My friend Neil Clark, and David Lindsay, and others whom I know personally, have been from time to time the subject of abusive blog comments and fairly robust commentary. This is all very well. I also have a link below to the exile, who is hardly restrained in his opinions from his base in Mexico. My advice to them all and to anyone abused is not to take mere abuse seriously.
It is a feature of the web's mix of serious debate and commentary that, sometimes, it attracts quite strange people. It is also fun to 'have a barney' as it were. I spent last weekend near Donnybrook in Dublin, where the national television station is based. Donnybrook is a word in the USA meaning a joyous fight. The advice to Donnybrook travellers, for instance, was (annually after the year 1204) 'if you see a head, hit it'.
Here's an online mole game if you want to go further on that point. It takes a little time to load and is predictably insane.
For too many people on the web, however, things get out of hand. The internet has for some become a field of pointed personal battles in which publishing names, addresses, threats and invitations for others to attack personally is disturbingly common. Twisting words, spinning open behaviour, and attacking people of goodwill has become an outlet for some.
The law used to be very cumbersome and slow when it came to this sort of thing. A lot of law students will remember the mad and sinuous twists of the Khorasanjian v Bush case that examiners used to like, for instance. My legal readers will recall the observations of the judge often quoted in that case that it was necessary sometimes to identify what behaviour went 'far beyond the crowing of a morning cock', which I am informed are not often seen or heard outside our courts of justice.
In the USA, poisonous online behaviour has added a sour and often toxic mix to political discussion. It has encouraged the former trotskyists and extremists who populate the neoconservative and radical left blogspots to engage in serious intimidation.
The fact of this behaviour has combined with government attempts to get a grip on identity theft, paedophilia and cybercrime, and with the need to tackle bullying and harassment online that is not always motivated by sexual perversion. The police now have their needs for tools to tackle bad people satisfied, but of course they are reluctant to use them for fear of chilling the free speech that is so enticing a feature of the internet.
This is very serious and very good. I know agents of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, for instance, who will happily say how useful the capacity to trace IP addressses and to investigate electronic theft, fraud and pathways has been in the fight against truly evil criminal behaviour since the RIPA Act.
Don't assume that cyberstalking cases are built on mountain dew. The police now build cases based on IP addresses, observed links and demonstrated behaviours which are very serious and not something that can just be started with a complaint. Of course, the presumption of innocence still applies. This is a free country, and sometimes innocent people can be accused; but these accusations can be dismissed.
Therefore, it not only makes things more pleasant in blogland but allows for real, serious and worthwhile discussion of ideas, if those of us who blog hold off from personal attacks on each other that cross lines of mere abuse into concerted and determined political attempts to destroy and misrepresent individuals as people rather than in a public political capacity.
That is all I have to say.