Former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg – now a senior Facebook executive – has been summoned to give evidence to a parliamentary committee about abuse of MPs on social media.
Sir Nick, who was appointed the social media platform’s head of global affairs in October, will be quizzed by the Joint Human Rights Committee over concerns that online abuse is inhibiting MPs’ ability to serve their constituents and undermining the effective functioning of democracy.
The committee of MPs and peers has also invited Twitter to send a representative to a hearing in Westminster, expected in March.
In a letter to Sir Nick, the committee’s chairwoman Harriet Harman said members had been “disturbed” to hear evidence from MPs about “significant” levels of abuse, threats and intimidation they receive on social media.
“The Committee asked parliamentary colleagues about the correct balance between the right to protest, including to protest against things an MP has said, and the democratic need for MPs to have the freedom to represent their constituents and communicate with the public,” said Ms Harman.
“JCHR members were disturbed to hear that the level of abuse, threats and intimidation from social media is a significant problem, to the extent that it is affecting the way in which MPs feel able to go about their business.”
She added: “In 2017 the Committee on Standards in Public Life looked at the problem of harassment in public life and considered that change was needed to defend ‘the fundamental structures of political freedom’. In its view ‘the widespread use of social media platforms is the most significant factor driving the behaviour we are seeing’.
“I am very concerned that little, if anything, has changed since that report.”
At a hearing of its inquiry into democracy, free speech and freedom of association last week, the committee heard evidence from senior Conservative backbencher Sir Graham Brady that abuse and threats had become “more widespread” since the advent of social media.
In his first speech in his new role last week, former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick announced that Facebook was setting up a “war room” in Dublin to tackle political misinformation in the run-up to the European Parliament elections in May.
He said then that Facebook “has undoubtedly made mistakes and is now entering a new phase of reform, responsibility and change”.