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No right to remain silent

Discussing petty politics over a beer last week, a friend of mine confessed: “I no longer dare criticise the government online because I fear I will end up attacked on Glenn Bedingfield’s blog”.

I also heard an acquaintance (a Nationalist voter) expressing concerns that he feared a comment he had posted on Facebook where he applauded a government project would suddenly see him "publicly exposed as a rabid Laburist" on Daphne Caruana Galizia's blog.

It would be unfair to pin the blame on these two blogs alone. We are sadly seeing too many people being unjustly humiliated by the partisan media and commentators simply because they're perceived to have ventured to the dark political side.

Let’s get some things straight. If you pose a comment online then you should brace yourself for a tsunami of criticism, backlash, even trolls. That is part of the market place of views we call social media. If you don't like it, then steer away from Facebook and Twitter and don't take your arguments beyond the living room.

If those who want to have a fact-based discussion are now on the fringe then we risk ending up in a vacuum occupied by lunatics

The beauty of social media is that you can instantly hit back with counter-arguments, provided the criticism is (somewhat) constructive. I have personally engaged with some of our biggest critics - sometimes we see each other's point of view, sometimes we agree to disagree.

But what I fear is that there is an army of people steering away from airing their valid views in public simply because they are caving in to intimidation. In recent months we have seen one big slippery slope towards repulsive political hatred, where many reasonable voices are being shouted out of the forum. We are seeing trolls with no minds of their own fester by the day on message boards. 

We have seen too many private individuals (not public officials) have their lives turned into a freak show on blogs or mainstream media because they dared criticise their political adversaries or even had the tenacity to praise the opposing party. We have seen hundreds post hateful racist comments under the guise of free speech while the silent majority shrugged its shoulders and claimed it could do nothing at all. 

If those who want to have a fact-based discussion are now on the fringe then we risk ending up in a vacuum occupied by lunatics.

Sometimes the easiest thing is to lie low and take the attacks on the chin but there comes a point when you need to scream out against the harassment... even if it's aimed at total strangers. 

I would never advocate for any blogs or commentators to be shut down, as controversial as they may be, provided they are not inciting hatred. Again there will always be different interpretations as to what constitutes hate speech and the limits of freedom of speech.

But until we agree on an answer the least we could do is to refuse to be silenced. If we think the government or the opposition has done wrong then say it – publicly – without fear of retribution.

Don't let the online forum be dominated by angry people with egos, agendas or political ambitions. Even more so now when we have now reached the ridiculous situation where the prime minister’s communications aide runs a blog merely intended to put the government's critics under the spotlight. 

As long as that blog is written from the Office of the Prime Minister it is not free speech. That is the stuff normally associated with repressive regimes. 

Quite ironic for a government which promised to eradicate censorship.

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