The admission from Labour’s Diane Abbot last week that she fears being murdered by extremists, as was Jo Cox, might, at first, seem a little like the biter bit. There is something a little incongruous about one of the most senior figures in the current version of Labour being concerned for her safety, given the vitriol that has poured out of the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader.
Yet it is also extraordinarily sad. Actually it is tragic and one hopes that tragedy does not become literal, either in the case of Diane Abbott or anybody else - from any political party.
What it is not however, is a surprise. Not today. Not in 2019. The rise of the online troll and the spewing forth of hatred via the internet is one of the reasons but only one. Social media has been at the forefront of criticism in mainstream news over recent months and consistent calls to bring in new laws to control it have grown, particularly where young people are concerned. Diane Abbott has also been quoted, in view of her fears, saying that social media users should be stripped of their anonymity – the very same call already made some time ago by KJM Today (remember who said it first!). In this, we must stand alongside her, regardless of our political views.
‘Twitter or Facebook should have your real name and address’, said Miss Abbott. She is of course, entirely correct. There is no reason on earth why anybody should be able to hide behind a fake internet name when posting comments anywhere and on any subject. The only reason people do so is to hide – the internet gives them the means to say anonymously what they wish, in any way they choose and one of the significant aspects to this are the number of hate messages sent to Labour MPs who dared challenge Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the party.
Both Liz Kendall and Angela Eagle were victims of hard-left hatred; Miss Kendall was called a ‘Tory scum, a witch and a cow’ and one email sent to Miss Eagle said: ‘If you become Labour leader…you will die bitch…this is my one and only warning. Next time you see me I’ll be with a real gun or knife cutting your life to an end.’
The extreme left is well-known for its intolerance and willingness to do such things and history has shown it to be so. Yet such menace is not limited to the far left. The Scottish National Party, while disavowing its own extremists, also spawned numerous examples of bigotry and so has the far-right elsewhere in the UK – it has to be remembered that Jo Cox was murdered by one such fanatic. Thomas Mair however, was no youthful idealist whose mind had been warped by internet-fuelled hatred. He was 55 and was found to have bookshelves at his home packed with publications about the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, along with a wall covered in photographs of his victim.
So where does such hatred originate? It has its roots in those like Thomas Mair, middle-aged and older men and women whose views are decades old. It is such aging ideologues who push out the hatred of long ago into the minds of the young. It is the past where Labour’s problem with Anti-Semitism comes from and it is those who have brought up younger members of society (young enough, fit enough and physically strong enough to carry out the outmoded demands of their elders) who are in the front line of hatred, and not just that found on the internet.
Do not therefore, for all the use of social media by the young, blame it all on them. While younger people might well have been regaled by stories of the evils of Thatcherism from their parents, just as some from the right will have been brought up with the opposite (like Thomas Mair), there are just as many older people fully conversant with information technology who misuse it for their own ends. Again once more, like Mair.
Neither must the entire blame be heaped upon internet companies and social media operators. The internet has done much to break down barriers and open up communication around the world but like any good thing, it can be, and is on a daily basis, misused and abused. And many of those who do so are not young.
Mainstream print media sometimes contributes to this same hatred by its terminology. Diane Abbott again has been written of in very disparaging terms by some newspapers and such writing doesn’t help. One can criticise politicians as much as one wishes to but there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it – the use of insulting phraseology is not justified simply because it is couched in relatively mild words and published in a national newspaper. Let’s also remember that, when criticism of the young and social media is made in them, newspapers are yesterday’s technology. It would be another tragedy for society as a whole if the printed newspaper were to become extinct, thus strenuous efforts must be made to protect and nourish it by encouraging the young to read the printed word but that cause is not helped by further fuelling animosity towards Diane Abbott or anybody else. In other words, choose your words with some care.
The responsibility for the attitude shown by some lies with everybody, regardless of their age however. Those of more mature years must, like the newspapers of today, adapt their thinking and their way of doing things. What was appropriate decades ago is not necessarily appropriate today. Ask Amber Rudd and she will undoubtedly agree.
If new laws are needed to improve the internet, the use of the real names of its users is one of the most important. By itself it will not remove the internet troll, neither will it reduce well-entrenched prejudice or political tribalism but it will certainly help if the identities of those who promulgate hate are easily seen by all.
Hatred has never achieved anything and the demonisation of one person or another will have the same result, and that applies to political parties and for that matter the European Union. Criticise if you wish but the promotion of hatred never ends well.
There is no place in the UK, in British Politics or our daily lives for it.
Read also ‘Did they ever go away?’ December 15, 2018 https://www.kjmtoday.com/single-post/2018/12/15/Social-Affairs-Did-they-ever-go-away,
and ‘News Commentary: Politics at the Crossroads’ February 21, 2019
© Kevan James 2019.
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