What the internet public needs is a dash of common decency

There’s a lot of fury out there right now, and why wouldn’t there be given the mess that politicians, bankers, business leaders and our own levels of greed have created?

What the internet public needs is a dash of common decency

There’s a lot of fury out there right now, and why wouldn’t there be given the mess that politicians, bankers, business leaders and our own levels of greed have created?

WHAT are we to make of the statement from Tom Hicks that he, his family, and business associates have been subjected to “militant internet terrorism” by fans?

Tucked away amid the bluster of self-justification, bleeding heart, and fact sheets which accompanied his apologia for his stewardship of Liverpool FC was this little ticking time-bomb of a phrase. It’s likely to gather further scrutiny when he returns to the British courts to make his €1.15bn claim for compensation.

It will have caused a pricking of the thumbs in the Department of Homeland Security which this week released new protocols for combating cyber warfare while, no doubt coincidentally, the UK’s national security strategy review also identified internet-borne threats as a priority for intelligence services.

It might even have caused a rustle at Quantico now that the FBI no longer have to worry about Hannibal Lecter and it’s damn lucky for angry Scousers that Team America: World Police have been stood down since destroying the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre.

But what did the man from Dallas actually mean when he alleged that his potential buyers had been scared off by online “distress and chatter.”

It couldn’t be, could it; the YouTube video fronted by actors Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston (http://tiny.cc/8b2s7)?

This seven-minute film is a rugged and emotional declaration of opposition to everything that Hicks and George Gillet stood for. Amid the many exhortations to “jog on” — quite how that will be interpreted in Texas is open to question — was one from a supporter which compared the activities of the American owners to the rape of a family member.

Anyone who spends time on the web reading bulletin boards and blogs and user-generated content knows that it can be a vicious place full of bile and spite where people shielding behind faceless online security are prepared to use their virtual elbows and feet to give anyone with an errant opinion a beasting.

The Cork playwright Enda Walsh brilliantly captured the malevolent side of our networked world with his 2005 production Chatroom which has been made into a film by Hideo Nakata, director of the supernatural Ring Trilogy and Dark Water. That was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring and should be out this autumn or early next year.

Just recently the BBC’s Andrew Marr called much online commentary “too angry and too abusive . . . terrible things are said because they are anonymous.”

There’s a lot of fury out there right now, and why wouldn’t there be given the mess that politicians, bankers, business leaders and our own levels of greed have created?

One consequence is we have released a legion of obnoxious trolls from the Pandora’s box of technology. But that may be the price we have to pay for broadening the debate and engaging people in it. I excuse young people from this. They didn’t have the credit cards, that landed us in this mess.

For years now, apart from the stands, and the pub, message boards have been the best places to debate your team’s fortunes and receive feedback on your opinions. Many clubs don’t like it because it is frequently beyond the control of their brand managers, and several have used the law to attempt to claw that back. A leading Sheffield Wednesday chat site was threatened with legal action by the Owls, and a website which questioned Alisher Usmanov’s fitness to build up a controlling stake in Arsenal was rapidly silenced after his lawyers threatened its hosting company.

If you search for a definition of cyber-terrorism then among the returns you will find one which describes it as: “The premeditated use of disruptive activities, or the threat thereof, against computers and/or networks, with the intention to cause harm or further social, ideological, religious, political or similar objectives. Or to intimidate any person in furtherance of such objectives.”

Did the online campaign against Gillet and Hick fall into that definition of intimidation, or was it simply robust fair comment by concerned citizens and supporters. Or was there something more sinister taking place, details of which are yet to emerge through the opening so carefully created by Tom Hicks in his prepared statement last weekend? There’s one substantial difference between the Liverpool supporters’ video and any accusations of cyber bullying, cyber stalking and cyber harassment. Everyone on “Dear Mr Hicks” was identified and speaking in their own voice. Balaclavas and other forms of disguise were notable by their absence.

Free speech allows people to make strong, or even unreasonable, comments within the laws of defamation. But what the vox populi on the internet needs is a good dose of common decency. The Liverpool case may be entering the home straight but there are more ructions looming. It won’t be long now before the relationship between Manchester United supporters and the Glazers takes a significant turn for the worse. That will not be an encounter for sensitive souls.

Allan.Prosser@Examiner.ie

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