Speak out

Firstly I'd like to make it clear that by writing this I am in no way implying that people taking part in today's boycott of Twitter are in the wrong. Freedom not to speak is as important as freedom to speak. This is more an explanation as to why I'm not taking part. Not that anyone would really notice or care one way or another whether I took part or not and this in itself is probably pertinent.

Of course the fact that I (and many others) feel the need to explain why they're not taking part is in itself interesting.  Despite statements that people are free to do what they want to do (or not do what they don't want to do) I feel an unspoken implication that the good people are taking part in the boycott and that therefore if you don't take part then...

Not that anyone is actually saying this or even thinks it - it's just an unavoidable side-effect of what's happening. Perhaps a side-effect that exists only in my head. But it's there.

I can't even begin to understand what it is like to receive online threats of the kind that sparked this off. I get upset when someone is slightly sarcastic to me. To be on the receiving end of such horrendous vicious bile, over and over again, without an end in sight would be my idea of online hell. I'd probably give up the internet altogether.

The closest I ever came to such a hell was when I was at school and the focus of attention for a number of bullies. Quite why they got off on this I have no idea. In retrospect I choose to believe that they were just scum and the power they felt at inflicting such torment gave them some kind of thrill.

But apart from the callous and incessant verbal and physical abuse, one of the worst things was that no-one ever did anything about it. I was too scared to speak up because the teachers, who were all quite clearly aware of what was going on, turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. The closest I ever got to an acknowledgement was a muttered aside from one teacher who told me that he thought I was "pathetic" for putting up with it. He seemed embarrassed even to have said that.

None of my fellow pupils said or did a thing - probably because they were afraid of the bullies' attention being turned on them.

And this conspiracy of silence in the face of a belligerent minority of gits can be observed to this day. Picture the brace of drunken thugs on late night public transport that cause other people to stare intently at the game of Angry Birds they're playing on their phone or pretend to be asleep in the hope that the focus currently being brought to bear on the poor soul three seats away won't be diverted to them.  If everyone in the carriage or on the bus stood up and decided to do something about it it would be a very different story.

To return to my school days I do remember one day when we all stood up and did something - although sadly this was not about the bullies in our midst. On the way home from school there was one stretch of road in which a group of kids from another school would lie in wait. When they saw one or two of us walking along they'd leap out and submit us to five or ten minutes of abuse of one kind or another.

So we decided to get organised.  We gathered together a group of twenty or so and hid around the corner from this stretch of road. I was one of two kids who were sent on ahead as bait. I actually felt quite excited. As expected, a group of three or four kids from the other school emerged from behind trees and swaggered towards us, grinning.

I remember to this day the sound of running feet and children cheering that erupted as the rest of the group came tearing around the corner. The bullies turned and fled and afterwards walking along that stretch of road on the way home from school was never quite as much of a problem as it had been.

The internet in general makes it far easier for people to do virtually anything. This includes abusing others and getting off on the power the abusers imagine this gives them. But I feel that the way to respond to this is to speak out, to name and shame and that silence is the compost which nourishes bullying of all kinds.

I expect I am missing the point of the boycott, but this is how it feels to me and I can't relax until I've written this down.


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