Richard Gurney: ‘I was public enemy number one!’ [H&H VIP]

  • I recently read with interest an article in Racing Post by top National Hunt jockey Sam Twiston-Davies. In it he explains the rough and smooth of social media through his sport. On the plus side he acknowledges: “It was good in trying to raise your profile as a young jockey.”

    He also points out that in his capacity as ambassador for the Crabbie’s Grand National, it is a vital part of being able instantly to communicate a message to thousands of people in a very effective way.

    On the negative side, social media gives everyone the opportunity to voice their opinion, on anything from world politics and international sport to niche areas, such as National Hunt racing and hunting.

    While free speech is encouraged by most of us, it is difficult to accept people’s views when they are delivered anonymously and when they are so personal and so unpleasant about it.

    I recently ventured into this online world and was horrified. Horrified that some people were so hateful, that these sites [Twitter and Facebook] are so easy to view, and that on one in particular I was public enemy number one!

    A great deal of what was posted on this particular site crossed the line of what most decent people would find unacceptable, and some of it — on perhaps more political sites — could well be viewed by the authorities as a potential hate crime.

    One such rant from a “lady” in Brighton wrote that she would like to beat me to death with a golf club. Playing as I do off a handicap of 18, there have been occasions when I have wanted to beat myself to death with my own golf club, but that is for me to say, not her.

    There were a frightening number of other posts that made for equally grim reading. One was about a member of ours who had a serious fall and who had been on a life-support machine. These people said they wanted to see her die from her injuries. It really is shocking and sickening that they are allowed to do this.

    Proper regulation, please

    It is obvious to me that we have to live with social media and embrace the best of it, but it has now to be regulated and policed effectively. Currently it is not. The reality at present is that individuals can incite hatred towards you and prejudice against you without fear of recriminations.

    The line is clear to all right-thinking people on what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. For those who cross the line their sites should be closed down, their email account suspended or shut, and they should suffer the humiliation of having their Facebook sites taken down in a very public way (if indeed that is a humiliation to them).

    They should be named and shamed. Whatever your view on hunting, we cannot allow such people to continue to write these hateful things, which have no substance, while hiding behind a made-up name.

    What has happened to our society that this is considered — by some — to be the price we pay for the online revolution, and that there is little we can do about it?

    Sam Twiston-Davies concluded his excellent article by saying: “You just have to take the negatives on the chin and ensure you come out of it as a better person and jockey.”

    I feel it may be harder to take that piece of advice as a master of foxhounds than as a National Hunt jockey.

    Ref: H&H 3 March, 2015