The Abuse Debate

There is lots of talk in the news recently about abuse, particularly the abuse that MPs or candidates received during the general election campaign. Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney and Shadow Home Secretary, spoke frankly and honestly about her experience with abuse, saying she repeatedly hears and reads the “n-word” when bullies target her.

Abbott’s experience, sadly, is not unique. Many MPs have since come forward to talk about the abuse they have also received. Many female MPs report being called a “b*tch” or a “cow” online in particular.

However, some MPs and others on the glorious internet, have decided they’re going to redefine abuse. Those who engage in debate without even so mentioning one insult at all are now being pinned at the top of tweeters’ profiles saying they’re being abusive. I have been one of them myself.

Engaging in debate by respectfully challenging people’s arguments, statements or points – even by making a simple joke about them – is not abuse. It is debate. And debate is politics.

Calling someone the n-word is abuse. It is not debate. And it should not be part of our politics.

Those who seriously start attacking those who challenge their viewpoint by crying abuse are actually quite vile. They’re hijacking a very serious cause and issue that needs to be dealt with seriously and quickly. Diane Abbott has experienced abuse. Not some 16-year-old’s Conservative fan account where someone made a harmless joke about a tweet. God help them if they did experience abuse – I bet they couldn’t cope as well as Abbott and all of those MPs who carry on serving the public in the face of unnecessary hatred and cowardice.

It’s about time we started taking issues for what they are, rather than joining the bandwagon and watering down the horrid online abuse many people are receiving. And, for good measure, here’s (one of, and the most appropriate) the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of abuse:

“Contemptuous or insulting language; reviling, scurrility. Formerly also: a verbal insult.”

Please keep it in mind.