Steve Sampson says the social media attack dogs have already claimed their first victims in what will be a nasty General Election
‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here’ – William Shakespeare, The Tempest
You know it before it’s even started. This General Election will be the nastiest, most bitter and vitriolic ever. And 99% of that will be spewed out daily on Twitter and Facebook. It’s got nothing to do with free speech. It’s hate speech and it’s driving good people out of public life.
The loonies have always been there. You just never saw or heard them. The ranters wrote to The Editor. The five-star nutters appeared in reception. The trick was to pay them huge attention for as brief a period as possible. And send them to a rival paper with the name of a reporter you despised.
Facebook was supposed to be the new letter writing. Now it is the world’s most corrupting form of communication allowing hate speech and fake news to flourish whilst hoovering in revenues of over $1 billion a week. Twitter has banned all political ads. Facebook refuses to follow suit. Neither of them offers remotely enough protection to victims of the haters.
It’s impossible to stop. Their power is overwhelming with none of the normal checks or balances. The police are powerless – they can’t even cope with “normal” crime like car theft and burglary.
MPs Nicky Morgan, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry gone – Ms Soubry revealing at least one of her haters was prosecuted. All of them talk of the impact on their families. It’s not just about haters targeting female MPs but females in general. Male MPs get it as well.
But it somehow feels way more offensive. I have no statistics, but are the majority of these laptop lunatics mainly men? Is it too much to hope that our politicians will be treated with respect during the General Election? You bet it is.
Whatever. The social media platforms will say it’s a tiny minority. And do nothing about the hate speech and death threats. This week it’s politics, last week it was black England footballers. No wonder gay footballers keep quiet. No amount of safeguards can keep your children away from hardcore porn and hatred.
The Party mouthpieces will nod their heads in sympathy, condemn the hostility – and still spend millions on Facebook ads. Their supporters will be doing plenty of “black hatting” – attacking Jew-hating Labour and toff coddling Tories. A race to the bottom of the barrel and no-one is going to stop them.
They used to say that Page 3 in The Sun was corrupting the nation’s morals. Angry MPs even. Rupert Murdoch the anti-Christ. Compared to the current climate it feels like the age of innocence.
Steve Sampson journalist is former assistant, northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun and director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. He is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser