Debate is not a form of abuse

Guy Birchall

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Topics Free Speech

The UK National Union of Students (NUS) has published the results of a survey claiming that 46 per cent of students have been ‘trolled’ on social media over their political views and appearance. A further 32 per cent said such experiences had forced them to lower their online profile, and the same proportion said that this ‘bullying’ had affected their mental health. NUS president Megan Dunn said she herself has received rape and death threats on social media, and has reported tweeters to the police no fewer than five times.

I would apologise for seeming unsympathetic, if it wasn’t for the fact that I am not sympathetic in the slightest. Rape and death threats are unpleasant and, where appropriate, should be prosecuted. But almost all of what people call ‘threats’ on social media today amount to little more than grotesque hyperbole. As for the 46 per cent who say they have been ‘trolled’, I’m pretty sure most of them will find they were in fact simply being disagreed with.

Disagreement is a fact of life, and an important one. It is the foundation of democracy, but too many of our students confuse it with abuse. Someone disagreeing with you over an issue, whether it be BDS or transgender rights, should spark a debate, not a complaint to the authorities. Crying about ‘bullying’ is now the natural reflex of so many students when they stumble upon someone outside their own political bubble.

Britain’s students need to grow up and stop wanting to be treated like children. Crying to mummy when someone calls you a nasty word is fine for kids, but at least when I was young the standard advice was to ignore the name-callers. Complaining because someone disagrees with you, or is just trying to wind you up, is quite simply pathetic.

University is meant to broaden your mind, not reinforce your preconceptions. If your views are challenged, defend them. Don’t throw your toys out of the pram and complain that you’re being bullied or ‘trolled’.

Guy Birchall is a writer based in London.

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Topics Free Speech

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