The biggest threat to the Establishment is the exchange of information, and as we have stormed into a new Age of Enlightenment, the authorities have lost control. At the moment they are struggling to find an 'enemy of the state'. In the real world, the undeserving poor still hold the top spot, but in cyberland, they are torn between trolls and paedophiles as public enemy number 1.
I find it astonishing that so many people get so emotionally charged by something that is said to them on the internet by strangers and why they take it so personally. I also find it bizarre that they are encouraged by others to blow the deranged words of these sickos out of all proportion. It is the troll who has issues, not the recipient! Trolls project their own inadequacies, they have nothing else to draw on, they don't know you!
As for gangs of paedophiles on the internet, shouldn't the priority of the police be on those actually committing the crimes in the community where over 90% of children are abused? The best protection children can have is the truth, and the truth is, stranger danger is the least of their worries.
Yesterday was all about Brenda Leyland, quite rightly. Brenda Leyland was the victim of vicious campaign by those who demand the internet be censored for the greater good. Those who would have us believe there are thousands of weirdos out there pretending to be normal, respectable people, who are really dark and sinister with cauldrons of toads innards on the stove and lean to's made of liquorice allsorts.
Thus, Brenda Leyland was selected. A bad person pretending to be good. A respectable, middle aged, middle class, well spoken lady, living with her pet dog in a chocolate box cottage in a sleepy, picturesque Leicestershire village. Brenda was the 'least likely' troll they could find, not only was it hard to believe that she was a troll, it was impossible. She was genuinely too nice! Calls for her imprisonment and hounding came across as spiteful and vindictive. They could have gone for a threatening chav wielding a hatchet on a Council estate, a far more likely candidate and one the public could have readily identified as a 'baddy' but they were out to reveal the murky underbelly of English society. They wanted to point the finger at every member of the audience, not just McCann sceptics. They were pointing the finger at every closet rebel and wannabe protester hiding under a cloak of respectability, and saying 'next time, it could be you!'.
Unfortunately, whoever devised the 'lets make an example of Brenda' campaign, clearly missed classes 1 and 2 in psychology/ marketing/ advertising/ strategy. The public did indeed identify with Brenda Leyland, and they were appalled! She didn't believe Kate and Gerry McCann. So what? Not many people do. Their sympathies were firmly with Brenda, but unfortunately she did not live long enough to know that. They were never going to buy Brenda as a villain. No matter how hard those strategists tried, they failed spectacularly in making Brenda appear menacing or threatening in any way. Even with the few words of Brenda's that they broadcast, it was apparent, that she was a nice, softly spoken lady, who wasn't a danger to anyone. The most subversive thing they could latch onto was 'I'm entitled'. They also, of course, massively over estimated the popularity of the McCanns. The public backlash against Brenda simply didn't happen. You can fool all the people some of the time, etc, etc.
Despite the body of teenager Alice Gross being found the day before, Brenda was the news of the day on Sky and the face on almost every front page. Had a President been shot, or a tsunami engulfed Asia, it mattered not, Brenda became the news because she didn't believe Kate and Gerry McCann. Sky News, or whoever wielded the sword, deemed the 'trolling' of Kate and Gerry McCann to be of public interest to such an extent that the item appeared as rolling news. The item went ahead despite the fact that poor Brenda had mentioned suicide and drinking. Never a good combination.
|The Crucible, by Arthur Miller|
But back to those trolls and the thunderous roar for censorship and imprisonment of 'trolls' like Brenda. For millions of ordinary people, the internet has given them a forum in which to say what they truly think and feel unrestricted by the codes and conventions that dominate every other area of their lives. Most of us have dual or even multiple personas that we present to the world, jumping in and out of characters that Bette Davis would have a field day with on a daily basis. We are as different with our friends as we are with families, our bosses and our co-workers as many receivers of a kick in the shins by their mothers will have discovered.
The internet allows people to live out their fantasies, and that is a good thing! Most people are already imprisoned by 9 to 5 jobs and fear of other peoples' frowns and raised eyebrows. Alternate views and out of the box thinking are rarely tolerated in polite society. 'Do come to dinner, but lets not talk politics and religion lol!' Thus, anything 'not quite nice' is swept under the carpet. If radical thinkers are sacked, ostracised and made to stand in the corner wearing a dunce's cap, it preserves the status quo. Free thinking should always be ridiculed if you want to be part of the in crowd.
Thus, even though we are the country that 'won the war' and one that stands up to fascists, communists and enemies of Free Speech, we rarely exercise our FOS for fear of the personal, social and financial implications. Try telling your boss exactly what you think of him, and see how that goes.
Many people have valid and understandable reasons for keeping their identify online hidden. Many employers are now 'watching' their staff on social media and their bosses will have pictures of them dancing on a table with a waiter, before they can pick up the phone with a tummy bug excuse. Sadly, there are a lot of creepy watchers out there, but sadder still, most of them are doing it officially.
If people want to create a starry persona and wander the streets of Hollywood and the bars of Moulin Rouge via Google Earth, good luck to them! And if they want to say everything about society that makes them sick, good luck to them with that too, at least they are not acting out their sick fantasies on real flesh and blood.
Most people use anonymity online for protection. And that is a sad reflection on society, not them. Unfortunately most peoples' jobs would be affected by their views on current affairs. No legislation needed, companies and public bodies with an image to protect will not support an employee with unpopular/radical views, as Goncalo Amaral found to his cost.
|Joe Macarthy and his Wider Agenda|
Brenda Leyland was used, as too was Martin Brunt. But I hope that he writes this portion of his memoirs now, while the feelings are still raw. Lessons should be learned from this tragic episode in the field of journalism. A 'sensational', and in this case manufactured, story should never go ahead when there is a risk to life. In my opinion, the mention of alcohol and suicide was a flashing red light that should not have been ignored.
Sadly, the Brenda Leyland headlines and call to arms for legislation against 'internet trolls' went hand in hand. Those who would introduce laws to imprison people who step out of line on the internet need the support of the public. First they need to persuade people there is a risk, then they need to persuade their representatives to propose and/or support new legislation that will increase police powers to act. And they need it PDQ, because the heat from the red faces and the shrieking of whistles being blown in Whitehall is likely to take the roofs off several buildings.
Policing the internet will never be an easy task. As a law is introduced, advances in technology makes it redundant. Those wordbound old dinosaurs who make the Laws simply cannot compete with the innovative young bucks to whom technology is an early learning centre pile of bricks that leads to much bigger and wider frontiers. Through those young pioneers, like Aaron Swartz we have freedom of information that no-one could possibly have foreseen. With freedom of information comes public unrest, and in the worst case scenario, possible revolution.
Up until now, all those murky secrets and back door dealings could be contained within the corridors of power and whitewashed by a compliant media. In order for Law and Order to be maintained, the public must believe that those who rule them are squeaky clean, heterosexual (on the whole) and faithful to their wives/husbands/partners. For example, Clinton won't be remembered for the great President he was, he will be remembered for cheating on his wife, Hilary.
The public demand respectability and the leaders and the wannabes are happy to oblige. Unfortunately, human nature being such as it is, few if any, can live up to the moral guidelines they set themselves, so they willingly enter a cycle of neurosis and paranoia fearing their true selves (the ones they hate) will be revealed. It's like breathing sherry over the Vicar after telling him you never touch liquor, hic. The righteous then go on to punish their 'human' side through lengthy hours of prayer, self loathing and deprivation, and when they are through with that, they then feel free to inflict the same guilt onto others, whether they want it or not.
The most powerful in the land have the active assistance of their friends and allies in covering their worst excesses, a good PR firm can fix a reputation within 24 hours. Unfortunately, even the best spin doctors, image makers and lawyers in the world can come unstuck when faced with unwieldy, unrelenting, in your face truth. Nothing beats it. Ever.