The problems of online radicalisation abuse are incredibly serious, and something does need to be done about it because it’s not only toxifying political discourse, it’s creating a dangerous political environment where people who have been radicalised online have ended up committing despicable criminal acts, from the barrage of sexist and anti-Semitic online abuse aimed at the Labour MP Luciana Berger, to actual acts of terrorism like the Finsbury Park attack suspect who is a Britain First follower, and the Beckton acid attack suspect with a history of sharing extreme-right memes.
One of the big problems with countering this online abuse problem is that members of the political establishment often display breathtaking hypocrisy when they complain about the problem of online political abuse.
- Take Theresa May reading out a extreme-right misogynist’s Tweet in the House of Commons to score cheap political points against Jeremy Corbyn. How can anyone ever take her seriously when she complains about online abuse when she’s willing to engage in the very worst of it if it suits her purposes?
- Take the notorious brick-gate incident that is still being endlessly recycled to smear Jeremy Corbyn supporters as thugs and bullies, even though there isn’t a shred of evidence that the brick was thrown by a “Corbynista”, or that it was targeted at Angela Eagle’s office rather than just being a random act of late night vandalism, or even that the damage was actually caused by a brick at all!
- Take the desperate efforts by people with right-wing views to pretend that the disgusting anti-Semitic abuse of Luciana Berger is coming from the left, when the online abusers who have been jailed for making threats against her are actually from the extreme-right (John Nimmo, Joshua Bonehill, Garron Helm).
- Take the constant barrages of abuse, lies and smears that constituted both the Tory London Mayor campaign in 2016 and Theresa May’s vanity election in 2017. If people see members of the political class resorting to lies, smears and utterly disgraceful character attacks, then how can anyone be even remotely surprised when ordinary people imitate Lynton Crosby style shit-smearing tactics in the online environment?
- Take the fact that Yvette Cooper tweeted abuse from a known hard-right sockpuppet account that pretends to be a Jeremy Corbyn adviser in order to falsely misrepresent the left of the Labour Party as anti-Semites, which was either an incredibly foolish thing for her to do, or a sickiningly cynical stunt if done deliberately in knowledge of the account’s true nature.
All of these incidents provide incontrovertible evidence that the political establishment are perfectly prepared to get down in the sewer and sling the most disgusting lies, misrepresentations, smears, abuse, and threats about if it suits their own political purposes, but then the very same people climb up onto their moral high horses and sneer at the general public for engaging in the same kind of sewer politics that they use.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending online abuse. As a high-profile leftie I’m a magnet for abuse, insults, absolute misrepresentations of my beliefs, threats and much worse from right-wingers. I’d be very satisfied if this kind of disgusting abuse could be made to go away by the waving of a magic wand, but it’s just not that simple.
Yvette Cooper may well enjoy high-horsing it over the horrible plebs, but when she’s chosen to give a well-known right-wing sockpuppet smear account a huge publicity boost by awarding them exactly the kind of attention they crave, she’s slithered down into the political sewer just like the people she’s criticising.