Tag Archives: online abuse

Coping with the hate

On Friday 25 October the Guardian reported on some research from Cardiff University and Edinburgh University which suggested that most leave voters who took part thought that violence towards MPs “was a price worth paying” for Brexit to be delivered – 71% in England, 70% in Wales, 60% in Scotland. The majority of remain voters also felt that potential violence was worth it if it meant staying in the EU – 58% in England, 56% in Wales, 53% in Scotland. The co-director of the research project at the Cardiff end declared that he was “flabbergasted” by these results.

These “violence worth it’ responders were of course talking about people’s violence, not theirs! But the easy tolerance of such hate crimes needs to be taken seriously. Lay that alongside Jennie Rigg’s account on this site of verbal abuse on social media at a time of severe family stress.

I felt as bad about Jennie’s departure from the Liberal Democrats as I did about Michael Meadowcroft leaving for a sustained period post-merger. I have huge respect for Jennie and it was good to share office premises with her when we had a Member of Parliament in Bradford East.

Lay alongside that my own experience in the summer/autumn of 2017. I was due to defend my council seat in May 2018. Along with other Board members, I had to take some very difficult decisions about the local Mechanics Institute, of which I was Chair, but the rescue operation was portrayed as a determination to close it. There was a scurrilous Facebook campaign which accused me of hypocrisy and betraying the local community. The perpetrators used language clearly intended to undermine and destabilise, alongside some nasty cartoons – replete with haloes and dog collars! One of them declared his intention to stand against me as an Independent.

We took the view that fighting this stuff head on was pointless and the best response was to carry on our usual campaigning to the best of our ability in the circumstances. Our organiser, also one of my ward colleagues, advised me not to read the more vicious posts. He would read them and keep me in the picture. In May, in a ward which voted 66% leave, I was returned with the usual majority of 200+ over Labour. The Independent was hammered in the only place that ultimately mattered – the ballot box.

Politically it worked out OK but I still bear the personal scars. I have never been a good sleeper but that summer my sleep patterns were shot to pieces. Fortunately I have found ways of managing this with strong support from my brilliant GP. She is very familiar with my political lifestyle!

So what do I learn from all this? Jennie asks “what are the solutions?” I have no easy answers. But  a rather less complicated question is “what are the responses?” I suggest three. First of all we need to recognise that we simply need to avoid reading most of the stuff from the keyboard warriors. This is not denial. Often it is having a care for our own sanity.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 13 Comments

When people talk about the poisoning of political discourse in this country, this is what they are talking about

Hi. I’m Jennie. I was a Lib Dem for a long time. Now I’m not. However, the bonds and friendships you forge over that kind of length of time don’t just break when you’re not a party member any more. So when my mum was rushed into hospital last night with a collapsed lung after having had surgery for cancer last week, there were a lot of Lib Dems among the people expressing sympathy and wishing me well.

Here’s one of them:

Now, yes, that’s the leader of a political party. But that’s also a human being, reaching out to a fellow human being in pain, with sympathy and compassion.

Don’t click through to the replies. Really, don’t. I’ve blocked all the nasty ones anyway… And yet maybe you should. Maybe you should go and look at these people who think the best response to someone expressing sympathy for a friend is to excoriate them. Maybe you should go and look at those replies and wonder: how did we get here?

I want to ask, what do those people think they are achieving? Who do they think they are convincing? Someone whose mum is in hospital with a collapsed lung after surgery to remove cancer? Someone who is gently reaching out to provide comfort? What good are they doing for their cause here? Who is going to read those replies and think “yeah, you stick it to the daughter of the cancer sufferer!” What possible benefit can they be gaining?

Having had a tiny taste of the abuse she gets just for existing in the public sphere, I have to say: I wouldn’t be Jo Swinson for all the tea in China right now. And I am not (I was famously described by one of the editors of this website as not) by any means a shrinking violet.

I don’t know what the solution to this is. And, you know, my mum is in hospital, I’ve got that to concentrate on right now. But there must BE a solution, and I think it behoves us all to find it. There must be a way we can conduct debate in this country without ending up in endless shouts of abuse.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 20 Comments

LibLink: Christine Jardine: As I grieved my husband, internet trolls attacked

In her Scotsman column, Christine Jardine describes the pain of losing her husband during the election campaign in 2017 – which was then added to by attacks from internet trolls:

Two years ago, at the most difficult time in my personal life, a political activist who thought they were clever decided it was OK to launch a nasty, and untrue attack.

During the 2017 general election campaign, my husband had died from a sudden and unpredicted heart attack.

The circumstances were particularly difficult. We were separated, he was living on his own and, because my name on his list of next of kin was different from his, the police opted for the other person whose name was the same.

It was my daughter who took the call.

The next few days were a blizzard of emotional conversations until we received the results of a post-mortem which detailed how sudden and irretrievable his attack had been.

There were newspaper stories and obituaries to read from journalists and a media he had worked in for 30 years and who were keen to show their respect.

I struggled with the inevitable questions that come from a loved one’s death, exacerbated in this case by the guilt that came from decisions that had set us on different paths after 30 years together.

On the evening of the funeral, the attacks started:

I discovered I was accused on Twitter of breaking the cross-party agreement not to campaign as a mark of respect to the Manchester bombing.

At first I thought it was a mistake, and explained I had been at what I described as “a family funeral”.

Internet trolls started vying to see who could be nastiest about me, while others piled in to try and defend and one or two did send me an apology.

Next day it was all over the papers. There were demands for an apology aimed at the political party whose activist had started it all.

And at the centre of it all my daughter, who was trying to deal with the death of the father she adored, was now dealing with a vicious attack on her mother.

So what’s the way out of all of this?

Posted in LibLink | Also tagged | 5 Comments

Tory leadership contest already degenerating into online abuse.

One of the reasons there is a lot of solidarity among women in politics is that we all have to put up with a lot of the same crap.

We have to deal with people thinking that they have the right to say things to us about our appearance, our behaviour and our beliefs than they would ever dare to say to another man.

So when I saw Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach tweet a horrible message (which she has since deleted) she’d had from a male Tory MP, my first thought was sympathy for her.

At the tail end of the coalition, I actually felt I was going to completely go under at one point with all the abuse I was getting. And the worst was from fellow Lib Dems telling me what a disgrace I was. The pro-coalition people didn’t think I was loyal enough to Nick Clegg. The anti-coalition people thought I was too slavishly loyal to Nick Clegg.  And I got it at full pelt from both sides.

A year or so later, I wrote about the experience, and this seems to be a good time to reprise that here:

The internet is a pretty torrid place at the best of times. Some users delight in throwing rage, bile and abuse around the place. If you are a woman the abuse can be particularly graphic, sexualised and incredibly unpleasant.

In a feature for Radio 5 live, 3 politicians, including our former minister Jo Swinson, talk about their experiences of online abuse and how it affected them. Also taking part are my SNP MP Hannah Bardell and Labour’s Diane Abbott, who gets a whole load of racist bile thrown in just for good measure.

This is fairly routine for any woman who commits the “offence” of going on the internet in possession of an opinion. I’ve come in for it myself and it does wear you down. There was a time a couple of years ago where it really started to affect me badly and reduced me to tears on several occasions. The European elections disaster and the independence referendum combined to create what seemed to be a never-ending spiral of abuse. The most hurtful came from commenters on this site, members of the party, some of whom I actually know in real life, who said some pretty unpleasant personal stuff, but they were just part of it. It felt that wherever I turned, there was nastiness.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 20 Comments

WATCH: Christine Jardine on the “mindless, vindictive” online attacks she endured on day of her husband’s funeral

One of the most awful points of the General Election was seeing Christine Jardine coming under attack from a whole load of people online. They’d accused her of breaking the campaign pause in Edinburgh West. She had, in fact, been at her husband’s funeral. Even when they were told the situation, they kept going and kept throwing even more abuse. It was shameful.

This afternoon, in a debate on online abuse in the House of Commons, Christine spoke very powerfully about those experiences. Sure, politicians were going to be subject to disagreement and comment but nobody signs up for intimidation and abuse.

I thought that she made some really sensitive and intelligent comments about mental health, too. She outlined how social media could be a force for good for those who suffered from mental ill health and how it could really help with isolation. I actually know that from my own experience. Back in 2009, Twitter kept me going when I was laid low for months by Glandular Fever. That was in the early days when it was a lovely place to be. I actually made some friends on there who became friends in real life. But social media also has a potential to do much harm to mental health if people were subjected to abuse and bullying.

Last year I wrote of my own experience of online abuse and how it came pretty close to breaking my spirit.

Here is Christine’s speech in full. The text is below.

Mr Speaker sir thank you for calling me to speak in a debate which, for me, has such personal resonance.

During the most recent General Election I was one of those who discovered just how easily an on line platform can be used to spread hurtful or personally abusive lies.

My experience – which is far from the worst example – actually started with something I originally put down to a genuine mistake or misunderstanding…. Before quickly realising it was actually an attempt to gain political advantage with no respect whatsoever for the personal impact… or the truth.

During the break in campaigning as a mark of respect following the Manchester attack I was accused, on social media, by an activist from another party, of ignoring that and going out campaigning.

I had, in fact, been at my husbands funeral.

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 7 Comments

Online abuse might not break bones, but it can come close to breaking your spirit

The internet is a pretty torrid place at the best of times. Some users delight in throwing rage, bile and abuse around the place. If you are a woman the abuse can be particularly graphic, sexualised and incredibly unpleasant.

In a feature for Radio 5 live, 3 politicians, including our former minister Jo Swinson, talk about their experiences of online abuse and how it affected them. Also taking part are my SNP MP Hannah Bardell and Labour’s Diane Abbott, who gets a whole load of racist bile thrown in just for good measure.

This is fairly routine for any woman who commits the “offence” of going on the internet in possession of an opinion. I’ve come in for it myself and it does wear you down. There was a time a couple of years ago where it really started to affect me badly and reduced me to tears on several occasions. The European elections disaster and the independence referendum combined to create what seemed to be a never-ending spiral of abuse. The most hurtful came from commenters on this site, members of the party, some of whom I actually know in real life, who said some pretty unpleasant personal stuff, but they were just part of it. It felt that wherever I turned, there was nastiness.

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 30 Comments

Swinson and Farron speak out against online abuse after threats sent to Labour MP Jess Phillips

The internet can be a torrid place, as we all know. If you’re a woman, especially one who dares express an opinion that doesn’t sit well with a very small minority of men, you are likely to get a particularly brutal form of abuse, usually coupled with threats of sexual violence.

When Labour MP Jess Phillips reacted with incredulity to Tory Phillip Davies’ request for a debate on International Men’s Day, she was subjected to some awful abuse. You know it’s bad when one of the milder things written was an observation that seeing her spirit die would be a rewarding experience. Who could possibly think that that was ok to say to anyone about anything?

Buzzfeed UK has the full story including the full tweet. They are pretty stomach turning.

It’s important to realise that women have to put up with this sort of nonsense every day. Yes, men get abuse too, but there is a gendered aspect that is chilling. A few years ago, I wrote about how demeaning it felt when a man sat next to me on a flight reading his lad’s mag with photos of very scantily clad women. I suggested that this might be something that they should not be doing in the public space and was told that I deserved to be raped, like brutal sexual violence was an acceptable reaction to disagreeing with someone.

Posted in News | Also tagged , , and | 18 Comments
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