‘We can’t quote zero tolerance then take no action’: societies unite against ‘abusive’ social media posts

  • Showing societies have taken action against a member of the community as a result of his “offensive” social media posts.

    The British Show Horse Association (BSHA), Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain (SHB(GB)), the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) and The Showing Register (TSR) have all released statements or changed policy in relation to John Bland.

    The former showing competitor has been active on social media, creating what has been described in a joint statement by the BSHA and SHB(GB) as “continuing offensive, abusive and misogynistic posts”.

    The organisations held extraordinary meetings to discuss “recent bullying and harassment on social media and in particular (though not exclusively) Mr Bland’s content”.

    “Both organisations considered the content of the posts to be vitriolic, generally unsubstantiated, ill-founded and in some cases, obscenely presented,” the statement said.

    “As one of our judges we expect you to uphold the highest standards of decency and integrity.

    “We simply have to do something to protect the integrity and mental wellbeing of our members, our judges, and our discipline of showing. We must maintain and be seen to uphold the high standards that our societies have been built upon. We cannot have social media and anti-bullying policies that quote a zero tolerance and then take no action to eliminate such behaviour.”

    The statement adds that anyone who is a “friend” of Mr Bland, or with anyone else who  spreads “malicious information or acts in a manner that does not meet our standards of common human decency” on social media to “please remove yourself from our judging panel”. It states that being friends with him will be seen as “tacitly supporting” what he says, and that the organisations would not tell people who to be friends with but that supporting such behaviour is outside their codes of conduct.

    BSPS chair Paul Cook sent an email to judges about Mr Bland’s “offensive, abusive and misogynistic” social media content, about which he said members and judges had contacted him. It said the BSPS board’s view is that any judge who is “friends” with Mr Bland is “by default supporting, even if tacitly, his appalling behaviour”, so anyone who wants to stay on the BSPS judging panel must not be a friend of his online.

    Mr Cook told H&H: “It is not compatible for any official of the BSPS to be a ‘friend’ of anyone on social media who abuses, threatens, harasses and insults others. Mr John Bland’s  misogynistic, anti-Semitic and vile behaviour have no place in society today. Therefore, those who wish to remain a ‘friend’ of him or others with similar views have no place officiating for the BSPS.”

    A TSR spokesman told H&H: “TSR wishes to stand alongside other showing societies to have a united front in relation to this level of unacceptable online abuse.

    “We have written to all judges on the TSR O and H [open and HOYS] panel to ask them to consider any involvement in relation to online abuse coming from individuals who include John Bland, and any other pages that condone anyone who has actively targeted individuals in a public forum.”

    Mr Bland told H&H he stands by everything he has posted; he said he does not consider himself a misogynist or anti-Semitic, adding: “I like Jewish people and have lots of Jewish friends.”

    He described the action in relation to judges as “blackmail”, and said his lawyers believe he would have a case for that reason.

    “I loved showing, I adored it,” he said, adding that he started as a professional aged 20 and had much success, “so I know about showing”.

    “I’m telling the truth in everything I say,” he said. “The truth I know, and they don’t like it. If you upset the people in charge of showing, they’ll stop you doing it, so people stay quiet and put up with whatever. I don’t have to stay quiet because I’m not a member. Most people walk away but I didn’t.”

    Mr Bland said he started posting vlogs online to “tell people the truth”, and that he “disagrees with everything they’re saying”.

    “They’re putting blame on someone rather than taking responsibility for ruining showing,” he said, adding that concerns about horse welfare are a major factor behind his posts, and that although complaints were made to police about his online content, officers visited him and said they only had to reprimand him for referring to someone as “fat”.

    “I don’t know what they’re trying to achieve,” he added. “I haven’t made anything up, I’ve said truthful things they don’t like. I’ve got 25,000 followers and they all agree with me in everything I say.”

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