Leader comment: Move to stop trolls must come from top

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been forceful in her criticism of online abuse. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been forceful in her criticism of online abuse. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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Social media is awash with comment masquerading as fact. And it attracts an unfortunately high number of people who think it is acceptable to defame, malign, smear and vilify others, the majority of whom they have never met. These are the 21st century internet trolls.

Politics, of course, is a topic where many regard abuse as normal and accepted. It shouldn’t be. Robust debate is one thing; personal abuse is quite another.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been forceful in her criticism of online abuse while Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has, to her credit, spoken out on many occasions at the cyber attacks directed at her and her staff.

This message from the top is to be welcomed – online vitriol is poisoning Scottish politics and must be stamped out. But it needs to be accompanied by action.

Today we report yet again on abusive messages from a councillor.

Kathleen Leslie, a Tory councillor in Fife, posted insulting tweets describing Nicola Sturgeon as a “drooling hag”. The First Minister was also described by her as a “wee fish wife”, “a walking horror show” and “wee Jimmy Krankie” while Ms Leslie was employed by a teacher by Fife Council. She also laid into the lottery-winning Weir family, who have donated to the Yes movement, ridiculing them as “uneducated fat f******”. And she smeared almost half of those who voted by saying that “only a racist supports a Nationalist ideology”.

A document released by the General Teaching Council for Scotland showed that a complaint had been made alleging her fitness to teach was impaired. Ms Leslie declined to contest it and has been struck from the teachers’ register.

Last month the Tory party reinstated Stirling councillors Alastair Majury and Robert Davies after they were suspended for posting vile tweets offensive to Catholics and ethnic minorities.

It appears that Ruth Davidson is content to speak out on the issue, but when it comes to her own party a great deal of latitude is given. If Ms Leslie accepts that she is unfit to teach, why she is fit to hold public office? And why does Ruth Davidson think it’s acceptable?

The message it sends is: say what you like, apologise, and it will all die down. Unless the strongest voices in our country – including Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon – act to stamp this out, we will forever be a nation of nasty keyboard warriors.