‘Someone on the internet said something mean about me,’ joked Paul Kavanagh a couple of years ago as he recounted to me his experience of negative comments online. And this is true; no matter what we do or say, there will always be someone lurking somewhere online — invariably hiding behind an anonymous profile — who will go out of their way to say something biting and nasty. Here we’re not talking about trolls. We have come to expect them and when we realise this is what they are up to we can dismiss them without much thought.
Recently, I have attracted the attention of such a troll. This person, as is to be expected, has an anonymous profile and uses that anonymity to bully and intimidate social media users who happen to disagree with his “radical” political opinions. Over the past couple of weeks pro-independence bloggers have been putting out fires started by an accusation by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and the leadership of the GMB Labour-affiliated trade union that a blog published by the pro-independence blogger Gareth Wardell was an anti-Semitic attack levelled at GMB activist Rhea Wolfson.
This has to cause us some concern if we intend to pursue another independence referendum. The British establishment – Project Fear 2 – will cheat and we now know the weapons it has at its disposal. We have to be prepared for these kinds of dirty tricks and we had better be prepared to use some of our own. Whatever shape the next referendum takes, we know it is not going to be a fair or a clean fight. The gloves will be off from the very start, and we had best start disabusing ourselves of any notions of fair play before it begins.
It was as clear as day why the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the youngest Westminster MP Mhairi Black were on the list. As prominent female members of the Scottish National Party – the party that threatens to tear Britain asunder – their intended function was to lose and so furnish the media with yet another handy stick with which to beat Scotland and the SNP.
It has been 1,266 days since the first independence referendum and every single day since then the independence movement in Scotland has been on its toes, standing in a campaign footing waiting for the second. The second referendum is coming. We have secured a mandate in our own parliament, we have secured a mandate at Westminster, and Holyrood has given its consent to put the question of independence back before the Scottish people.
The internet however, as Sky News has been reminded, is a bit of a swine. Readers in Scotland clocked what was going on and sounded the alarm on social media. Over the weekend Twitter and Facebook did what they do best, and folk all over Scotland rallied behind their favourite people. From their place of obscurity they quickly shot to the summit, with Scots voting in their tens of thousands and sharing the news to the furthest reaches of the internet. By Sunday afternoon supporters in Wales, across parts of England, and all over the island of Ireland were joining in.
One response to this has been the creation of the “safe space,” a concept that routinely excites these right wing vloggers into apoplectic frothiness. What right, they ask, do these “snowflakes” have to a space of their own where they do not need to put up with our constant stream of vitriol and bile? They have presented the safe space as some sort of spatial free pass within the academy, the college, and the university, where the delicate can ride through towards graduation without anything they might find upsetting, offensive, or “triggering.”
Social media – now very much “the world of trolls” – offers us what real life simply cannot, the ability to be all-sufficient. It offers us the possibility to find meaning in our undeveloped and un-self-become humanity. Behind the fiction of a social media profile we can be the men and women we want to be; the person we desire most to present to the world, without ever affecting any real change in the person who we actually are in the real world. This I will call the 'avatar,' the fictive person we create online...