It is time social media was reined in

The organisation for which I worked in those far off, halcyon days of the early 1960s, received many letters from the general public, which included those from the small, but energetic and lunatic, section of society. These were usually written in green ink, the pages being put to full use by writing up and down the margins, the spelling being frequently incorrect, the grammar questionable, and the opinions contained therein inevitably mad. They were placed in what was referred to as the 'loony' file, skimming through which provided an occasional diversion on a slow Friday afternoon. Meanwhile, as I worked in central London, lunchtime walks would regularly lead to encounters with unbalanced types standing on street corners prophesying the immediate end of the world, or some such. Basically these people were pretty harmless, as they were so clearly deranged as to be not worth anyone's attention.

One of the major drawbacks of the Internet is the way in which it has given this section of society free rein to inflict their imbecilic, usually vile, and almost always ignorant, opinions on the rest of us. They sit in their bedrooms, typing away behind the protection of anonymity, attacking everyone they like, causing untold misery to their targets, and debasing debate on the most serious of subjects.

Recently we have seen reports of disgusting postings aimed at Captain Sir Tom Moore, the Duke of Edinburgh, even the Queen, while the abuse heaped on those who dare to support Brexit or Donald Trump, or to oppose the rise of the cancel culture, is unbelievable, or would have been before Facebook, Twitter and the rest opened the door to these morons. Sometimes the results of the unfettered ability of such lowlifes to abuse can be tragic. One case of which I am aware is the manner in which the priest (a good and pious man) of our local church was so abused concerning unproven accusations of misconduct that he eventually committed suicide, having been left to swing in the wind by church authorities who lacked the courage to stand by the precept of innocent until proven guilty. Even after his death the contemptible people who has hounded him continued to post foul accusations, to the distress of his mother.

The dangerous phenomenon of the cancel culture, with the subsequent distortion of the education system, as we see brainless students refusing to listen to anyone except those with whom they agree, is a product of the way in which the opinions of these armchair warriors have been granted a credibility which they do not deserve.

However this tide of abuse could easily driven back with two simple actions, namely the removal of the right to anonymity, and a determined effort by the media, and the general public to laugh at the stupidity on show, and to treat it as something to be ignored, not repeated. The press and TV constantly reports on so called 'Twitter' storms, but what exactly are these in reality. The actual number of those involved is small compared to the population, who either does not feel constrained to take part, or, more usually, never access social media anyway. Just because a vociferous group of idiots get together to shout about something is no reason to pay any more attention to them than one would to the street crazies of the past.

A requirement that anyone posting on the social media platforms must be clearly identified, with their real name, and location shown on the screen, while insisting that the technical details relating to them, and held by the platforms, are freely accessible to law enforcement, so that libel action may easily be taken against them, would soon bring most of them to heel.

The media should cease to take the lazy option of printing details of the latest 'trending' subject on social media, and return to their proper task of researching, and reporting genuine news, insisting that opinion not be reported as fact, and interviewing those involved, not merely quoting from some pathetic posting by pathetic idiots.

Over the years I have had hundreds of letters published in the press, and have exchanged what might be described as lively opinions with those such as unilateralists and Remainers. However I have always gone by the principle of 'sticks and stones', while the newspapers themselves ensure that libellous statements are not permitted, given that they have publishing responsibilities.

It is scandalous that the big Internet companies such as Facebook are allowed to escape from such publishing responsibilities on the basis that they are only in effect noticeboards, and not publishers. To change this would soon prevent many of the excesses we see now.

Above all the vast majority of computer users should restrict themselves to using social media for benign reasons, and not take part in prolonged exchanges with those who lack either the brains or knowledge to discuss anything important. There are many of us who have never used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. and the world would be a better place if everyone followed our example.