An editor has threatened to report abusive readers to the police after one called for journalists to be hanged in an online comment.
Michael Casey, who edits Essex hyperlocal websites Your Harlow and Your Thurrock, has issued the warning after receiving a number of abusive comments on Facebook in recent weeks, with another reader threatening to “f*** you over”.
The comments in question have not been posted anonymously, and Michael was moved to hit back at the trolls after he wrote a story about the stabbing of a teenage Muslim in Harlow.
A comment posted on Facebook in response to the story said that journalists “should be hanged for slander”.
The comment was later removed after a complaint, but it prompted Michael to run an editorial in response.
He wrote: “These are not anonymised comments. People in their own names are going on to social media and threatening violence.
“Let us keep this simple. Stop it. It is a criminal act and you may find yourself reported to the police.
“Yes, it is part of a growing trend. This reporter has been running online newspapers for over a decade and has seen a spike in aggressive and violent language.
“Newspapers, whether online or in print, should be criticised/scrutinised where appropriate. If you dish it out, you should be able to take it. There may be stories that you think are ‘non-stories’ or ‘misjudge the tone’ or simply ‘poorly written’. You may think that it is just a ‘Tory-rag’ or our editor is just ‘in it for the money’ however, there is a line.”
Michael went on to write that journalism was “not a popularity contest”.
He added: “If this editor wanted to be popular, he would have got a job at Pet’s Corner.
“No, it is not freedom of speech as there is no such thing. It is a qualified right, checked by laws.
“At this point, we are simply blocking and banning but if it is repeated, we shall report it to the police.”
Earlier this month Hunts Post reporter Katie Ridley told HTFP of the effect online trolling by readers has had on the mental health of herself and other journalists.
In September we reported how Oxford Mail editor Samantha Harman and group news editor Rebecca Hudson had criticised a “pathetic” commenter on its website who had continued to abuse journalists despite being banned from the newspaper’s website as often as once a day, while in the same month Plymouth Live pledged to “beat the trolls” after launching a crackdown on online abuse.
A number of other regional journalists have gone public in recent months on their experience of online abuse – with then-Coventry Telegraph editor Keith Perry warning the phenomenon had become the “new normal”.
Speaking to HTFP about the abuse, Michael said: “I start to think whether they may have to teach this journalism college – that you may face these comments on a story.
“Maybe it’s OK for me, a 57-year-old so-and-so, but if you’re 22 and fresh out there you may think ‘what have I joined here?'”
“There are lots of politicians on both my patches using terms like ‘betrayal’ and ‘surrender’ at the moment, and I don’t think it helps.”