Social media is a powerful tool. It can start revolutions, both political and cultural. We have seen increasingly important events happen on social media, to the point where some events have shaped history (the Arab Spring, to name one such event). So, naturally, everybody wants to exploit social media for their gain. This includes political parties. One political party that has learned to use social media as a recruiting ground and debating forum is the Scottish National Party. Their use of clever advertising and digital media has, in part, resulted in the SNP having the third-largest membership of all UK political parties.
Some people on the internet have been claiming that SNP supporters – nicknamed “cybernats” by tweeters and now the mainstream media – use abusive language and threats against political opponents. Author JK Rowling has been particularly outspoken about these threats. Naturally, I don’t deny the existence of abusive language and threats, as there is solid proof that both these attacks have been used against celebrity opponents of the SNP. But to create a furore around SNP members – when supporters of other political parties do the same and get away with it – is to politicise online abuse.
Historian Jill Stephenson spoke out in favour of the union during the recent Scottish Independence referendum and was welcomed with open arms by the Unionist camp. She condemns the cybernats and their abuse. Rather hypocritical of her to then call SNP MP Mhairi Black, a “foul-mouthed little slut”. Stephenson is a professor of History at Edinburgh University, and has suffered no repercussions (at the time of writing) from her actions. She has also abused various people, calling them “bitches”, then claiming in a debate with Wings Over Scotland (a pro-independence website) that she does not use the word. When Wings Over Scotland called an MSP an “arsehole”, the press condemn the person behind the blog. Stephenson suffered no negative press. Surely this shows a bias in mainstream media. This is nothing short of outright media bias.
— Historywoman (@2351onthelist) February 9, 2015
Scottish Labour appear to have taken their hammering in Scotland by the SNP badly, as their strategy for next years Holyrood election appears to be ‘complain about the SNP’. Despite this not working in the General Election, one of the main tools of Scottish Labour has been pointing out cybernats. This week they published a dossier of 69 Twitter accounts of alleged SNP members who had tweeted abuse to them. Despite the fact that there is no proof that these people are actual SNP members and not either liars or proxies beyond their Twitter pages (which proves nothing at all), the report highlights 69 of 110,00 SNP members. That’s 0.06%! If the idea behind this was to prove that most SNP members are evil cybernats, then it really has failed spectacularly. Surely instead of publishing dossiers, Labour should keep supporters such as “Rupert W” in check. A supposed Labour supporter and anti-fascist, according to his Twitter.
If Labour are using Twitter bios as conclusive proof of guilt, they must accept it used against them. “Rupert” claims that “scotland has Snp grooming gangs” and that “Nazi Nicola” is a suitable leader “of the Third Reich”. Clearly this is the kind of man any political party would want as a supporter, with his penchant for calling opposition leaders fascists. Another man, going by the name of Ray Bareham (with no clear association to Labour) claimed that the SNP are “embryo IRA”. After looking through his account, I found that he follows various accounts with an #SNPout twibbon. This hashtag is used by many anti-SNP Tweeters and it’s users often compare the SNP to the Nazis.
— Ray Bareham (@WyeLea) June 28, 2015
The abuse that prominent SNP figures receive becomes all too apparent when you check the Twitter page ‘BritNat Abuse Bot‘, which catalogued abusive tweets by British nationalists during the Independence Referendum. As you search through it, it becomes apparent that there must be just as much abuse towards SNP politicians as there is towards Unionist politicians. Yet we see no media stories on these BritNats, the invisible venom of their words hidden behind a wall of silence from the mainstream media. We see nobody in the mainstream media demanding that Harriet Harman or David Cameron apologise for the actions of their supporters online. The online abuse of SNP supporters and politicians has been ignored for far too long, yet no mainstream paper will publish these stories.
It is time we all took a step back. The SNP must punish online abusers, but so must Labour, the Conservatives and other Unionist parties who abuse Scottish nationalists. Political parties must send a clear message to their supporters that online abuse is never okay. That includes all political parties, and by no means just the SNP. Many journalists have called on Nicola Sturgeon to apologise for the actions of her supporters on the internet. I call on Labour and the Tories to apologise for abuse aimed at SNP members by their supporters.
Words by Gabriel Rutherford