Free Speech Union boss says ‘vile’ trolling of DUP family should not automatically spell an end to web anonymity

A prominent journalist has denounced the “vile” message sent to Diane Dodds – but said it does not follow that a change in the law is needed.

By Adam Kula
Saturday, 8th January 2022, 11:02 am
Updated Saturday, 8th January 2022, 1:06 pm
Andrew Dodds, who died in 1998, pictured with his parents Nigel and Diane Dodds
Andrew Dodds, who died in 1998, pictured with his parents Nigel and Diane Dodds

Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, made the comments to the News Letter as the police continue looking into the New Year’s Day incident.

You can read more about it at this link.

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said: “We believe this to be a hate crime and it is important that those who engage in such behaviour are held to account.

“Like most online cowards, this latest abuse directed at Diane Dodds came from someone hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.

“This must be addressed and a verification process introduced. The social media platforms point to their reporting mechanisms but it is abundantly clear these don’t work...

“Unfortunately self-regulation by social media companies has not worked so legislative action such as the Online Safety Bill will be necessary.”

The bill was put forward in Westminster last spring, and basically seeks to beef up the powers OFCOM has over social media firms.

According to major international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, “among the more controversial aspects of the bill are the measures targeted at content that is deemed to be harmful but is not actually illegal”.

In addition, a report by MPs last month found that the bill should address “the risk of regulated activity taking place on their platform without law enforcement being able to tie it to a perpetrator”.

Toby Young is an associate editor of the conservative-leaning magazine The Spectator, and founded the Free Speech Union as a way to combat so-called “cancel culture”.

He told the News Letter: “The comment about Diane Dodds’ dead son is vile, but if it’s a hate crime, as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says, then it’s not a reason to change the law since it’s already illegal under existing law.

“Treating this case as an argument for outlawing online anonymity, as Sir Jeffrey has done, is understandable but premature.

“He’s assuming this troll will never be identified, but we don’t know that yet. The investigation is ongoing and the police may well discover the troll’s name.

“In cases like this, where the police are investigating a crime, Twitter usually cooperates and provides the police with the name of the anonymous account holder, which is often known to them.

“The argument for online anonymity, which was set out by the joint parliamentary committee that recently published its report on the Online Safety Bill, is that it provides marginalised, vulnerable people, as well as whistleblowers, with the cover they need to speak out.

“For that reason, the joint committee did not recommend outlawing online anonymity.”

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