Bullying is unacceptable, regardless of the perpetrator's politics
Abuse – particularly misogynistic and racist online attacks on female politicians and other women in the public sphere – has been headline news this week, with the Prime Minister on Wednesday ordering an inquiry into intimidation of MPs during the general election.
While the problem is not new – in fact we have covered it several times in the past – the Daily Mail helped propel the problem centre stage with a mid-week cover story promising to expose the ‘shocking scale’ of bullying by the ‘hard left’.
While most would agree it is good to see the issue taking precedence, some have pointed out that rather than condemning all abuse and focusing on how to stop it, the Daily Mail is ‘weaponising’ the issue by suggesting it is a problem perpetrated solely by the ‘hard left’, and that the paper’s framing of the issue has led to the erasure of abuse by right-wingers.
Columnist Owen Jones – who has previously spoken out against abuse aimed at anyone, irrespective of their politics – wrote yesterday about his experience of being bullied online.
“Every single day, large numbers of self-professed right-wingers bombard me with abuse, threats of violence, homophobic hatred, and so on. It is completely erased from the discussion. It does not exist, because it is politically inconvenient.”
“There is practically no scrutiny whatsoever of Tory supporters or right-wingers more generally using Twitter to viciously abuse their opponents. It is barely even on the national radar.”
He went on to allege that the Daily Mail were “weaponising abuse” because their commentary was not intended “to deal with abuse and eliminate it, but to use it as a political prop to attack the left”.
On Friday, Labour MP Harriet Harman – the longest serving female politician in parliament – stepped into the fray, to warn against new divisions emerging within the Labour party because of a rise in abuse, which she said was “undermining democracy”.
She said in an interview with the Guardian:
“I think that undeniably there is a problem and particularly focused on women, and particularly younger women or, in the case of Diane Abbott, a black woman, of abuse and harassment and threats. And that is an absolute fact.”
Meanwhile, the shadow home secretary herself told the paper she receives racist abuse, including use of the N-word, “over and over again” every day – both online and offline.
“We are talking about mindless abuse and in my case the mindless abuse has been characteristically racist and sexist. And just to outline I’ve had death threats, I’ve had people tweeting that I should be hung if ‘they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight’.”
She said that some of the abuse came from an EDL-affiliated Twitter account, BurnDianeAbbott.
Charlotte England is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.