The article itself was a travesty. In the third paragraph we see this:
They described online abusers as "cowards", "weird", "creepy", "snarling", "vicious", "poisonous" and "vile".Wow, strong stuff! Except if you read a lot further down you'll see that the above has been taken out of context. For example, Stewart MacDonald
... described some abuse by Yes supporters as "creepy", "vicious and poisonous", and "vile"So it's 'abusers' in the opening paragraphs, but 'abuse' in the actual quote.
Mr MacDonald also said
They hunt in packs and it looks weird to people.Again, not the impression given by the opening paragraphs. And, by the way, there are only two instances of the word 'weird' in the entire article: the quote from Mr MacDonald and the out of context use of the word in the preamble. I could go on.
Mr Mackay defends his article by saying that he provides balance by mentioning abuse by Unionist supporters on social media. He does indeed, but only in the final few paragraphs. The ones that most readers won't read far enough to get to.
So, what's this about? In my opinion, it's no coincidence that this appeared the day after the massively successful All Under One Banner march in Glasgow, during which there was no trouble. Indeed the only abuse I heard was from the tiny Unionist counter-demonstration in George Square, most of which was drowned out by cheers, whistle-blowing and vuvuvelas from the marchers. The above article will have served to divert attention from the success of the march and onto 'all online independence supporters are abusive idiots' instead.
The SNP have not done themselves any favours by being associated with this article. Firstly because they seem to be the only political party who see it as their job to police all supporters of their key policy. Do we have the Tories or Labour wringing their hands over abusive Brexit supporters on Twitter (of which there are many)? No. The SNP need to grow a pair, and point out that independence supporters are not necessarily SNP members, while condemning abuse from any side.
Secondly, the SNP are far too passive. Day after day independence supporters see the usual lies being peddled by the Unionist-dominated media (variations on the theme of 'too wee, too poor, too stupid') and the SNP does nothing refute the stories. It launched a fact checking service with great fanfare, which has turned out to be a resounding damp squib. The 'cybernats' step into this breach, attempting to refute these inaccuracies as they see them. Perhaps if the SNP were a little less passive this wouldn't be necessary. It's this which leads to accusations of SNP politicians getting a bit too comfortable with their positions in the current Establishment.
Thirdly, the SNP need to get away from the impression they give of a paternalistic 'just keep quiet and leave everything to we grown-ups'. Scottish independence is far bigger than the SNP. They are a key part of it, but they are not the sum total of it, and the upper echelons would do well to remember that.
The other purpose that this article will serve is to scare the undecideds and soft Nos away from social media. The social media arena is one where the Yes campaign dominates because the message is not filtered by media barons and the Establishment. It's one of the strengths of online campaigning, as well as one of the weaknesses, because it allows any and all opinions on an equal footing. While not in any way condoning the abuse that some have received online, it's in the nature of the beast. Fortunately the trolls and abusers are a very small minority, which can be tackled at its simplest by simply blocking or ignoring the culprits or by reporting to the police where appropriate.
We are getting far to close to suppression of free speech and this is not a good thing. It used to be the case that we believed in 'sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.' That no longer seems to be the case.
I do not condone online abuse. However, in the words famously misattributed to Voltaire, we should remember that
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.