Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Let's expose those sad, women-hating late-night typists

A man was arrested today in connection with sending a barrage of hostile tweets to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez
A man was arrested today in connection with sending a barrage of hostile tweets to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez

There is a furore under way because Twitter, the social media platform, has apparently failed to deal with reported 'rape threats' over a 48-hour period against Caroline Criado-Perez, delivered via her Twitter account. This is the person – journalist, blogger, feminist and woman – whose campaign for greater representation of women on banknotes led to the announcement that Jane Austen will adorn the Bank of England tenner from 2017.

It seems the comments directed against Ms Criado-Perez have been extreme in both volume and nature; to such an extent that there is a petition gathering pace online to make Twitter introduce safety measures – a 'report abuse' button, for example – to protect people, especially women, from abusive or offensive messages. Though there is a method of reporting abuse already, the system is apparently so cumbersome that it is ineffective.

While it may seem odd that a harmless campaign such as hers should attract the type of venom it has from male posters, the issue has drawn attention to the virulent misogyny that exists 'out there'.

Of course, as Maxwell Smart would say, it's not all 'out there'.

It is no exaggeration to say that any female media type with any kind of platform for opinion, myself included, knows that a substantial number of comments will be against my gender rather than my views; another large percentage will target both, leaving a small number of purists who stick to opinion rather than looks, legs and love life.

All the offenders are male. However, it's not so simple. In recent months there have been a few public examples of the venom. The flood of attacks on Kay Burley was more fuelled by Leftist disgust at the very idea of attention being paid to the Duchess of Cambridge's new baby than assessment of her skills as a media professional. Lefty hatred of the theme licensed misogyny.

Also many women, for example – both media opinion-formers and online public – joined in the gender-baiting of the late Baroness Thatcher during her obsequies. All that pandering to 'The Witch is Dead' only played into the hands of the misogynist gallery and, though many Left-leaning and liberal women eventually balked at the mania, it came too late and many more of their sisters-in-arms just carried on regardless.

But let it be a liberal cause which is attacked and, suddenly, there are calls for online censorship of views. And it is censorship. It's amazing how quickly the call for editorial clampdowns arises from the ranks of intellectuals, academics and the so-called moderates of our culture.

My column routinely has attached to its online version a long list of misogynist posters who feel that my perceived political views license their sexist, offensive, disgusting diatribes which can only be said to be 'laced' with political argument. None of my male colleagues who write opinion pieces find themselves subject to sexist comments.

This is the hidden reality behind what many amateur online pundits like to call the 'loathsome MSM'. Newspapers are nasty – except those whose opinions mirror those of the late-night home typist for whose views no one is prepared to pay good money. Female columnists of all types and colours and views are routinely subject to violent threat, nasty opinion, sexist verbal attack.

But just as there is such a thing as freedom of the Press, there is also freedom of speech. And Twitter is surely about the latter.

I do not support restrictions on freedom of expression any more than I do on the freedom of the Press. The point is to have that freedom accountable and that means making abusers identifiable, stripping away the undergrowth of anonymity they hide within.

A man is in custody in connection with 'malicious communications' connected with Ms Criado-Perez. To make arrests easier, I would be in favour of Twitter and Facebook requiring everyone having to supply verified names and addresses to avail of their services.

Right now, anyone can run multiple Twitter accounts under pseudonyms. You can run dozens of illegal businesses, distribute porn, plan robberies, connect with fellow dissidents in order to kill people. Suspending one account is meaningless, as is being selective in the kind of abuse you will tolerate. Many people will turn a blind eye to anti-Israeli or anti-Muslim abuse masquerading as 'political comment'.

But who knows what's fair comment and what's simply driven by visceral hatreds?

Let the abuser be the judge of that. Let the abuser and the potential abuser – that's you and me, by the way – sign up with a verified name and address. I'm sure no one would object to that in order to protect professional women, for example, from frightening threats of rape.

Would they?

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