Not a post I expected to be writing this afternoon; it was to be about Laurie’s interesting comments on Channel 4 News last night.
However, that’s been trumped, and this is now about online harrassment.
One of the Youtube video’s of one of Laurie’s TV appearances over the weekend received this comment from a Twitter user called @regul, which account has now been deleted:
Brian Whelan, of Yahoo Ireland, who was prominent in summer 2011 as one of the bloggers who helped expose writer Johann Hari as a fraud, rapidly tracked down the commenter from his supposedly ‘anonymous’ account name and other breadcrumbs which were lying around the internet – Facebook accounts, Amazon accounts and others, and posted an article.
This is not particularly difficult to do in most cases.
While not an active death threat, this comment is utterly unacceptable, and seems to me to come within the category of online harassment, defined in the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act:
Prohibition of harassment.
(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct—
(a) which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.and would come within the category of stalking if repeated.
There is also a Civil Remedy (i.e. damages) available under the same Act:
3 Civil Remedy
(1) An actual or apprehended breach of section 1 may be the subject of a claim in civil proceedings by the person who is or may be the victim of the course of conduct in question.
(2) On such a claim, damages may be awarded for (among other things) any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from the harassment.
To my eye it may also qualify as an offence under the Public Order Act 1986:
4A Intentional harassment, alarm or distress.
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he—
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
There’s been something of a campaign over the last several months, particularly in the New Statesman, particularly for harassment of female writers.
I’d like to see this kind of offence prosecuted or at least reported to the police, and I’m in support of Laurie should she choose to do so, although there are also other remedies available, such as in this case a report to @regul’s University.
There can be opposition to a writer, satirical comparisons, demonstrations of incompetence, insults, even expressions of contempt. In my book those are all acceptable, even when officious law makers try to regulate them away. This one is way over any line of acceptability.
My support is not entirely altruistic, because of hoary old myths which have become attached to the anti-harassment campaign.
Julia Hobsbawm has written that the key problem is not misogyny but anonymity:
The key issue here is not actually misogyny – although it is clearly prevalent, on the increase with particularly violent and criminal intent, one writer having both her home address and a threat to rape her published in a single comment – but anonymity.
This is wrong, and I wouldn’t completely agree that it is misogyny either, but that is one for another day. Brian Whelan has demonstrated in this case that anonymity is much harder to maintain than a lot of people think, and it is only thought to be a problem rather than being a significant real one.
It is possible to be difficult to find online, but it usually takes so much effort and so many adminstration overheads in maintenance of accounts, emails, diversions, proxies and the rest as to not be worthwhile. And if it is worthwhile, then treating an offence seriously – by involving the legal authorities – makes anonymity even harder to maintain, as most internet companies will comply with legal demands from Police or Courts.
Julia has also exhumed the old “Mainstream Media Professionals Good; Amateurs Bad” hobby-horse and taken it out for a canter round the stableyard:
The hundreds of thousands of words a day written by paid commentators has been hard-won and designated, paid-for editing and sub-editing time is devoted to it. What has not happened in a decade in which the public’s voice has been used to add riposte to comment is the emergence of much new prized comment voice. Why not? Because of its quality as well as brevity.
This is quite a bold claim in the year of Hari and Hackgate, and it does not deserve house room for even ten seconds.
In addition to the paid media having more than it’s fair share of fools with wage packets, many of the recent crops of good new journalists start out as amateurs blogging. Many excellent writers also remain as unpaid or occasionally paid commentators.
But, while they are attached to a loud campaign about harassment, these myths may attain some traction.
So I’d like to see some of these harassment cases prosecuted to begin to close down the problem, and our day by day freedoms left alone, rather than having a lot of hot air produced about harassment, and our politicians introducing ill though-out new restrictions.
Tomorrow I may have a go at Laurie’s accuracy, reliability, competence, or sensationalism.
Today she has my full support.