Beard breaks Twitter silence over new threats as police investigate allegations of online abuse

Television classicist Mary Beard has called for repeated "threats of violence and death" against her and other women on Twitter to be distinguished from mere abuse.

Ms Beard, a professor of classics at University of Cambridge, last night contacted police after receiving a message claiming a bomb had been left outside her home.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast today, the 58-year-old revealed that she has since received further threats on the social media site claiming that the originals were "just a practice run".

Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, Independent columnist Grace Dent and Europe editor of Time magazine Catherine Mayer, as well as a number of other women, have previously said they had been the subject of bomb threats on the site, while two received threats of rape.

Beard said: "I've had lots of abuse, but only recently have I had these things actually threatening violence rape and death.

"I think we've got to be quite careful about drawing a distinction between those things because abuse is very nasty, it's sexist, it's misogynist but I think in some ways you can cope with that by naming and shaming.

"That's what I have quite often done – earlier this week I retweeted one lad's Twitter threat and some threatened to tell his mum and that sort of solved it.

"I think you have to be absolutely clear that these threats that have been coming to me and to other women and also, I have to say, to women who aren't lucky or unlucky enough to be in the public eye – these are criminal threats, they are threats of violence and death and all you can do is take them to the police.

"There is no two ways about it, threatening to kill someone is a crime and that's what I and other people have done and I hope other women who get these threats will do the same."

Beard said that although Twitter had been "slow off the mark" to address the issue, she was happy with the support she received from the site in the last 24 hours.

Tony Wang, Twitter UK general manager, posted a series of tweets yesterday saying abuse was "simply not acceptable".

His messages came after the website clarified its rules on abusive behaviour and put extra staff in place to handle reports of abuse.

A row over a "twitter silence" created by journalist and author Caitlin Moran also erupted yesterday after Beard said she on Twitter thant she was breaking her silence to report the threats she had received.

Journalist Giles Coren replied by tweeting Beard: "But isn't the point that if you're not looking it's not there? If you weren't on, you wouldn't have seen them? Then they'd stop"

"In short, if a tree falls on Twitter, but you're not on Twitter…" he added.

Coren later wrote: "We are arriving at the point where the anti-trolls are becoming as frothed-up, mental, mob-happy and bloodthirsty as the trolls. Sad days."

One person not taking part in the silence was trolling victim Caroline Criado-Perez, who tweeted: "For all those getting in touch about #twittersilence, while I appreciate the mark of solidarity, I didn't instigate it & I'm not taking part

"This is bc while I see the potential power of a symbolic gesture, & each must react in their own way to abuse, personally it is not how I choose to react. I choose 2 remain on twitter. I choose 2 #shoutback. And I choose not 2 stop even 4 a day (sic)."

Scotland Yard said it has launched an investigation into eight allegations of online abuse and threats.

The force said: "Detectives from the Specialist Organised & Economic Crime Command have taken responsibility for the investigations into a number of allegations recently made to the MPS relating to allegations of malicious communication made on the social networking site Twitter.

"The Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU), who hold the police national cyber crime remit, is now investigating allegations made by eight people that they have been subject to harassment, malicious communication or bomb threats."

It said the decision was taken to centralise the individual investigations, including three from outside London.

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