'Cesspit of bastardry': MP quits social media over 'appalling abuse'

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A Victoria MP has quit social media after being bombarded with “appalling” online abuse from “anonymous cowards”.

Reason Party leader Fiona Patten has released a statement announcing she and her office will be taking a break from what she calls ”open media” and “evaluating how best to communicate with the broader community".

“It might be for a few weeks. It might be for longer. It might be permanent,” the statement read.

Victorian Reason Party leader Fiona Patten addresses the media at Revolver Upstairs Night Club, Prahran, Melbourne, Wednesday, January 16, 2019. Student for Sensible Drug Policy have launched their campaign
Victorian Reason Party leader Fiona Patten has taken a potentially permament break from social media after being subjected to "appalling abuse" online. Source: AAP

Online ban comes after Queensland conviction

It follows the conviction of a 61-year-old man who recorded an intimidating video of himself threatening to shave the head of the cross-bench politician and drag her "up the street naked" if she supported proposed COVID-19 laws.

John James Wilson was handed a suspended sentence in a Queensland court two weeks ago after being charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence.

A screenshot of the video John James Wilson recorded of himself which was played in court. Source: ABC
John James Wilson, 61, was charged last November with using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence, after recording himself making comments towards Ms Patten. Source: ABC

“You’ll be hearing from us, in courteous and respectful ways as we continue to advocate for the public interest and personal liberty,” Ms Patten said in her statement.

MP targeted by online trolls

It wasn’t the first time Ms Patten has been subjected to vicious online attacks.

She and her office became the targets of a relentless and abusive campaign earlier this year over negotiations with the Victorian government about extending the state of emergency.

Ms Patten received a flood of angry phone calls — sometimes more than 150 a day — forcing her to change her phone number, and she was even confronted in the street.

She even deleted her Instagram account amid fears her young nieces would become caught up in the controversy.

Social media slammed as “waste of time”

And now, Twitter and Facebook have been added to her online hiatus.

“I am calling this pause because of the appalling abuse, most of it from anonymous cowards, polluting what could and should be one of humanity’s triumphs, the ability for the majority of people to follow and participate in the most important market there is – the free market for ideas,” the statement read.

Ms Patten branded the term “social media” as misleading, suggesting “open media” would be a better description.

“All who post – and those who incite and host them — are subject to defamation and other laws against malice and harm. With the right to freedom of expression come legal and moral responsibilities.”

Victorian leader of the Reason Party Fiona Patten looks on during question time in the Legislative Council at the Victoria State Parliament, Melbourne, Tuesday, September 1, 2020. Source: AAP
Ms Patten has also changed her phone number after recieving more than 150 abuse calls a day. Source: AAP

Ms Patten went on to point out the many pitfalls of online platforms, condemning it as a “cesspit of bastardry”.

“Open Media can be a wonderful crucible of creativity and civilisation, of genuine progress.

“But it can also be a cesspit of bastardry, where people for some reason write things they would never say to someone’s face.

“It can be a waste of time, with staff removing obscenities, harassment, and bullying, in the interests of decency, promoting proper debate and protecting people from having to read vile inanities.”

‘Just not on’: PM flags action on social media bullying

The prime minister has vowed to crack down on cyber “cowards” and hold them accountable.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Scott Morrison flagged further action on social media harassment.

“We've been a world leader on this and we intend to set the pace. We value our free society. And in a free society, you can't be a coward and attack people and expect not to be held accountable for it,” he told reporters.

He dubbed social media a “coward's palace” where people can vilify, harass and bully others anonymously.

“People can go on there, not say who they are, destroy people's lives, and say the most foul and offensive things to people, and do so with impunity... That's not right,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at the Lodge in Canberra, Thursday, October 7, 2021. Source: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has lashed out against cyber-bullies, flagging further action on the issue. Source: AAP

Mr Morrison said online trolls should have to identify who they are or be kicked off the platform.

“They're a publisher. And you know what the implications of that means in terms of those issues. So, people should be responsible for what they say in a country that believes in free speech. I think that's very important.

“And I think that issue is — and the technology that engages it, and lack of accountability that sits around it, is just not on. You can expect us to be leaning further into this.”

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