I don’t see things the way Ann Travers does and there are questions I have asked of her, not least in respect of the SPAD bill that had her imprimatur firmly stamped across it. Still, I would have even more questions to ask of her were she not to hold feet to the fire in respect of her sister’s killing out of misplaced respect for someone else’s political project or in deference to some cudgel wielding fascistoid. If family doesn’t care, few others will. In any exchanges, I have found her easy to disagree with. She is not some ranting thug screaming “enemy of” whatever it is they claim to believe in. There is absolutely no need to howl ‘verboten’ at her. Well, there is a need but it is not one that would be described as just.
Unfortunately, since she raised her concerns about online abuse in the summer the venom has proved too much and Ann Travers has decided to pull back from commentary on Twitter and Facebook where she said she had received abuse day and night.
Being on Twitter is like sitting in a room and having complete strangers shout at you incessantly without stopping ... It can carry on throughout the day, throughout the night - you can be woken up by your phone pinging and even if you switch the phone off, it's still there in the morning... You come to dread looking to check your notifications, to see what's being said about you ... And although you block these people, they still continue to abuse you even though you can't see it, but other people then get tagged into the conversation who you haven't blocked so it keeps on coming up on your timeline and of course, you look because you are scared.
This is both the appalling outcome and human cost of censorship. While Ann Travers says it is not a victory for the censors, they will not see it that way. At the same time it can hardly be demanded that people continue on in circumstances that are too stressful or painful. ‘When you start to look at your phone with fear, that's whenever you know that enough's enough.’
The internet has proven a censor’s nightmare. Prior to its emergence writers with a contrary opinion were confined to expressing it in private, or were at the mercy of some newspaper editor, who might print a letter in what was an opinion lottery. Now a dominant narrative can be challenged instantly, often by amateur bloggers who can make professional journalists look like dullards. The powerful have lost their power to define with the ease of old and have despatched the thought police. The thugs rather than gather outside your home assemble at your Twitter account or Facebook page in a bid to tilt the balance back in the favour of the powerful.
I hope at some point Ann Travers returns. The internet community that values dissent and is alert to the perils of conformity needs, in the spirit of Pastor Niemoller, to support each other and refuse to allow the howling hyenas to isolate a single user and savage them out of the game. In the age of electronic media, social media is the oxygen of intellectual freedom: the bane of governments, security services and political elites. Suffocation is not an option.