The most recent developments in the story of online intimidation towards journalists in Scotland covering events at Rangers fill all reasonable people with disgust. Sadly for many, myself included, these stories no longer come as a surprise.
Since editing a book about Rangers’ financial collapse a year ago - Downfall, by Phil Mac Giolla Bháin - I have been on the receiving end of sustained abuse and intimidation.
I’ve called the police out to my home several times, on one occasion late at night in a very frightening panic – let’s be clear, the behaviour of these people has a very real effect on the lives of their targets.
Under police advice I’ve made changes to the way I live my life. Rarely do I publicise my whereabouts for fear of who might see it. It only takes one person to decide to take matters into their own hands and it’s not far-fetched in Scotland – the bombs and bullets sent to football managers, players, QCs and politicians in Glasgow show that this is not a game.
My family members have been up for discussion online alongside all aspects of my personal life. I’ve faced constant smears on Rangers supporters’ forums and blog sites and my block button on Twitter is required every single day.
I have a thick skin and I can handle complaints with my work, it’s par for the course in this industry. But the last year has been on a different level. I’ve experienced a sustained campaign against me and I’ve had conversations with other journalists trying to struggle through the same.
I know that journalists have been frightened away from the story and I sympathise with them. Many have to consider the fall out for their family members, their children. In Scotland the intimidation has been working and that’s why it continues to happen.
The Drum hasn’t been immune to these tactics either. In just the last couple of days, the names and contact details of every reporter in the office have been posted on the Follow Follow message board, along with the address of the office. I won’t repeat the language used to describe myself and my colleagues, but needless to say vile would be appropriate.
The situation requires a united front from all media organisations in Scotland and a zero tolerance policy. As Stuart Cosgrove notes in The Drum’s examination of the problem, digital technology presents a challenge. The cut and paste complaints culture has been utilised as a form of intimidation. The way in which these campaigns are coordinated and the objectives of them can be freely viewed online by those encouraging them. Some vigilance is required in our ever-changing digital landscape.
If media organisations want their journalists to embrace this technology, they must take all steps to ensure their protection, safety and support.