7th December, 2015
Death Threats and A New, Kinder Politics!
I remember the days when social media was fun and informative. Pictures of cats, links to articles that people found interesting, political debates, gig reviews, all within the 140 character limit. Photos of food could keep my interest for hours.
Politics is something I am interested in and during election campaigns I could quickly find out what was happening in constituencies hundreds of miles away. And of course I could keep in touch with friends wherever they are – although the time difference can be challenging but at least my tendency to ramble has been tamed.
I have always been aware that there was an uglier, darker side to social media. Twitter in particular has given conspiracy theorists (and food addicts!) a far wider reach and the tin foil hat wearers can now happily spread their nonsense with a simple click. A retweet here, a favourite there and an unsuspecting world hears that ‘the Jews’ are to blame for everything from the terror attacks of 9/11 to the funding and creation of ISIL.
Then there are the ‘trolls’ the people who take delight in starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or offensive messages designed to provoke a reaction. Generally, celebrities are the targets, but on occasion grief-stricken families and victims of crime provide them with another route to being blocked or reported. I assume that after infamy being blocked is their goal. After an hour or so these trolls appear again under a different name spouting familiar insults.
But something has happened. Something has changed. The darker, more sinister side of social media has broken through. Social media isn’t very social any more.
I first noticed an increase in abuse during the Labour leadership elections. It was tiresome and mainly boring stuff – Torylite, red tory etc. Others point me to the CyberNats during the Scottish referendum as similar examples. But whoever started it the hard left have picked up the baton and are taking it to a new level.
The recent vote on extending UK airstrikes against ISIL into Syria provoked an intense and acrimonious debate. It also led to death threats against MPs.
Can you imaging seeing an MP walking down the high street and screaming ‘you pro-war monster, I am going to stab you’?
It simply wouldn’t happen. Or if it did the individual would probably be arrested quickly, and rightly so.
But if we leave the actual threats to one side and look at another worrying trend, the prognosis for the health of “social media” is no better. In fact, even worse is the defence of such death threats.
This defence has a number of variations:
- Victim blaming: This is only the start – “they” attack Corbyn and they have provoked this anger so they only have themselves to blame.
- Mention dead babies; that excuses everything: “They” voted for war, babies will die. They need to know and understand that they have caused the death of babies.
- Banter: These aren’t real threats, they are simply an expression of anger and 140 characters limits what you can say.
- The Ken verdict: Man up or get out of politics.
So suggesting that Corbyn should wear a red poppy (he did); voting with your conscience in parliament; holding a different political opinion – all deserve and lead to death threats.
Death threats are not banter. They should never be accepted as such. Call them what they are. A crime!
Yes politics can be tough. Differences of opinion occur all of the time. But this isn’t about left -v- right. It is right -v- wrong.
Many people say it is ‘just part of the Internet culture’. It isn’t. It is part of a breakdown of respect.
The rule that the perpetrators apply: say anything against Corbyn and you deserve to die! That is the reality of the new, kinder politics.
The Labour Party is so concerned about it that they are drafting new guidelines about social media use. Yes, new guidelines to deal with murder threats! We don’t need guidelines we need arrests.
If something doesn’t change soon I fear the new, kinder politics will result in a real life crime.
By Barnabus Howard
Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’
- Labour To Introduce Social Media Conduct Code [SkyNews]
- Labour MP calls in police over Twitter ‘death threat’ [Mirror]