Poisoned debate

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.

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4 thoughts on “Poisoned debate

  1. bringiton

    The British state can control the propaganda message via traditional media by ensuring that only approved people are allowed to own it.
    However,they have little or no control over the internet,at present,hence the hostile nonsense we are seeing from the supporters of the status quo.
    If the MSM was based in Edinburgh instead of London,we would be hearing a very different message.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald

    During the 2014 campaign a trope that was heavily worked by Better Together and its media friends was the ‘Cybernat”. There were regular stories and phone ins about the nastiness that unionists were receiving, and, indeed, with the Clare Heuchan saga, it is continuing.
    Today’s Sunday Herald article goes some way to redress the balance, and was more even-handed than any unionist-supporting medium would have been.
    You have raised the issues of free speech and media control, and these are serious issues. However, as a white male do you receive as much nasty trolling as women do? Most of it is simply because they are women, and only partly because of the views they are espousing. Do we as white males know what it is like to be a woman?
    The notorious troll, “Brian Spanner”, who was a NO supporter, made comments about Ms Margaret Curran, which were appalling.
    So, I think there is a case for greater use of the law in this matter.

  3. Tom Graham

    While I agree with your fundamental stance on Scottish Independence, I think your article in this case is naive, and even dangerous. There is no such thing as absolute freedom, whether of speech or anything else. The example you illustrate is not “so called abuse” it’s abuse pure and simple, and hateful, and damaging to any kind of discourse. Tolerating this under the blanket of a justified response to press misdemeanours, politician’s overheated hyperbole, or any warped sense of free expression drops the decency bar to a level where normal folk cease to engage, and we’re left only with polarised psychos spewing their bile at each other, during breaks from chewing the carpet.

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