i Editor's Letter: Disagreeing with someone is not abusing them


Click to follow
The Independent Online


If I had a pound for every time I've been insulted , then I would not be sitting here typing this. It's not nice being called a "stupid Italian c***" by a reader, "long streak of p***" by schoolfriends, "useless bloody Maryann fairy", by a teacher or "s***head" and far (far) worse by my Ma. But, what's a man to do: prosecute?

This is the dangerous place we have found ourselves in contemporary Britain, particularly as the law grapples with the technology that enables social media. Grace Dent, a strong new voice in this paper, addresses the need for Twitter to grow up,  but perhaps it's time that society recalled a time when we believed that "sticks and stones…".

I am not defending bullying. Far from it. I abhor it, campaign against it and shudder still to recall any hint of it on my part in my childhood. We should absolutely step in when we find our young, elderly and otherwise vulnerable being subjected to abuse, but to be clear, disagreeing with someone's opinion is not abusing them. That's why I believe it is wrong to be prosecuted for burning a poppy in cyberspace – even though I wear mine with pride. And, it's why it is a relief to see an appeal victory yesterday for Adrian Smith, the Christian demoted from his manager's job with a 40 per cent pay cut for making the following comment on Facebook about a gay wedding held in a church: an "equality too far".

It is clear for all to see this is not abuse, bullying, threatening or other dangerous behaviour, but merely expressing a mild opinion. If our opinions are not an incitement to hatred and other violence, then I am with Evelyn Beatrice Hall, Voltaire's biographer: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." She could have added "whatever the medium".