- If you can't answer a man's arguments, all is not lost; you can still call him vile names - Elbert Hubbard
Towards the end of last year this blog raised the issue of the online intimidation of victims’ campaigner Ann Travers. Now, another woman has become the target for the trolls - PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston, whose work on one occasion featured on TPQ. The loyalist politician expressed the view that the Parades Commission was failing to behave in an even-handed fashion and according to the Belfast Telegraph, her comments “led to a massive online backlash, with many unleashing hate-filled abuse at the councillor."
Perhaps it is just a gut feeling but it strikes me that when the troll target is a woman the viciousness and venom unleased reaches a new level. Take the following by way of example. It involved a woman who was both a barrister and a senator with the Irish Labour Party.
Lorraine Higgins is a dumb blonde, a whore, a c**t, a poxy, two-faced, money-grabbing bimbo bitch, who deserves to get her head ripped off and shoved where the sun don't shine. She should have been aborted and she deserves to be hatcheted in the face.
Higgins had criticised jailed water protestors when she should have been lambasting Irish Water but that does not mitigate the action of her abusers in their malign and no doubt anonymous efforts to force her off the freedom to express highway. It seems the exact same sort of belligerent bullying is now seeking to reduce to roadkill the opinions of Corr Johnston. Billy Hutchinson, the PUP leader, summed up the essence of her grievance-causing action which amounted to nothing more than a viewpoint the trolls took umbrage at.
Cllr Corr Johnston merely raised the potential of perceived bias because of the actions of a Parades Commission employee and as result was subjected to a sinister and disturbing social media attack.
Some of the abuse was reported to be sectarian, misogynist, and anti-gay and, according to Hutchinson, among the worst he had encountered. Ms Corr Johnston’s partner was also said to have been subjected to abuse.
Such has been the facilitation of abuse via online anonymity that there have been murmurs of approval when the use of anonymity itself comes under threat:
Anonymity on the Internet has often made people nastier and more crude in their speech. It allows them to speak and do things without having to take responsibility. Anonymity allows people to unleash their id and all the ugliness they conceal beneath their polite facades. Given the dark slimy things that crawl underneath the cloak of anonymity, one’s first instinct might be to celebrate when modern technologies destroy anonymity.
Caroline Criado-Perez, herself subject to serious and prolonged online abuse, gets to the crux of the matter in her suggestion that free speech is less likely when the abusers get their way because they use fear to suppress freedom of inquiry.
it’s never too late for social media companies like Twitter to take abuse seriously ... I’m really pleased to see them taking their responsibility to foster a platform for free speech and debate by creating a platform where people can speak without fear.
Is facilitating anonymity something which is beneficial to free speech or is it a weapon that helps curb freedom of expression and inquiry?
The howling angry mob mob no longer arrive at our doors in the form of a picket in the dark of night. They gather around our social media slots to hurl their invective and venom, still using the internet version of darkness provided by a moniker. The freedom of Julie-Anne Corr Johnston to express her opinion must be afforded the same space as that of any other. There is no need to respect her opinion, but her right to express it is crucial. Difference and diversity irrigate intellectual life preventing it ossifying into the arid wasteland the troll prefers, so that the molehill of an idea churned out from the sterility of his cranium might look like a mountain on a flat plain.