When I became First Minister I said I wanted to lead one of
the most accessible governments in the world. My personal use of twitter is an
important part of that accessibility.
Since I joined Twitter, I have sent over 10,500 tweets and I
have received thousands more. Some of those responses are enthusiastic,
engaging positively with my views on politics, books, tennis, the X Factor and
a whole range of other issues besides.
Others disagree with me. Sometimes that disagreement is
measured, polite and thoughtful. On other occasions it is abusive, and
sometimes it is simply vile.
Frankly, the level of abuse directed at me on-line on any
given day would make people’s hair stand on end were they to see it. I choose
to simply ignore it, but that doesn't mean that on-line comments which cross the
line of decency are acceptable.
Where political disagreement is passionate and robust, open,
honest and conducted with respect it is welcome. Even where views are
expressed using language that I wouldn't use, I accept that - after all, that's
in the nature of free speech.
But where people use twitter to threaten violence, or hurl
vile abuse, or seek to silence the voice of others through intimidation, that
is not acceptable - and we must all say so loudly and clearly.
Just like every other politician, I volunteered to be in
public life and with that comes an acceptance of public criticism. I
don’t expect everyone to agree with me - it would be a dull world if they
did. Robust political debate is part of our public life and we must
cherish it, even when it takes place in terms or in language we might not
But what simply cannot be tolerated is the lowering of our
political debate to threats of violence, or to insults and abuse based on
misogyny, homophobia, sexism, racism or disability. No one should be
subject to threats or abuse of that nature as a result of sharing their views -
whether they do so in a parliament, a pub or on the internet.
A few months ago appalling homophobic and misogynistic
comments were made about Tory leader Ruth Davidson. They were
unacceptable. I said so publicly and my party acted against the person
responsible. And we will not shirk from those decisions in future.
Obviously, I can't police Twitter single-handedly. I follow
3,500 people and am followed by almost 230,000 - I can't personally keep track
of everything that is said, but when tweets or postings from SNP members that
cross the line are brought to our attention, we will act - as we have done
That is why I am making clear today that the SNP will take
steps to warn those whose behaviour falls short of the standards we expect - we
will tell them to raise their standard of debate, to stick to issues not
personalities, and to ensure robust and passionate debate takes precedence over
abuse and intemperate language. And I am also making clear that, where
appropriate, we will take disciplinary action.
In the SNP we have a code of conduct and on-line guidance for
our members - where that code is broken, members should have no doubt that we
will use our disciplinary processes.
Of course, anyone who suggests that Twitter abuse is one way
traffic is wrong. It spans the political spectrum. That is why, across all
parties, we must send out a clear message that politics in Scotland will not be
sullied by this behaviour.
We must ensure that as politicians we set a good example and
debate the issues not the insults. Raising the standard of debate is a
responsibility across the board and I urge all parties to do as we have done -
to say clearly that crossing the line will not be tolerated.
And then we should all stop feeding the trolls. The fact is
that internet and social media is a huge positive for our political culture -
and a tiny minority should not be allowed to destroy that.
Amid the stories of cyber-bullying and abuse, the lurid
headlines and the partisan outrage we must remember that the opportunity the
internet provides for a broader range of opinions to be heard is something
precious. Just as the first print press in the 15th century opened up
opportunities for learning, debate and democracy so the internet has brought
fresh opportunities for the 21st century.
From pro-democracy movements in the middle east to campaigns
like "everyday sexism" here at home, the internet provides a platform
to share experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be heard. It has the power to
change our society for the better. Let us all aim for that.