Bullying of candidates unacceptable

Two weeks ago a young man named John Coyle entered a TV studio to put his case, as part of a panel, to the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

This is not a target seat for his party, the SDLP, and it was evident he was not prepped as he is not a key candidate this time around; this was unfortunate, because in a fit of selfish lunacy one of his senior colleagues, Alex Attwood, had contrived to forget Mr Coyle’s name when quizzed about the constituency.

Given all of this, Mr Coyle managed admirably. He came across as a genuine young man doing his civic duty. In a democracy, why not?

He was then subjected to a barrage of abuse from Twitter trolls purporting to be supporters of Sinn Féin, the current incumbent’s party. In fairness, it has to be said, that party’s local representatives acted swiftly to quash the activity, to the extent much of it was deleted. Nevertheless, evident and totally unnecessary harm was done to a young man whose only offence was participating in democracy.

This is far from the only example of what is, in fact, a totally unacceptable level of bile and abuse levelled at people who are merely *candidates*, nothing else!

Like her colleague Naomi Long next door, my wife Paula Bradshaw is a big girl. She has worked in the inner city for over a decade. However, it bears mentioning that she is a full-time working mother who, like Mr Coyle, now has additional Council commitments as well as hobbies and so on. On top of all this family, professional and civic activity (unlike all her main rivals who are full-time politicians), she is a candidate for election.

I do not know how many communications she receives daily purely in the candidate capacity, but I am sure it is over 100. Most are respectful, some are exceedingly kind – yet some exude vitriolic bile.

This bile is not personal; usually it is directed equally at all the candidates. Yet it is time we recognised it to be totally unacceptable in a civilised democracy. Candidates – particularly those not holding office in the area from which the bile originates – are frankly entitled not to be subject to straightforward nasty communication.

Underlying all of this is the notion that someone putting their experience and ideas forward for office suddenly becomes – even while still a full-time working mother – public property… and not just public property, but public property to be freely abused and ranted at by complete strangers.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of course – but with that right comes responsibility. It is not quite good enough to say “ah well, you just have to have a thick skin”. Actually, why? Why must someone voluntarily putting themselves forward for election to office in a peaceful liberal democracy be subject to any form of wanton abuse? We would not accept physical abuse against them, so why is verbal abuse acceptable?

Fundamentally, Mr Coyle was the victim of bullying. He’ll get over it, but we have to recognise it is unacceptable, even (indeed particularly) in the democratic arena which is supposed to be an arena for exchange of ideas, not vitriol.

All the candidates putting themselves forward for election deserve respect for doing so – particularly those having to fit responses to hundreds of items of communication in between full-time work and family commitments plus canvassing. Let us show that respect – and call those out who do not.

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8 thoughts on “Bullying of candidates unacceptable

  1. Mark Battleday says:

    As someone else put it: “John Coyle didn’t do well so the Shinnerbots hurled abuse. Phil Flanagan said that’s not nice, so they all said well done for trying! #sheep.”

  2. factual says:

    One way to show your disapproval is to give the bullied candidate a vote.

    • Mark Battleday says:

      John Coyle seems to be a very good candidate so why not?

      • That misses the point somewhat. What Mr Coyle experienced isn’t exceptional, it is normal. All candidates, including my wife, have received equally malicious communication.

        It shouldn’t happen.

  3. I’ve two points to make.

    The term bullying has been thrown around quite a bit in regards to the Coyle incident. From I can see there is no legal definition of bullying however it widely considered to be a repeated attack, whether physical or not, designed to hurt.

    I didn’t see any of the comments that made Mr Coyle cry and in this day and age I find that very unusual with many victims choosing to retweet comments. Others screenshot them to use against their political adversaries showing how the opponent’s supporter are monsters compared the angelic supporters of their own political ideal.

    Nobody seems able to produce these comments and have fallen behind this narrative of the evil troll.

    The evil troll which leads us over the bridge of the next point.

    Free speech is both beautiful and ugly all in the one sentence. All too often I hear, “I’m all for free speech but…” there is no but. People should be allowed to say horrible and disgusting things. They think it so the rest of us may as well know the character of the people we are dealing with.

    Just because there is free speech doesn’t mean that we have to use certain words. It becomes our responsibility to use that free speech and if necessary educate others as to why certain words are wrong.

    In terms of twitter egg accounts some of them are vicious and appear to have very little to do with their time or lead unfulfilled lives away from the internet. Why should the opinions and comments of these people affect anybody.

    Legally speaking threats can warrant police intervention and I differ other free speech advocates whereby I don’t think bodiless threats from spotty teenagers locked in their bedroom. I speak too as having received a threat over Twitter and I chose to ignore it.

    I did retreat from having my name on my account and any other identifying details though.

    Threats of assault or murder though must be very worrying for those who don’t come into contact with that regularly to know that the internet is full of keyboard warriors.

    To start chipping away at free speech on twitter, which remains a relatively free platform, will only play into the hands of the establishment who seek to control what we can say and in time what we can think. The line will eventually shift to being unable to question those in authority.

    The Orwellian future is closer than we realise.

    • “I’m all for free speech, but…” But with freedoms come responsibilities.

      It is simply unacceptable for someone to post wanton nasty communication up to and including death threats to someone else. That’s not freedom, that’s abuse.

      It’s a bit like saying we should be free physically to attack each other! We are not, and there are reasons for that.

      Mental and psychological abuse can be just as bad as physical abuse. Which is why we should all be “free” from it.

      • “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names shall never harm me.”

        I don’t think we will agree on this one. Like it or not freedom of speech includes all the hateful, disgusting and vile things contained within the minds of nasty people.

        Free speech or not in legal terms a threat is actionable by police.

        Repeatedly calling somebody nasty, stupid or ill informed could be considered bullying or abuse.

        It is receiving focus now as “nice” people are receiving comments that in an ideal world they shouldn’t have to but how much coverage is given to the abuse that not so popular people receive? Jamie Bryson, Willie Frazer and David Vance for example…

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