The internet is a phenomenal tool. If the invention of the printing press opened the door of information to the masses, the internet has rocked it on its hinges.
Giving millions of people access to information they might otherwise find difficult to find, and giving a platform to people that was traditionally only open to the mainstream media or the very rich and powerful is, in my view, something to be celebrated.
But with the power that the internet gives to people comes responsibility.
The rise of internet trolls has been well documented. Whatever trolls attack, be it looks, race, sexual or political orientation, it is never acceptable.
The trolls that I most commonly come into contact with operate in the political sphere.
I have, in the past, been critical of so called cybernats – supporters of an independent Scotland that aggressively stalk people on the internet simply for not subscribing to their particular set of views.
I have also spoken out against senior people in the SNP because of their failure to denounce these trolls. As has sections of the media.
But it is not just the cybernats. With the independence referendum on the horizon, I am alarmed by the growing numbers of pro-UK internet trolls. They operate in the same way as cybernats:
- They do not post online using their real name
- They do not show their face on avatars
- They spew bile at people who dare to disagree with them
Debate is healthy. Debate is necessary. Debate in the lead up to the independence referendum is vital if the electorate is to be adequately informed on the important issues facing us.
But ignoring facts, being unmoved by new information, or mistaking insults for reasoned arguments is not debate.
Internet trolls are not going to simply disappear. It needs the collective voice on the moderate majority to drown them out so that the debate can thrive.
Left, right, nationalist, unionist or none of the above – abusing people on-line in the name of the cause you purport to argue for damages your cause.
Posting on-line while hiding behind a faceless, anonymous profile is cowardly.
It is people who proudly argue for what they believe while telling the world who they are that belong in this debate.
So every time you see an troll operating, call them on it. Whether they are on your side of the debate or not.