ignorant, stupid, losers who will leave the world without ever making their mark.

The police are now dealing more assertively with this crime. Reckless internet companies are not. The government and media could do much more. Tormentors should be named, shamed, tried, fined large amounts of money, handed anti-social orders or have their benefits slashed. Without tough measures these barbarians will further vandalise social bonds and deface human dignity. Within a decade, the country previously known as Great Britain will be no more. It's that serious.

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