As long as there has been humanity there has been bullying. Bullies at school. Bullies at work. Bullies at home. With the internet came online gaming, and bullies in games. And now with social media we see bullying everywhere we have a presence. Online trolls on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Wherever you look you see bullies.
20 years ago I saw very little of the hatred I see today online. I did however see it in real life, with homophobia, racism, and sexism. While not overt, it was there in a casual way, a general acceptance for the comedy of Jethro, Chubby Brown, and Jim Davidson. 10 years ago I saw a mood shift in the public perception, and while the right railed against “political correctness gone mad” it seemed generally accepted that online abuse was abuse, and people were called out for being intolerant in public. Social media seemed a relatively safe haven and the trolls were reported and kicked off the platform. 10 years ago it looked like we were headed towards an age of tolerance. It was okay to be black, or gay, or disabled, or just simply female. Then 5 years ago things started going wrong. Across the globe the far right started gaining more traction. It suddenly became okay to be publicly bigoted, racism became politically viable. In the USA Donald Trump came to power with his call to “build the wall” and stop the “flood of immigrants from Mexico”. The UK voted for Brexit, and while it “wasn’t about racism” the majority who voted for it did so because they wanted “fewer brown people coming here”. And almost overnight the tolerance we had seen being exercised in public was gone. Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins, Boris Johnson. They all suddenly had a voice and everywhere you went you’d hear people saying “kick them out” towards people of the wrong skin colour. And no one stopped them, if anything it was positively encouraged as newspaper after newspaper churned more and more vitriol out. Anyone trying to point out lies or hatred was shot down as “fake news”.
Since then it hasn’t gotten any better. If anything it’s gotten worse. Emboldened by the rising rhetoric in public we have seen an exponential rise in hatred online. And that hatred is no longer being driven by the trolls and bullies, it’s being pushed by the very people in charge of running the country. The result is the bullies no longer fear saying anything they want. It’s no surprise that the racists are also bigoted in other ways. Attacks against the LGBT community have increased. Transphobia is rampant online, fueled by the ignorance of feminists like J K Rowling who promotes the voices of those who would eradicate Trans rights. Disabled rights are eroded, no surprise when you have governments that put in place laws that seem determined to remove the safety nets many disabled people require, and with it normalising abuse of the disabled. A partially sighted woman is mocked for using a phone while carrying a white cane. And with the trolls have come the bots. Any view that isn’t shared by the far right is seen as fair game. Arguments are filled with irrelevant comments designed to shift the narrative away from the original point, to get you arguing about anything else. A post about immigration is steered towards illegal asylum seekers, and with that the racists pile on demanding they all get sent back to where they came from. It overwhelms the story that is trying to be heard.
And with it all comes the rise of death threats, of threats of sexual assault, of rape. If you’re black your’re stupid, if you’re female you’re there to breed, regardless of your sexuality. If you think there should be gun control then you hate your family and you want them to be murdered, while also being threatened with murder for daring to suggest that someone should have their guns taken away from them. “Arm everyone and we’ll all be safe” is the cry, while forgetting that it’s the very ease that you can acquire guns in the USA that is fueling their school shooting epidemic. And god help you if you happen to own a gun if you’re black, where being unarmed is seen as enough to have the police shoot you in your own home. It’s okay to be a bigot in today’s world and the white supremacists are not only tolerated, they’re actively supported by those in power.
Some say that we should only allow verified accounts on social media. This sounds great until you realise how many use social media anonymously to escape from the very threats that are now overwhelming it. The trans kids that haven’t come out yet, the woman escaping an abusive partner. What we need to do is make it unacceptable to threaten people online, as it is in real life. And we need to return to the tolerant society that we were before the far right regained prominence.
Today, more than ever, we need people to stand up to the bigots. We need more than ever to say no to racism. No to homophobia. No to Transphobia. No to anti-semitism. No to Islamophobia. No to sexism. No to misogyny. No to ableism. No to fascism.
We need more than ever to ask our Trans kids “how can we make this world safer for you?” and to ask the disabled “what do we need to do to include you in society?” and we need to accept that how others identify does not affect our individual rights. Everyone has the right to be treated as a human being, regardless of race, religion, disability, sexuality, gender identity. We need to regain tolerance, and stop being tolerant of intolerance. When someone ask “what about my right to hate?” we need to stand up and say “you don’t have any”.