Saturday, 17 September 2016

A torrent of abuse

I make no apologies for returning to the subject of political abuse, which has reached horrifying levels and deeply worries me as it's a deliberate attempt to censor and silence people you disagree with.

It's now completely normal for public figures with controversial views to be deluged with literally thousands of abusive and threatening messages, both online and offline, and little is being done to stop it.

Women with strong feminist opinions (or any opinions) are targeted. Critics of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, are targeted. Black people are targeted. Sportspeople are targeted. Even school pupils who don't "fit in" are targeted by other pupils. And not just with mild, half-hearted abuse but with vicious, brutal abuse, including death threats and the hope that they're in line for a terminal illness.

Baroness Wheatcroft, who opposes Brexit, says the level of hostility against her during the referendum campaign was appalling. Even now the post and emails she's receiving are unbelievable and "all inhibitions have gone".

It's encouraging that public figures facing this torrent of abuse day in and day out are carrying on and not quitting under the pressure. But many of them wonder if it's worth the relentless hatred, especially if it's affecting their friends and families and not just themselves.

What's really worrying is the fascist overtone of it all. If it gets to the point where people are hiding their views and staying silent to avoid an online lynching, if they're keeping their heads down and playing safe or their lives will be hell, then democracy is in serious danger.

I've already said I don't feel at all British. If I was prone to shame, which luckily I'm not, I think I'd be utterly ashamed to live in a country where such savage, ruthless abuse of anyone you dislike is increasingly seen as normal.


  1. People kept their heads down and their views to themselves long before the internet...doff your hat or curtsey to the vicar...don't join a union...go to church on Sundays - or lose your job, your home and any security for yourself and your family.

  2. A torrent of abuse. That is a very good way to put it.

  3. Helen: That's true, there were always unspoken understandings (and still are) that if you say certain things, or behave in a certain way, there would be repercussions for your job, your home etc. But now there's also this systematic bullying to contend with. Though the irony is that despite this extra onslaught of disapproval, personal repercussions are actually less likely.

  4. Hattie: It's a raging, merciless torrent. A tsunami even. In some cases literally tens of thousands of menacing messages in just a few hours.

  5. I am not on Facebook I have no blog. I read newspapers and listen to the radio..No TV. People seem to be fond of putting their nose in other people lifes. I am not really concerned and who is guilty ? All politicians have Facebook , Twitter and so on. Do they need this really, are they exposing themselves to all these abuses? I have no idea.
    Mia More

  6. Mia: My thoughts as well, do politicians really need Twitter and Facebook? Is the limited political benefit worth all the foul abuse? In the pre-internet days, politicians got huge followings through the conventional means of canvassing, making speeches etc. Why not stick to those old-fashioned methods?

    Life, lives.

  7. I wonder how much this has really changed, or is it just magnified in our minds because of the Internet?

  8. Bijoux: As I said to Hattie, there's a big difference between a few poison-pen letters, which was what happened before the internet, and the literally tens of thousands of abusive messages that can now deluge someone in a few hours. It's not only more distressing but also totally disrupts their work and everyday life.

  9. Technology has made the torrents easy to do. And the world is chaning fast. I keep thinking of Yeats,

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    No lack of passion here in the states this election. And it's bound to get worse.

  10. Jean: Indeed, how very appropriate those lines are to the current political madness. Passionate but vacuous intensity everywhere you look. And as you say, it'll probably get worse rather than better.

  11. i once read that each successive generation must be taught the concept of simple kindness.
    not to simplify all you've said here... and so eloquently said...
    but that seems to be mainly what we're missing now.
    simple kindness.
    if we had that it wouldn't matter what technology changes came about... we would still be kind.

  12. Tammy: Very true, if simple kindness was normal behaviour, the mass-hatred possibilities of the internet would be academic. I wonder why people find it so hard to be kind and prefer to spew out all this venomous bile?

  13. maybe it's something in the water nick! :)
    my own personal opinion has been for years...
    that any society that is fed a continuous stream of consciousness that is VIOLENT in the form of entertainment for years on end is going to become violent and uncaring on ALL levels.
    we're seeing that result now.

  14. Tammy: Certainly there seems to be a snowball effect. The more one group of people get away with extreme abuse, the more other people join in, until abuse becomes routine. And as long as politicians like Trump and Farage encourage it, the worse it gets.

  15. absolutely true!