Stephen Nolan sends warning to anonymous online hate mongers
The broadcaster Stephen Nolan has taken a determined stand against Twitter trolls.
There will be plenty of older people in Northern Ireland who do not use Facebook or Twitter.
They are social media platforms in which users can trade images and messages and information.
The latter, however, is more vulnerable to abuse because Twitter users cannot control who they communicate with as easily as Facebook users can do. This means that a ‘Tweet’ from a Twitter user can be met with vile commentary, which is perhaps liked by hundreds of even thousands of people.
Such ‘pile ons’ of abuse are highly intimidatory.
We have heard much in recent months of the appalling misogynistic abuse experienced by female politicians such as Arlene Foster. The DUP leader was also prey to packs of anonymous republicans, who are some of the most venomous and sectarian and vicious groups on the internet, and many of whom give the impression of working in a co-ordinated way.
If groups other than unionists were subject to such online hatred, it would be the subject of documentaries, investigations and public outrage. Yet plenty of people seem to be fooled into thinking that these abusers — who are tribal thugs, liars and propagandists — are in fact the progressive voices that they depict themselves to be.
Stephen Nolan said something important yesterday: that he “can handle some strong criticism”. This is essential, because strong, bitter, candid, relentless, scathing criticisms are all core components of free speech. Stamping out of hate speech must not intrude on that free expression.
One of the people identified by Nolan is an obsessive anonymous troll who called himself ‘Pastor Jimberoo’ and sent out tens of thousands of messages, then deleted them.
Whether or not an individual should be liable for six figures in damages, or whether that is an excessive penalty, is a subject worthy of serious debate. In the meantime, this high-profile case is a warning to anonymous users of Twitter not to overstep the mark.
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