Let’s investigate “death threats”

A small bottle of a red ink-like substance with a skull symbol on the side of the bottle. In the background is an old-style fountain pen and an inkwell.So, in the wake of Mary Beard’s ill-considered (patrician, soft-racist) tweet last week about how she wouldn’t go out to a disaster zone and do what those brave Oxfam staff (accused of sexually exploiting local girls) did, the usual accusations have been made by various journalists, political and media groupies and various other well-placed individuals, that Prof Beard has been “bullied” off Twitter by mobs of one sort of another. Beard may well have taken her Twitter account offline for a while, but I witnessed a lot of the reaction to her original tweet and it was roundly critical of her and much of it linked her attitude to her race and class, but a lot of that aimed at a public figure hardly counts as bullying. Ava Vidal, the comedian who has also carried out disaster relief work in Dominica after last year’s hurricane, suggested that “if someone uses their huge platform to make unsubstantiated claims of bullying, and this leads to someone being attacked, that person should be prosecuted”.

I would go a stage further: all accusations of “death threats” or other threats of violence should be investigated by the police. If you go public with such claims, you should have a duty to provide evidence to the authorities; if they are genuine, it is in everyone’s interest for the perpetrators to be found, and if they are not, it is in everyone’s interest for the falsehood to be exposed. In my experience every time there is a campaign of any kind and there is a lot at stake for some people and feelings run high (because there are people with a lot at stake, such as their health or independence, rather than small change), someone makes an accusation of “death threats” and this is used to discredit the whole campaign. I saw it with ME five or six years ago and I’ve seen it with almost every political campaign since the Tories came to power in 2010. It’s always the establishment, and people taking a pro-establishment line, that make these accusations, particularly Tories and the right-wing of the Labour party, and very often a little examination will reveal the claims to be, at the very least, exaggerated. It deflects from the fact that they are the powerful ones and encourages the audience to regard them as people who are being brave in the face of hostility, persecution or threatened violence. It is about time perfectly valid and necessary campaigns stopped being derailed or discredited by claims about what it at most a tiny minority of clowns and often, I suspect, outright fabrications.

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