The Only Way Is Essex star Bobby Norris has told MPs the trolling he has received online has increased since lockdown and said he gets almost daily death threats.
Giving evidence via video link to the Petitions Committee about his petition on tackling online abuse, the reality star said all of the abuse he receives is homophobic and it is so constant that he has almost become “immune” to the attacks.
Norris, who first found fame on the ITV2 show in 2012, said: “I have seen such an increase in online abuse and trolling, especially since lockdown, and since speaking about it to my fans and followers on social media I’m so aware it’s not just me and people in the public eye going through it.
Taking questions from Elliot Colburn MP, who said he received homophobic abuse during the election campaign, Norris said: “I think I’ve become immune almost to the online hatred and homophobia, it’s devastating that I’ve had to build immunity to it.
“Whenever I receive online hate it’s always to do with my sexuality, as a gay man of 33 I think I’ve built up quite a thick skin and I do have a strength, that is not to say it doesn’t hurt and it’s certainly not right, but I’ve built up this immunity.
“I’m very aware that 14-year-old Bobby would not have that strength. And I hear from so many people, whether it’s parents or people suffering themselves, saying how is it 2020 and we are still having to face this and nothing is being done about it?
“We have come so far in terms of homophobia but we have still got a long way to go.
“I believe there is still this thing in people’s minds where they think what they say online doesn’t matter and it’s not the same as saying it to someone’s face, but it is.”
Norris said much of the problem derives from the fact that so little information is required to set up a social media account, suggesting users to have to give a form of identification and trolls should have their IP addresses flagged so they cannot set up new accounts when they are reported.
He said: “If I was to go to a supermarket and sign up for a reward card, I would have to give more information than to access the internet, that is in everyone’s homes and everyone’s phones.
“I feel like the law hasn’t had a chance to keep up with how big social media has become.”
He added: “I believe trolling is abuse and the content is often a hate crime, whether it’s homophobia or racism, if it’s a hate crime offline, it should be online.
“You do get full-time trolls, a lot of people say ‘just block them’ but because it’s so easy to start a new account no sooner have you blocked them they have gone back online and started another one.”
Norris said he had been receiving death threats “almost daily” during the lockdown and added: “If everyone knew they were traceable I believe we would see a massive decrease.”