Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
When the Countryside Alliance entered the fray with a campaign against online abuse of rural people we knew that we were engaging in a complex debate.
There is no clear line between robust debate and unacceptable abuse, but a wide grey separation. Every discussion must be viewed in context, both of the issues and those people who are involved. We are certainly not in the business of restricting the freedom of speech and have ourselves often been straightforward in describing the views and behaviour of those who are opposed to our way of life.
There are, however, plenty of examples of online abuse and bullying to which there can be no defence of robust argument, free speech or any other excuse.
We have reported some such examples to social media giant Facebook including a comments about a retired huntsman which said: “Love to put a noose round this w***er’s neck and kick the useless excuse for a human off a long drop”, and follow up comments from other users including “that piece of s**t needs to die..”. A lady then sought to defend the retired huntsman, which resulted in her being told: “You dog faced b**ch, hope you fall off a horse and break your neck, scum”.
I apologise for the language, but it is important to understand that the sort of abuse we are campaigning to stamp out is not questionable or debateable, it is disgusting. What is more it is part of a calculated campaign to drive decent, sensible voices out of online debate leaving the field free for lies and dishonesty.
This week, as part of our campaign, we also told the story of a young veterinary nurse in her early twenties. She has had her personal details shared online and has been the victim of a yearlong harassment campaign for simply having a partner who is a member of a local hunt. Her place of work has been targeted and she currently feels like there is nowhere to turn.
The rural community is not alone in facing such campaigns and in campaigning against such behaviour we are taking a stand for a far wider community than our own. Worryingly, however, Facebook has rejected the complaints claiming that grossly offensive and threatening posts such as those above do not breach their own “community standards”.
Quite how this can be true when Facebook states that it will “remove credible threats of physical harm to individuals”, and boasts that it is a “safe and welcoming environment” we are not clear, but we have requested a meeting with Facebook’s UK representatives and look forward to an explanation.
In fact we believe that many of these posts meet the Crown Prosection Service’s guidelines for “prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media”, let alone Facebook’s own ‘Community Standards’.
To help us emphasise the strength of feeling behind this campaign it is very important that as many people sign up as a supporter of the Thunderclap campaign.
Join our Thunderclap which will bring all our voices together at 4pm on Thursday 13 April.
6 DAYS LEFT
1,000,000 reach on 13 April 2017 at 4:00pm
We have already ensured that 3/4 of a million people will get our message about stopping online abuse of people in the countryside, but please make sure that you, and everyone you know, has added their voice to the campaign by Thursday afternoon.