By Jamie Bryson
This week the online trolling account ‘LAD’ disappeared. It came after one of its founders, John-Paul Whearty, took to social media to complain about being held accountable for the actions of the page. It was all a little bit like wallowing in self-pity and expressing sorrow because his actions had caught up with him.
LAD was set up with the deliberate objective of targeting the working class PUL community. They didn’t do this with thoughtful arguments or analysis, but rather by spewing out a conveyor-belt of abusive, mocking, dehumanising and derisory tweets, videos or facebook posts- and encouraging their ‘followers’ to pile-on whoever the target at that particular time was.
I was a regular target of their abuse. This does not particularly bother me, I put myself out there and am a public figure to some degree, so I am fair game. I realised quite early on that the people behind LAD, and many of the most abusive and obsessive social media accounts, are self-loathing individuals who troll as a form of therapy. These people are more to be pitied.
There is a strange phenomenon online whereby playing the victim in any circumstance attracts attention, therefore that may explain why so many people consistently opt for this self-pity approach. In the social media environment, which thrives on negativity, it is the quickest way of gaining attention.
So let me say from the outset; I am not some innocent victim, I don’t want sympathy and I will continue to engage in public discourse regardless of how many orchestrated and relentless campaigns are set upon me, and others in the PUL community.
There are other people who are genuinely victims- innocent individuals who were lampooned and targeted by Whearty and LAD. Many of these people reported feeling suicidal, some lost or had to leave their jobs and the physiological impact of the relentless and public trolling remains with them to this very day.
LAD set themselves up as the arbitrator of public decency, morals and political views in Northern Ireland. They decided what was acceptable, and what was not. And if you expressed a viewpoint which Whearty and Co found unacceptable, then this was cause enough for a mass social media mob to be set upon you. It was the equivalent of Orwell’s ‘Two Minutes’ hate.
It has gradually transpired that many of those behind LAD were individuals who were, let us just say, less than perfect. Their own lives may be subjectively judged by many reasonable and rational people in a negative fashion. Indeed, many of them who sought to crucify young loyalist flag protestors were themselves convicted criminals in relation to a range of unsavoury offences.
This coalition of crackpots, who spent their lives behind a virtual balaclava trolling others as a form of therapy for their own self-loathing, aren’t really the problem.
Social media is a toxic sewer and a breeding ground for those who feel that if they hide behind a mask and project their own insecurities and self-esteem issues onto others, then this will somehow give them a warm glow inside- and indeed quite often if they target the ‘right’ people with their abuse, they will even receive the validation of RTs and Likes.
Indeed LAD were found to have violated twitters rules on abuse for their campaign against Emma-Little-Pengelly, which often included hundreds of accounts piling on to make vile and personal comments.
I argued over 5 years ago that social media should require a valid form of ID. People need to be held accountable for what they write- and that includes anyone from the loyalist community who engages in online abuse. There is a bizarre social media obsession whereby every loyalist on twitter is deemed to be me. This contrived lie, which has its genesis in an elitist belief that they have dehumanised loyalism so much that no one would dare express a loyalist viewpoint, has been allowed to grow simply by crackpots repeating the lie. It only recently abated after I became fed up with the recycling of the same lie and initiated legal action against a number of persons.
The real problem is that sections of the media and the political class legitimised, amplified and encouraged LAD. There is more than one political party who were actively colluding with them in efforts to use their online abuse as a means of attacking political opponents.
A minority of journalists- including some from the BBC- fawned over LAD and their targeted abuse, deeming it acceptable because it was directed at the working class PUL community. Would this type of hate campaign have been tolerated if it were directed against any other community in Northern Ireland?
Would it have been legitimised and amplified by our very own liberal elite if it targeted the Muslim, Polish, Romanian or Irish community?
LAD mocked the speech of the working class PUL community, for example labelling flag as ‘fleg’. This was- without any thought- legitimised and adopted by sections of our media and political class.
In an exchange on the Irish Language Stephen Nolan made a non-offensive and joking comment when discussing the issue with Niall O’Donnghaile on Nolan Live. The liberal elite establishment and political class went into meltdown; in fact they launched a #BoycottNolan campaign- which was supported by many of those who are now more than happy to receive contributors fees from the Nolan Show, and who incidentally weren’t a million miles away from the activities of LAD.
How much outrage was there over the mocking, derision and dehumanising campaign of hate waged by LAD against the PUL community? None; to their shame many of those who should know better joined in and legitimised that which was never legitimate or acceptable.
LAD’s objective was to mock, troll, dehumanise and abuse the PUL community to such a point whereby no new voices would speak out, and those who did speak out would become so demoralised that they would shut up and disappear.
They failed. Look at social media and the new and exciting PUL voices like Richard Garland, Stacey Graham and Moore Holmes, all expressing different viewpoints but (unlike LAD) doing so under their own names and articulating the concerns of the loyalist community with confidence.
LAD tried to bring down Pastor James McConnell- he was found not guilty; his profile and preaching was raised to new levels and it ignited a public debate about protections for religious speech.
LAD tried to whip up a campaign against Ashers. The Christian community rallied behind the family who went all the way to the Supreme Court and won, securing vital protections for freedom of conscience.
LAD is dead and gone it seems. The coalition of crackpots are imploding, trapped in the sewer which they created. It is a long way from the heady days of adulation in the Sunflower HQ and sipping lattes whilst anonymously basking in the glory of their campaign of hate.
I hope they can rise above the toxic environment of their own making and find contentment and a positive way to enjoy their lives. I wish them well.
I will finish in the words often repeated by LAD in their pathetic effort to mock and dehumanise our community……
We claim the victory, so we do!