Jamie Bryson is a well known anti-agreement Loyalist activist with an interest in law, politics and writing. He is author of “My Only Crime Was Loyalty”, an account of his role in the Union Flag protests and his subsequent lengthy and complex criminal trial.
There is a great hypocrisy within Northern Ireland’s social media orbit. There is also a great vacuum whereby harassment, trolling and outright abuse is viewed as ‘lovable trolling’, so long as the ‘right’ people are targeted. Namely those with unfashionable, or old fashioned, social views.
If a socially conservative individual tweets anything, and I literally mean anything, then they are usually subjected to the most vile abuse by a legion of liberal trolls. This, in the left leaning world of social media, is socially acceptable.
Emma Little-Pengelly is a good example. She posted a picture of her Christmas tree in her family home. A little bit of good natured festive cheer, a perfectly normal thing to share on social media. She was subjected to a plethora of vile, abusive and nasty tweets which targeted her appearance, her family, her political views and just, it seemed, her very right to even breath the same air as some of those who had deemed her a legitimate target.
The same applies to Ruth Dudley Edwards. It appears she is another who has been deemed a legitimate target by the liberal mob on social media. Her every tweet, her every opinion piece, is greeted with an explosion of nasty and personally abusive trolling.
I live with a daily barrage of abuse, and that in of itself doesn’t bother me. It goes with the territory. What bothers me is the hypocrisy of the liberal elite. If such abuse was directed towards a ‘socially acceptable’ liberal, some of those that join in abusing me would be calling for Amnesty International to get involved.
One political figure even couched their recent condemnation of my child being subjected to abuse on social media by effectively saying it was understandable, given that I opposed same-sex marriage. Let us follow the logic of that; if you take a particular position on social issues then you have to accept that vile abuse directed towards you, and your children, is inevitable.
We must, of course, differentiate between challenging the arguments someone puts forward, and even offensive speech, and nasty and abusive harassment. The two are not the same things.
The trolls often rely upon the argument of Freedom of Expression to justify their behaviour. Freedom of Expression has legitimate constraints, it is not absolute. If you walk into a bar to watch a football match, and a supporter of the opposing team storms across the bar and starts screaming vile personal abuse in your face, you would expect most reasonable people would look on in horror. Yet in the world of social media, such behaviour is perfectly acceptable.
Due to the lack of any real standards on social media, it acts as a vehicle for many people to try and deal with their own self loathing by abusing others. I call this trolling for therapy. Its core ethos is ‘if I don’t feel good about myself, I will abuse someone else, get some likes, and then I will feel better about myself’.
This is very real phenomenon. I read not long ago a piece in which a self confessed troll was explaining that during a low point in his life, ‘trolling’ provided an outlet for him. As if we are all here to voluntarily act as a punch bag for those with self-esteem issues or mental health difficulties. Those who suffer from such deserve proper and professional medical help, encouraging them to seek solace in abusing people online- and thus normalising their behaviour- doesn’t help them, nor does it help those they target as part of their self proscribed therapy.
There appears to be a vacuum in which people think they can engage in harassment, free from the constraints of the law that applies in the real world. Social media isn’t a different planet where laws are suspended, they apply in the same manner that they apply on the street.
The PSNI appear to have it all the wrong way around. More often or not their interest in prosecuting persons for use of social media extends only to using such prosecutions as a tool to silence those deemed politically inconvenient. There hasn’t been the same willingness to go after those that use social media to engage in targeted harassment, revenge porn or bullying.
Often the PSNI will point to an inability to tie a specific account to the alleged perpetrator of the targeted social media harassment. Which, in itself, I find incredible. The security services can watch a penny half-way across the world using drones, yet they find themselves (apparently) entirely incapable of shutting down serial social media harassers.
This is why it is perfectly legitimate for social media platforms to require a valid form of ID before signing up. This would tie the account to a real person and make them think twice before tweeting. And if you instead demand the right to metaphorically wear a mask and evade responsibility for your actions, then that tells us all we need to know, doesn’t it?