I have tended to take a fairly relaxed approach to so-called ‘online abuse’. In part, this is no more than a sensible response to the media, whose hysterical sensationalism and blatantly selective reporting of the issue is no more than a transparent, and often ludicrously clumsy, attempt to delegitimise Scotland’s independence movement. I choose to deny those who would manipulate me the extreme reaction they hope to provoke.
I also see it as a matter of ‘free speech’ and political engagement. To put it simply, I would rather people were expressing themselves abusively than not expressing themselves at all. I recognise that not everybody enjoys the same access to language and that those who rely on the mainstream media for information and analysis will tend to have a horribly warped view of Scottish politics – particularly the SNP. They react in the only way they they know how to stories whose primary, if not only, purpose is to foster anger and hatred using all the devious tricks of the journalist’s trade.
Mostly, I’m fine with that reaction. Obviously, the media’s incitement to ill-informed and misplaced animosity is to be deplored. But who am I to deny people the right to speak their minds in what may be the only terms available to them? I maintain a default position that it is better people should engage with politics even at some crude, animalistic level than that they should be lost entirely to the apathy that is the most insidious threat to democracy.
I see it as a good and healthy thing that we now have facilities which provide a public forum for voices that would otherwise not be heard. Even if much of what those voices are saying is markedly unedifying.
It must also be recognised that irresponsible politicians effectively licence much of the abuse that we see on the various social media platforms. As attention-seeking politicians ramp up the rhetoric in an effort to outdo one another and feed the slavering maw of a media monster ravenous for fresh sensation and titillation, they send signals which are read as giving permission to those less able or inclined to the subtleties and contrivances of political language.
There are limits. However tolerant any of us may be as individuals, there is always the law. However distantly from society’s norms we place them, and however faintly we draw than, there are always lines that should not be crossed. I have no problem at all with robust debate. Were we all to succumb to the dour rigours of the self-appointed language police, our political discourse would be an insipid and dispiriting thing quite deserving of the seeping indifference that spells death to democracy.
Undermining a political opponent’s credibility by means of mocking denigration is a perfectly valid tactic. But there is a world of difference between inviting disrespect for an individual’s intellect, attitudes and character and suggesting or encouraging violence against their person.
Scotland’s independence movement is, and always has been, peaceful, lawful and democratic. The political space in which it has existed facilitated this. It would be a tragedy if that space was altered by a British establishment apparently blind, or recklessly indifferent, to the potential consequences of the manner in which it responds to that movement’s growing power.
Online abuse is not the problem. It is merely a symptom of a debate which is being poisoned by forces far more powerful that any number of semi-literate, barely coherent Twitter trolls.Views: 3053
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