Trolls and terrorists – horror stories for our time

A WOMAN dies after a hunting accident. Hundreds of people go onto social media to rejoice. Terrorists kill nearly 130 people in Paris – thousands of people go onto social media to rejoice.

It is impossible for those who have ordinary human feelings of empathy and compassion to begin to imagine why anyone would rejoice at the needless and brutal killing of ordinary people doing ordinary things on an ordinary Friday evening – watching a rock concert or a football match, having a drink or a meal with friends.

We immediately want to stand in solidarity with the people of Paris, France and the free world, against the vile death cult and its cowardly hordes of digital supporters. Football fans from England and France unite to sing the Marseillaise and Le Tricolor flies on public buildings all over the world.

Most of us don’t have any answers. The instant response, the kneejerk reaction of launching more attacks on ISIS locations is understandable – even if those, like Jeremy Corbyn, who are opposed to this, may be right that the onslaught will ultimately be counter-productive, handing the extremists more opportunities to attract impressionable, disenfranchised, angry people.

We can  argue with friends and family or even people we don’t know,  about politics, religion or sex. We can voice our opinions about anything from the EU, private health insurance or pop music to supermarkets, speed cameras, academy schools or cosmetic surgery.

We may be uneasy about the increasing surveillance by security agencies but we can shout that unease to the heavens.

Some feel very strongly about hunting and would like to see all hunting with dogs banned. But it is hard to see how the gloating of internet trolls at the tragic death of a 44 year woman, who happens to be a joint hunt master, in any way strengthens the case of those who are opposed to hunting with hounds.

Moral relativism is a dodgy area, and I don’t want to make comparisons between the scale, barbarity and sheer horror of the Paris atrocities with what was essentially an everyday occurrence – a rider dying after a fall from a horse. The element that made it news and the consequent social media vomit, obviously, was that the rider fell while hunting.

But there is a common point to be made here. Most of the time social media chatter ranges from vacuous to funny or interesting, but there are times when it tips over into something deeply nasty that threatens our sense of community and shared values.

Most of us did not know anyone who was injured or killed in Paris, but we have all been to concerts or football matches, hung out in bars with friends and enjoyed a meal in a favourite restaurant. It’s how we live. We may have nothing in common with our fellow diners, football fans, drinkers or concertgoers. Individually we might not like some of them, or they us, enjoy their music or support the same team. But we wish them no harm.

We may not like Paris or even France. Some of us are prone to fall into silly jingoist jokes about the French and some are proud little Englanders – but we respect (or at least we try to respect) views with which we do not agree.

We have an old friend who is a football fan. When Leeds was playing, he was an all-out Leeds fan. If England was playing, he would back the national team. We used to joke that he would cheer the GB team in an international, support Europe against the rest of the world – and Earth against Mars. He reserved the right to be thoroughly rude about the opposition, whether it was Liverpool, Scotland or Outer Space – but he was utterly opposed to verbal attacks on opposing team players or violence against fans.

The social media give a disproportionate voice to cowards and bullies. Twitter trolls bring misery to the victims or, in the case of the dead rider, their families and friends. They show human beings at their worst. The international response to the Paris attacks has shown how much the overwhelming majority of people value our common humanity. We have to take some small comfort from that, and recognise that the price of free speech is allowing the expression of views that we find abhorrent and disgusting.

Vive la republique – and free speech!

Fanny Charles