Countryside Alliance’s Head of Policy Sarah Lee writes:
The Countryside Alliance is all for freedom of expression and robust debate, but when we saw our members receiving death threats, seeing their home addresses posted online, and having false reviews posted about their rural businesses, we knew we had to take a stand against this vile abuse.
Time and time again we are seeing death threats and harassment campaigns targeted at those in the countryside engaged in legal activities. We were moved to act after several troubling examples were sent to us, including an individual who had been subjected to a year-long campaign orchestrated by a well-known anti-hunting Facebook page.
To highlight the true extent of online bullying in rural communities we launched a survey to ask people about their experiences. Our research revealed that 62% of respondents had experienced online bullying or harassment for supporting country sports. Our research also highlighted that online bullying of rural communities continues to grow year on year and has become more aggressive and antagonistic. We found individuals were receiving death threats, their children’s pictures posted online, and social media being used to generate emails and telephone calls to people’s employers to try to lose them their jobs.
The impact this kind of abuse has on individuals cannot be underestimated, often leaving people feeling vulnerable, afraid, and alone, as they were unsure how to deal with it. Our survey showed that people are changing their behaviour on social media and posting less as a result of bullying. This silencing effect is a worrying trend and country sports enthusiasts should not have to censor their behaviour.
The Countryside Alliance has long campaigned to raise awareness of the issue and has called on social platforms to take the threats seriously and take action by standing up to those who incite hatred and violence. We have a government who has committed to make the UK the “safest place in the world to be online”, yet it is clear that those who are passionate about the countryside are still experiencing online bullying for their beliefs. If this was aimed at any other community it would not be tolerated.
We hope that by exposing and raising awareness of the online abuse that some people in rural communities face, we can begin to stamp out this behaviour. Everyone should feel safe when using social media and appropriate protections should be in place to prevent attacks designed to intimidate and silence. The Countryside Alliance will not let this issue rest until people can share their love of the countryside online without fear of abuse.
Head of Policy