Countryside Alliance campaign against online abuse and bullying in the countryside reaches over 1 million people.

The Countryside Alliance Thuderclap campaign focused on raising the awareness of online abuse and bullying of people in the countryside will reach approximately 1.2 million people. The campaign was established on Thursday 30 March and ran for two weeks.

Thunderclap is a ‘crowd speaking’ platform that lets individuals rally together to spread a single message. In April 2017 all 1,600 (approx.) of the individuals and organisations that signed up to the campaign automatically sent out the following message to their followers, “I stand against bullying of people in the countryside #reportonlineabuse”.

The social reach of these supporters is over 1.2 million.

The campaign has received the backing of a significant number of Parliamentarians, the farming community, as well as country sports enthusiasts from the worlds of fishing, shooting, hunting and equestrian. All supporters are united in their desire to stand up against online abuse and bullying directed at those from rural communities.

Last month the Alliance wrote to the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, in order to draw her attention to examples abuse directed at members of rural communities. This included despicable comments posted on an anti-hunting page following the death of the popular and talented horsewomen, Sue Webb, and death threats which were directed at a Surrey vicar after he presided over a “hound blessing”.

These two recent incidents convinced the Alliance to call for action.

Commenting upon the reasons for establishing the Thunderclap campaign, Chief Executive at the Alliance, Tim Bonner said:

“We are all for freedom of expression and robust debate but what we have seen over the past few months has been on a different level. Time and time again we are seeing death threats and harassment campaigns targeted at those in the countryside engaged in legal activities. Quite simply the time has come for all of those in the countryside to unite and take stand against this kind of vile abuse.

“The problem with social media sites such as Facebook is that they are by their very nature ‘expansive’ meaning that bullying and abusive comments on social media get far more traction and have much more of an impact that they would do if they were simply communicated verbally.

“We have been moved to act by a number of troubling case studies. Last month a number of deplorable comments were posted on an anti-hunt Facebook page about the popular and talented horsewoman, the late Sue Webb and death threats directed popular Surrey vicar for carrying out a blessing of hounds. This month we learnt from a girl in her early twenties that she has been subjected to a yearlong harassment campaign orchestrated by another well-known anti-hunting page, they went as far too share of personal details on the page and contact her place of work.

Facebook community standards that state Facebook is a ‘safe and welcoming environment” are not worth the paper they are written on. Time and time again Facebook have failed to act with vile and abusive posts remaining online.”

Following the success of their campaign the Alliance have called for the following three actions:

  • Facebook community guidelines to be brought into line with Crown Prosecutions Service (CPS) legal guidelines governing online abuse that were published last autumn
  • Facebook to respond to all complaints regarding reported comments within twenty-four hours
  • Those who set up pages on these platforms must be held to account for the content that appears

The Alliance have written to the Minister responsible for overseeing social media abuse, Baroness Shields OBE, requesting a meeting. They have also demanded a meeting with Facebook.

Countryside Alliance Chief Executive, Tim Bonner added:

“We hope that our campaign has gone some way to putting a spotlight on some of the abuse that those engaged in traditional countryside pursuits are so often subject to.

“Facebook need to ask themselves why they have a greater  tolerance of abuse and hate than the legal guidelines set out by the CPS last autumn. We have reported many vile and abusive comments to Facebook that clearly breach Category 1 of the CPS guidelines relating to “credible threats” and Category 4 relating to “communications which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene of false”, yet no action has been taken by Facebook and many of the posts still remain, often causing significant distress to the victims. There was one case where a death threat was issued which we reported, on this occasion the post was taken down by Facebook but only after forty eight hours, this is far too long.

“We plan to meet with Baroness Shields to discuss our asks over the coming weeks.”

Links to recent news stories on relating to the campaign:

Anti-hunt page associated with militant activist abuses press watchdog board member for involvement with Alliance charitable work

Veterinary nurse harassed for over a year by anti-hunting group speaks out

Facebook claims that grossly offensive and threatening posts do not breach their “Community Standards”

Thunderclap campaign

Online abuse and bullying

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