Why Do We So Quickly Blame The Internet And Anonymity For Things That Are Not About Anonymous People Online?
from the gotta-point-that-finger dept
The BBC has an admittedly frightening story about a Glasgow MP who had to deal with death threats from what appears to be a seriously disturbed individual. The story is horrific on many levels, and I don’t doubt it was terrifying for the MP, Carol Monaghan. But what I’m confused about is why her response is to blame anonymity and social media, when it appears that (1) the individual threatening her is known, and (2) much of the harassment did not occur on social media. But, most of the article still focuses on how she’s now demanding social media companies do more to stop anonymous harassment.
Then her constituency office in Partick was targeted, with windows being smashed.
While the MP was in London, the office front was splattered with ketchup.
“When my staff came in it was quite a disturbing thing to see,” she told BBC Scotland’s The Seven programme.
“It was obviously meant to look like blood across the windows. That was the start of the physical activities.”
Things got worse when a death threat was made against her.
“It was phoned in and it contained enough details about my personal life, enough detail to cause the police to take it seriously,” she explained.
“I got a call from my office manager. The police had contacted him to say there was what they considered to be a credible threat.
Again, all of that is really awful, and no one should be subjected to such things. But, again, none of the above had anything to do with social media. And the perpetrator is known:
Earlier this month Jonathan Bell, 35, admitted his behaviour caused her “fear or alarm”.
Bell harassed the SNP MP between January and April 2019.
At Glasgow Sheriff Court he pled guilty to causing fear or alarm. He will be sentenced next month.
But, rather than discuss ways to actually deal with this, Monaghan focuses on anonymity and social media as the problem.
“Social media gives people a platform, it gives them a way of directly contacting a person – at any time of the day or night,” she said
“It gives them the opportunity to say things anonymously. It gives them a whole lot of protection that the target of their abuse does not have.”
Ms Monaghan believes any woman in a public role is party to this abuse, and says she has been told told to “grow a thick skin” and get used to it.
But, she says: “Really, why should we take that level of abuse? We wouldn’t accept it in a workplace, but we are just supposed to take it and somehow we are to blame if we don’t.”
She’s absolutely right that she shouldn’t have to put up with such abuse. And it’s terrible that she had to go through that horrific ordeal. And it’s also quite true that social media is a vector of harassment (and also that women face much more, and much more vitriolic, harassment than men). But, the details of this case kind of highlight why it’s not just about either social media or anonymity. Much of the harassment did not involve social media, and it’s clear that this individual was not anonymous. Police were able to track him down and arrest him (indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they were aided in that effort by the digital trail Bell left).
Again, this isn’t to excuse the harassment that Monaghan received, both on social media and off, but to note that simply pointing fingers at social media seems unlikely to get to the real root of the issue. It’s an easy target, but if it’s not the actual cause of the problem, then targeting it is unlikely to help — and could have significant unintended consequences as well.