Vile Names

  • If you can't answer a man's arguments, all is not lost; you can still call him vile names - Elbert Hubbard

Towards the end of last year this blog raised the issue of the online intimidation of victims’ campaigner Ann Travers.  Now, another woman has become the target for the trolls -  PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston, whose work on one occasion featured on TPQ. The loyalist politician expressed the view that the Parades Commission was failing to behave in an even-handed fashion and according to the Belfast Telegraph, her comments “led to a massive online backlash, with many unleashing hate-filled abuse at the councillor."

Perhaps it is just a gut feeling but it strikes me that when the troll target is a woman the viciousness and venom unleased reaches a new level.  Take the following by way of example. It involved a woman who was both a barrister and a senator with the Irish Labour Party. 

Lorraine Higgins is a dumb blonde, a whore, a c**t, a poxy, two-faced, money-grabbing bimbo bitch, who deserves to get her head ripped off and shoved where the sun don't shine. She should have been aborted and she deserves to be hatcheted in the face.

Higgins had criticised jailed water protestors when she should have been lambasting Irish Water but that does not mitigate the action of her abusers in their malign and no doubt anonymous efforts to force her off the freedom to express highway. It seems the exact same sort of belligerent bullying is now seeking to reduce to roadkill the opinions of Corr Johnston. Billy Hutchinson, the PUP leader, summed up the essence of her grievance-causing action which amounted to nothing more than a viewpoint the trolls took umbrage at.

Cllr Corr Johnston merely raised the potential of perceived bias because of the actions of a Parades Commission employee and as result was subjected to a sinister and disturbing social media attack.

Some of the abuse was reported to be sectarian, misogynist, and anti-gay and, according to Hutchinson, among the worst he had encountered. Ms Corr Johnston’s partner was also said to have been subjected to abuse.

Such has been the facilitation of abuse via online anonymity that there have been murmurs of approval when the use of anonymity itself comes under threat:

Anonymity on the Internet has often made people nastier and more crude in their speech. It allows them to speak and do things without having to take responsibility. Anonymity allows people to unleash their id and all the ugliness they conceal beneath their polite facades. Given the dark slimy things that crawl underneath the cloak of anonymity, one’s first instinct might be to celebrate when modern technologies destroy anonymity.

Caroline Criado-Perez, herself subject to serious and prolonged online abuse, gets to the crux of the matter in her suggestion that free speech is less likely when the abusers get their way because they use fear to suppress freedom of inquiry. 

it’s never too late for social media companies like Twitter to take abuse seriously ... I’m really pleased to see them taking their responsibility to foster a platform for free speech and debate by creating a platform where people can speak without fear.

Is facilitating anonymity something which is beneficial to free speech or is it a weapon that helps curb freedom of expression and inquiry?

The howling angry mob mob no longer arrive at our doors in the form of a picket in the dark of night. They gather around our social media slots to hurl their invective and venom, still using the internet version of darkness provided by a moniker. The freedom of Julie-Anne Corr Johnston to express her opinion must be afforded the same space as that of any other. There is no need to respect her opinion, but her right to express it is crucial. Difference and diversity irrigate intellectual life preventing it ossifying into the arid wasteland the troll prefers, so that the molehill of an idea churned out from the sterility of his cranium might look like a mountain on a flat plain.

Share This:

Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

7 comments to ''Vile Names"

  1. AM

    " Difference and diversity irrigate intellectual life preventing it ossifying into the arid wasteland the troll prefers, so that the molehill of an idea churned out from the sterility of his cranium might look like a mountain on a flat plain."

    Great way to sum it all up.

    Many a time I feel like the trolls and many a time I have uttered the same invective and bitter remarks and personalised quite a few attacks on people instead of sticking to the argument at hand as you well know.
    No-one deserves such to be trolled like that...well, may be people like Nelson McCausland, Nigel Dodds (and his Missus), Jeffery Donaldson, Poots, Wells, Campbell...hold on a minute here, there's a pattern developing here...I'd better stop!

  2. Niall,

    there are times when we would all like to hoist the black flag and start slitting throats in that memorable quip from Mencken! But we desist for good reason.

    In this case a woman stands up, tries to enhance public understanding by making an observation that she feels has merit. Then the trolls go for her. Public understanding benefits from her contribution. It also benefits from the trolls too but only insofar that they serve to remind everyone what pond life is like and that it is trying to drown the useful beneath its slime.

    Anonymity has a purpose and on this site it has only rarely been abused. If we ever decide to abandon it we will continue to hold onto every one of existing commenters without exception, and only make it applicable to newcomers. I doubt we will ever have to do that. With a place like the Sewer or Bates @ Wilkes Central, we can just boot them over there alongside the witch doctors, miracle workers, Che, Brian Clarke and whoever else congregates there.

  3. AM & Niall

    Here's to the irrigated field of ideas, but dang the manure sure is thick between the strips. These completely malicious attacks on Corr Johnston and Higgins are a sad reminder of what women in the public eye must endure. It's tough enough taking a stand, fully exposed to the glare of media and the potential scorn of dissent, but women have the added challenge of coping with the ungalant who discount and slash ad hominem with a sexualized saber. No man has to put up with this kind of abuse. We don't get savaged for our clothes, hair and make-up, nor do male politicians have their comeliness commented on first and actions or opinions second or never. In a move that he might now regret despite protestations to the contrary, Malachy O'Doherty agreed or was compelled to comment in print about the appearance of female candidates for office in Belfast. He went schoolboy - or caveman - and then tried to shout down his critics. They hit a nerve.

    Now as a red-blooded hetero American male, I too see first and listen second - blame it on biology. If all those clampdown regulations in the Old Testament about out-of-bounds desire had any bite, yours truly would be destined for a giant slap from Yahweh. For some reason I have no fear. But here's the thing, these trolls, or keyboard courage misogynists, prurient and puritan alike, really do have to learn how to resist the temptation to bury a woman's opinions under a mountain of sexualized slime. Time to evolve boys. The problem of course knows no national boundaries and is as bad in the United States as in Ireland. In many cases these bold, faceless attack dogs reveal all kinds of neuroses and repressed desires. But that's for them to work out, preferably in private. All that vitriol certainly deflates any of their arguments and makes the keyboard Salemites about as presentable and attractive as a rancid grapefruit.

  4. Michael,

    great comment.

    In fairness to Malachi O'Doherty he did not use anonymity and was not trying to intimidate the women he was having a go at. And even in terms of having a go he was asked by the Belfast Telegraph to do a tongue in cheek piece on the subject matter and. In his case I thought the response he got was out of order and some of it came from people who have made a career out of smearing both women and men. But Malachi is big enough to fight the corner.

    The case of people like Julie-Anne Corr Johnston, Ann Travers or Senator Higgins w was of a different order. Here is venom, nothing tongue in cheek about it, designed to put down and keep down. There are many things I am in sharp disagreement on with all three but the notion that some thug can come along with "sexualised slime" has to be blasted the minute it raises its ugly head.

  5. AM

    Thanks for pointing that out about O'Doherty. I only had part of the story and at the time kind of felt sorry for him, assigned as he was to entertain a readership increasingly fed snippets and pulp. You should see our local newspaper, The Courier-Journal, another sad case of a newspaper becoming a shell of its former self. Guess I better learn how to spell Malachi's name too! Thank goodness we have been given new platforms to express our opinions with the mad science of technology. The Wild Wild West definitely needs protection from censorship, but some folks really do need to look into their coal shrunk hearts, see them for what they are, cold and hard, before hitting that post button. As the American presidential campaign picks up momentum (it lasts forever), we'll see how many times Clinton's appearance is commented upon at the expense of her remarks, which do demand considerable scrutiny. What can be said about all the Republican candidates? Well, they have natty suits, white and uptight, but you know nice, like their haircuts. Paper doll men.

  6. The point that a lot of people missed or chose to ignore about my article on election posters is that there were more posters of men than of women dealt with in the article. And the point was to sneer at the images created for posters not at the people themselves, though that's also a distinction that didn't seem to mean much to a lot of those who didn't like it.
    We wanted to point up that the parties were draping our lamp posts with ugly pointless posters which were never going to change anyone's mind on who to vote for and we jibed at how people presented themselves, including their efforts to look cheerful (ie slightly mad in the case of Alasdair McDonnell) or sexy or macho or sporty.
    We'll do it again I'm sure but I'll have a word with the layout people next time to be sure they don't cluster the pictures of women together, thereby making it easier for people to crop the article for online images to make out mischievously that it is only about women.

  7. Malachi

    The familiarity of the candidates to the people of Belfast and the clash with the images chosen to portray them was obviously an essential part of the satire. So thanks for pointing out the primary intent of the article: an opportunity to poke fun at the absurdity of advertising and "brand" making. I guess, however, that any woman who has weathered a torrent of unsolicited comments on her appearance, about which she is probably hyper-sensitive thanks to our culture of thin and youthful, has no time for the satire and immediately goes on the defensive. You're right, the layout was a big part of the problem. Intersperse the men and women, bingo, problem nearly solved, solved as much as possible. With parity of esteem there can also be parity of parody.


  • To add an Emoticons Show Icons
  • To add code Use [pre]code here[/pre]
  • To add an Image Use [img]IMAGE-URL-HERE[/img]
  • To add Youtube video just paste a video link like