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  • Writer's pictureChris Blackhurst

The internet has transformed our lives; it must not be allowed to ruin them as well.

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

As a journalist, you get used to taking the rough with the smooth. Certainly, if you’re one who opines, and hands out criticism, receiving brickbats back is to be expected.

Even so, the level of abuse can be hard to take. My own record was 253 comments on one article, many of them to do with my own physical appearance (the paper put my photo at the top of the column) which had absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter. Many of those, too, were anonymous.

They were so bad I had to tell my children not to read them. I brushed the insults aside. As I did, when someone set up a Facebook site, calling me out I think the phrase is, for daring to suggest that a well-known retailer deserved to go under because its business model was poor and its management had been terrible. Again, I was not being critical of the brand per se – I made the point it was much-cherished – but that nuance was conveniently ignored. I hated the store they loved, I was dancing on its grave, and for that I deserved a kicking. Not to my face, though, by people I could identify, but by attackers hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.

Journalists have always needed to be fairly thick-skinned, but some of the abuse directed at us online was difficult to stomach. My female colleagues in particular were frequent targets for trolling. Although, compared to some of the poison directed at female politicians and celebrities, it was still relatively mild by comparison.

These however, are journalists and folk used to existing in the public eye. Put yourself in the position of a private person, a teenager or vulnerable adult, say, and the pressure and resulting harm this causes can be horrendous. And unforgivable.

The assailants are not the only ones to blame. Human nature dictates that if you allow people freedom they will push it to the very limit. There will always be some who will exploit it. No, the real villains here, are the online providers for allowing content that someone finds offensive to be published anonymously on their sites. By extension, another guilty party is the politicians who fail to regulate and allow this to happen.

For a journalist to be advocating curbs on free speech might seem hypocritical – after all, one of the sacred tenets of journalism is the ability to publish, independent of restraint or control. I don’t enjoy doing so. Indeed, thanks to the internet and social media, we are more informed than we ever were before. But, without curbing that flow of knowledge, there have to be acceptable boundaries. Just because we now have a faster, more far-reaching, medium does not mean it should also be used as an excuse for lowering the standards of behaviour.

That is why we so badly require Clean up the Internet to succeed. The internet has transformed our lives; it must not be allowed to ruin them as well. Want to add a caption to this image? Click the Settings icon.

Chris Blackhurst is the ex-editor of The Independent

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