Trolls and Troglodytes

In June this blog addressed the issue of Ann Travers being targeted online by the bully brigade. This is the usual mob of trolls and troglodytes that seeks to control the internet in the same way fascists have often taken control of the streets and then forced down alleyways those who do not recite verses from whatever Mein Kampf they like to wave vigorously under noses in order to fan away the whiff of a different idea. 

I don’t see things the way Ann Travers does and there are questions I have asked of her, not least in respect of the SPAD bill that had her imprimatur firmly stamped across it. Still, I would have even more questions to ask of her were she not to hold feet to the fire in respect of her sister’s killing out of misplaced respect for someone else’s political project or in deference to some cudgel wielding fascistoid. If family doesn’t care, few others will. In any exchanges, I have found her easy to disagree with. She is not some ranting thug screaming “enemy of” whatever it is they claim to believe in. There is absolutely no need to howl ‘verboten’ at her. Well, there is a need but it is not one that would be described as just. 

Unfortunately, since she raised her concerns about online abuse in the summer the venom has proved too much and Ann Travers has decided to pull back from commentary on Twitter and Facebook where she said she had received abuse day and night.
Being on Twitter is like sitting in a room and having complete strangers shout at you incessantly without stopping ... It can carry on throughout the day, throughout the night - you can be woken up by your phone pinging and even if you switch the phone off, it's still there in the morning... You come to dread looking to check your notifications, to see what's being said about you ... And although you block these people, they still continue to abuse you even though you can't see it, but other people then get tagged into the conversation who you haven't blocked so it keeps on coming up on your timeline and of course, you look because you are scared.

This is both the appalling outcome and human cost of censorship. While Ann Travers says it is not a victory for the censors, they will not see it that way.  At the same time it can hardly be demanded that people continue on in circumstances that are too stressful or painful. ‘When you start to look at your phone with fear, that's whenever you know that enough's enough.’ 

The internet has proven a censor’s nightmare. Prior to its emergence writers with a contrary opinion were confined to expressing it in private, or were at the mercy of some newspaper editor, who might print a letter in what was an opinion lottery. Now a dominant narrative can be challenged instantly, often by amateur bloggers who can make professional journalists look like dullards. The powerful have lost their power to define with the ease of old and have despatched the thought police. The thugs rather than gather outside your home assemble at your Twitter account or Facebook page in a bid to tilt the balance back in the favour of the powerful.   

I hope at some point Ann Travers returns. The internet community that values dissent and is alert to the perils of conformity needs, in the spirit of Pastor Niemoller, to support each other and refuse to allow the howling hyenas to isolate a single user and savage them out of the game. In the age of electronic media, social media is the oxygen of intellectual freedom: the bane of governments, security services and political elites. Suffocation is not an option.


  1. It's an absolute disgrace that Ann was put through this.
    I doubt either of us would ever share a common thought, but that doesn't mean either of us are not entitled to hold them.

  2. AM,

    I've got to know Ann Travers a little bit through mutual friends on Facebook. I like her a lot. She is a very friendly and very funny person. I was sad to hear that Ann had left her online social networks a couple of weeks ago due to verbal abuse from the usual laptop lapdogs of Sinn Féin. I am glad that she has since returned to Facebook at least.

    Of course, I can't say that I share Ann's views on the North. Indeed, I think both the SPAD bill and the HET are not only biased but monumentally daft initiatives. I mean, what possible purpose does it serve to prevent convicted IRA volunteers working as special advisers to Stormont ministers when some of the ministers themselves are former IRA leaders? How is it just to prosecute Gerry McGeogh and Seamus Kearney for decades-old offences when there has been no genuine attempt to prosecute those who carried out the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday massacres? In my view, it is rank hypocrisy for the North's prosecution service to pretend to pursue justice for all victims of the conflict when we all know that the Good Friday Agreement would never have worked without a tacit amnesty for the agreement's supporters.

    Whether I agree with Ann Travers is entirely irrelevant though. Like everyone else, Ann should be able to speak her mind without being harassed or intimidated for doing so.

  3. What happened to Ann is a disgrace. I will miss her on Twitter, the banter between her and Lyra McKee was hilarious.

  4. Thanks Peter! We're thinking of bringing the show on the road.

  5. Alfie Gallagher, when you say the HET are biased, who are saying they are biased against?

  6. @Lyra McKee
    I'd pay to see that!

  7. Diversity and 'counterpoint' even if heated or frustrating is better than brainwashed 'one size fits all' political nothingness. Hope Ann gets her 'mojo' back.

  8. Andy,

    I think it is clear that the HET is more interested in investigating killings carried out by paramilitaries than by state forces. Indeed, HET chief Dave Cox was forced to resign last year following a damning report by the British Inspectorate of Constabulary. The Inspectorate found that,

    "The HET treats state involvement cases differently as a matter of policy and this appears to be based on a misinterpretation of the law. This is entirely wrong, and has led to state involvement cases being reviewed with less rigour in some areas than non-state cases".

  9. I think Anthony explained the HET's bias very well following Gerry Adams's arrest last April:

    " One day before the arrest which was part of an ongoing British police inquiry into IRA activity, the British government slapped down, on the grounds of it contravening public interest, a demand for an inquiry into the 1971 British army massacre of civilians in Mr Adams’ then neighbourhood, West Belfast’s Ballymurphy.

    "This suggests that even if there is evidence of some sort against Mr Adams, it is not the existence of evidence per se that fuels the drive to prosecute. There is unlikely to be material evidence any more substantive than has previously been available. At the same time the PSNI and British government know the identity of every single member of the British security establishment who killed Irish civilians while on duty. They know the police, prison service and army torturers. They know the state personnel who colluded with loyalist deaths squads in killings such as that of the lawyer Pat Finucane. They are also in possession of the material evidence to prosecute many of these people. In the case of the Ballymurphy massacre they have had the evidence for 43 years and have shown not the slightest inclination to use it."

  10. Since I don't use the more common tools of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, how are those who hurl the abuse identified? Do they sign off as Sinn Fein?
    As for Travers, it maybe a case that after Unionism has used and abused her position to gain a political goal and cast her aside, she now finds that not all was as they lead her to believe....if you lie down with the dogs!