Anonymity and hate

Just seen some comments on the Nottingham Post comments section where people are calling for a Councillor to lose a special responsibility, cos of a remark suggesting that it’s OK for people to express a view anonymously as part of a public consultation. The people making the calls are doing so with pen-names such as “EggyEggCup” and “Cossy_Boy” but seem blind to the irony.
There is of course a long-standing tradition of writers using pen names for political tracts, and cartoonists (including those on Charlie Hebdo). But there is a difference. A publisher takes responsibility for the opinion expressed, but it’s less clear that anonymous correspondents in social media think they will ever be held to account.
Ditto e-mail correspondents. The petition raised to highlight concerns over Israel’s treatment of Palestine was signed by over 5,000 Nottingham people – who had to give their name and addresses. I received angry e-mails from people demanding that we didn’t debate the petition – angry people who didn’t include their name and address. Sure, there are a number of points to consider, but talking and debate is going to be the way that a settlement is going to be reached. And the pro-Israeli gov’t e-mails that made you think were the ones sent in by people who gave a name and address.
MPs don’t take cases from people who don’t give names and addresses, mainly cos of the convention that they only deal with matters raised by their constituents. I was surprised to find that the convention is not explained on the Hansard site.
Other than petitions, the convention is less clear for Councillors, not least cos they don’t have an infrastructure like MPS have to enforce it; multi-member seats also make conventions harder to define. The rationale for the petition restriction is not explained on the council site.
There are conventions and even law to back up the protection of whistle-blowers, but these are correspondents are hardly those.
Instead the hatred that’s generated deters others from taking part.
Ed Miliband has called for the press to cover ‘issues not cynicism‘ – We do need better proportion, including accepting when people have mis-spoken, withdrawn a remark and apologised.
Free speech; rights and responsibilities; enabling discussion and debate; an environment where more feel they can join in; accepting when people make mistakes; challenging to those who demean people by race; asking – as George Orwell did – that people do anything but write something barbaric.
Finer minds than mine might perhaps write a charter that seeks tolerance rather than pushes hate, but it’s shame we don’t have it.

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