Following a Guardian CIF article by Stirling University PhD student Claire Heuchan, The Guardian reported that Ms Heuchan said she had quit Twitter in fear for her safety having been abused on social media. Other media outlets followed-up and we published this. The Scotsman reported: “Attacks, including a comment on her (Claire’s) blog calling her an African who had no right to discuss ethnic white Scottish affairs, were accompanied by calls on Twitter for the University of Stirling to sack her, although she is not employed there”. Today, Commonspace Editor and Sunday Herald columnist Angela Haggerty has written a typically intelligent and wise article framing the affair in terms of her own experience of mysogynystic internet abuse.  There’s more to come, with National columnist Vonny Moyes Tweeting (at @vonny_bravo) that she’s presently writing an article about that too.

GA Ponsonby has written today about how offensiveness properly expressed can be in line with, and even important to, freedom of expression. Rude comments ‘below the line’ is a standard feature of newspaper columns, and sometimes columnists themselves use social media to reply in kind. So it’s important to distinguish rudeness from mysogyny and other unacceptable forms of abuse. Yet of course it’s normally not hard at all to tell when a rude comment is truly mysogynystic.

Where things seem to be going awry in the Claire Heuchan case, however, is that while people will have their debates around what it acceptable rudeness and what is not, open racial abuse via social media is simply illegal.

It is quite possible that people have deleted abusive posts on social media about Claire Heuchan now that the issue has taken on the profile it has, so this website’s simple search for social media messages did not turn up any racist or threatening messages. However, thanks to Vonny Moyes’ Twitter stream we can see the terrible message which is surely at the heart of the original Guardian story. We will not re-publish the message here, although it seems right that for now its full horror is available at Vonny Moyes’ own Twitter account.

The simple fact is that this almost unbelievably horrible and racist message is in serious breach of the law and its sender should be prosecuted to its fullest extent. It is not, frankly, a matter to be left at journalists providing comment, however valuable, nor for the University of Stirling to simply “condemn (racist abuse) in the strongest terms”. The law is clear (see below).

Sir William McPherson’s final report on The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry established the vital principle in public and private life that; ‘A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. Acting on racism is a responsibility of us all. There is no doubt whatever that the vile message in question, and any others like them which may exist, will be taken extremely seriously and investigated by Police Scotland. Here is how to make a complaint to them.

 

(1) The document quoted was was issued by the CPS. It is understood that the Scottish authorities employ the same rules, definitions and guidance.