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THE HERALD FRIDAY AUGUST 19 2016


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NOTHING brings Live


Aid to mind so much as a family wedding. You, of course, know


precisely what I mean, my friends. People are persuaded to give money to people they have never met – but of whom they are vaguely aware - in a place they have never visited, and all the while the clanging chimes of doom toll in the background. But there are worse


things than sending gifts to foreign climes. Far worse. If, like me, you have met only your other half’s siblings briefly over the years, then you need to prepare yourself for the invitation to a wedding that is accepted. So, on a bright and


pleasant Saturday – when I could have been dead- heading petunias and considering seed catalogues – I was driving up the Heads of the Valleys Road to terror incognita deep in Wales’ eastern quarter. The missus was very


excited to be heading back home to the land from which we came. I was less enthused. I consoled myself, however, with the thought that I might be able to pop over to Nelson to see if a couple of my back teeth were still on the rugby pitch where they had been thoughtfully removed by a boot many moons ago. It is not that I did not


look forward to seeing the wife’s family. I had met her siblings a few times, but no more than fleetingly, and never at a social occasion. And the ‘do’ was


everything I thought it would be and so much more. Educational, it was. My word, young women


like being stuffed into tube dresses that fit them like a glove – a boxing glove, that is, while wearing heels of such vertiginous height that a fall from them would place both life and limb in peril. And if the summer has been a bit disappointing down here, it has clearly been blazing hot around the Rhondda. Never have I seen such a selection of beige, orange and hazel hues on so many normally pale people. As for dad dancing at


weddings: take it from me nothing beats seeing twenty-odd year old dancefloor kings, slipping and sliding on spilled lager and the occasional crushed Scotch egg while desperately trying to look cool to the strains of Mambo Number Five. And to avoid being


evicted from the space to my wife’s right in bed, I think it is best I leave matters there. Suffice to say, the mood


was dampened by the fact the disco did not have ‘The Time Warp’. It was all downhill from


there….


Draenog and the missing person BEFORE the


Parliamentary recess, the Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Simon Hart, led a backbench debate on the question of online abuse. What Mr Hart proposed was a


motion which asked that the House of Commons noted the rise of online abuse and harassment targeted against individuals and called on the government to take action – via clear legislation (or at least current legislation being adequately implemented) and education – to curtail what is a growing scourge. In short, the measure proposed, which received cross party support, called for the government to dispel the idea that law of the land stops at the


abuser’s bedroom door. Here’s the news for those who think


like that: it doesn’t. One of the points raised with Mr Hart, ironically on social media, but not anonymously, was that the debate sought to curtail freedom of speech. However, freedom of speech is not the right to break the criminal law, to incite violence, or to harass. Neither is freedom of speech the freedom to lie. So, Draenog wants to make one point


clear: the laws that apply offline, apply online. The internet is the real world, or at least part of the real world. What you say online is still YOU


saying it - even if you’re shielded by an anonymous account; even if you’re saying it just to be provocative, or performative. You on the web is still you. Technology doesn’t magically make a person’s behaviour pretend or inconsequential. It appears as


though the main effect of not having to i n t e r a c t directly with the target


of your abuse is to embolden the abuser and


to empower them to say online things that they would never say in their lives offline; or, if they did, would leave them counting their teeth while they picked them up off the floor. A recent major analysis of


The Guardian’s comment section found that eight of The Guardian’s


10 regular writers who got the most abuse from commenters online were women (four white and four non-white) and two were black men. (The 10


regular writers who got the least abuse were all men.) Female MPs and celebrities appear


to be regarded as fair game, as do any number of other people expressing a view with which their abuser disagrees. It is as though the effect on some people of sitting behind a keyboard is to allow them to form the belief that being online inoculates them from the consequences of their conduct. In the dim and distant past of


Draenog’s youth, in the then almost pristine fields around Aberystwyth, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Tumblr, and no online comments section on newspaper websites – in fact, no newspaper websites. What local newspapers had instead in those days was a lively letters section in which ‘Mithered of Mydroilyn’, ‘Nutty of New Quay’, and ‘Bonkers of Borth’ vied for the title of ‘Most Crackers Letter of the Week’.


Draenog can still remember the anti-


Catholic bigotry spewed across letters pages when the Pope paid a visit to the UK; or the endless riffs on ‘Enoch was right’; and those who sought to bring back the brutalities of the past – the birch, the death penalty, grammar schools. A lot of these letters, Draenog recalls,


were written in CAPITAL LETTERS, with many under-linings, in various ink colours. For some reason, and Draenog was never clear why, the writers of these letters became known as ‘the green ink brigade’. As one online resource puts it:


‘Common comorbid characteristics include irrelevant capitalisation, religious mania, overuse of exclamation marks and veiled threats or warnings directed at the recipient’. They do indeed, readers! The memories! Now, however, those who would have channelled their talent for abuse into


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