‘The time has come to unite’: Countryside Alliance takes a stand over abuse

  • A Countryside Alliance (CA) campaign to put an end to online abuse and bullying in the countryside has reached more than a million people.

    The organisation ran a two-week drive from the end of March until 14 April to push the message out to as many people as possible.

    On Thursday (13 April) a message was sent out on social media by all 1,600 of the individuals and organisations that signed up to the campaign, with a total reach of 1.2 million people. The message read: “I stand against bullying of people in the countryside #reportonlineabuse”.

    The CA is also calling for the following three actions:

    • Facebook community guidelines to be brought into line with Crown Prosecutions Service (CPS) legal guidelines governing online abuse
    • Facebook to respond to all complaints regarding reported comments within twenty-four hours
    • Those who set up pages on these [social media] platforms must be held to account for the content that appears

    The initiative was sparked by two unpleasant recent incidents, involving horrific comments being posted on an anti-hunting page following the death of popular horsewoman Sue Webb, and death threats aimed at a Surrey vicar after he presided over a hound blessing.

    “We are all for freedom of expression and robust debate but what we have seen over the past few months has been on a different level,” said CA chief executive Tim Bonner.

    “Time and time again we are seeing death threats and harassment campaigns targeted at those in the countryside engaged in legal activities.

    “Quite simply the time has come for all of those in the countryside to unite and take a stand against this kind of vile abuse.

    “The problem with social media sites such as Facebook is that they are by their very nature ‘expansive’ meaning that bullying and abusive comments on social media get far more traction and have much more of an impact than they would do if they were simply communicated verbally.”

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    The CA has written to Baroness Sheilds, minister for internet safety and security, and is demanding a meeting with Facebook.

    “We have been moved to act by a number of troubling case studies,” added Mr Bonner, who cited the two mentioned above.

    He added: “This month we learnt from a girl in her early 20s that she has been subjected to a year-long harassment campaign orchestrated by another well-known anti-hunting page, they went as far as to share of personal details on the page and contact her place of work.

    “Facebook community standards that state Facebook is a ‘safe and welcoming environment’ are not worth the paper they are written on.

    “Time and time again Facebook have failed to act with vile and abusive posts remaining online.”

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