Ian O'Doherty

Saturday 12 July 2014

Thanks, Michael, for taking the fight to those vicious online bullies

Published 15/02/2013|04:00

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Hats off: Michael O’Leary dressed up like a cardinal when Ryanair began operating flights to Rome Campino

Okay. Here's a rather embarrassing, dare I say even slightly humiliating, confession to make – I have developed something of a man-crush on Michael O'Leary.

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Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's anything weird or twisted or freaky, it's just a growing sense of admiration for a man who most likely revels in the fact that he is one of the most reviled people in the country.

And why do I have so much time for the guy?

After all, he has been involved in some ridiculous publicity stunts (see picture for proof) and his dealings with his employees have been, to say the least, fractious.

But here's the thing – I used to hang around with one of O'Leary's senior lieutenants and he admitted that he could be rude and irascible.

He also pointed out that his door was always open, he treated everybody equally and it didn't matter if you were a pilot or the tea lady, if you had an idea he would listen to it.

And maybe he isn't as hated as he would like us to believe – I mentioned to some colleagues the other day that I admired O'Leary but I wouldn't choose to fly Ryanair and I was greeted by a volley of disapproval from my friends, all of whom had used the airline in the last year.

And as one of the group pointed out: "If you look on Ryanair as the same as getting the bus, then you're grand."

In other words, when they say no frills they mean it and if you follow their rules you'll be fine and if you don't then you'll be punished for it. So I suppose you could say that Ryanair is the Catholic Church of airlines.

For all those who like to bellyache about Draconian penalties for having too heavy a bag, I can still remember a time when it cost 300 pounds just to fly to London with Aer Lingus.

So the fact that O'Leary, for all his flaws, has single-handedly revolutionised the way we travel and not just the Irish either, his impact across Europe is incredible.

Yes, yes, yes I hear you groan, that's all very well, but why the sudden love letter?

Well, O'Leary has just done me a big favour. And he's just done you a big favour.

In fact, he has done us all a bloody great favour.

This week, Ryanair secured a ruling from the High Court which forces Eircom to disclose the identities of two anonymous bloggers who had posted "highly defamatory" posts on 'PPRuNE' – the Professional Pilots Rumour Network – and this could really set the ball rolling for some much needed regulation of what people post online and, even more crucially, the manner in which they post.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a hack and the idea of curtailing freedom of speech is obviously something I would be opposed to with every fibre of my being. After all, when they start cracking down on unpopular opinions, then I'm out of a job.

But I think I can speak for most of us when I say that I am sick and tired of anonymous web bullies making people's lives a misery.

Indeed, in many ways having an unbreakable cloak of Internet anonymity is as much a curse as a liberty.

I know of one situation where someone was receiving some pretty vile emails and when investigated, it turned out the person responsible was only a young kid who was both freaked and ashamed when he was exposed as the person responsible for sending the offensive messages.

Would the individual have done this if they were required to put their name to them?

I seriously doubt it.

And this is the thing – as I have said many times before, the internet is the most significant change to the way we live and work since the telephone.

Having a global, online community sharing ideas, opinions and, yes, insults is a wonderful, remarkable thing that should be cherished.

But that comes with a cost.

Because no matter how many people dislike and disagree with this column I always find it interesting that the majority of abusive letters and emails are anonymous while the complimentary ones are signed.

Well, I say the majority because one of the most vicious and violent letters I have ever received, which involved me being stapled to the deck of a boat through a rather tender part of a man's anatomy before being "shipped back to Israel where you belong you Godless kike" actually finished with "Yours sincerely . . ."

Which was nice.

But while something like that is amusing and provides for a bit of banter in the office, there is a real toxicity to the nature of some of the stuff that's expressed online.

I know friends and colleagues who refuse to check out their name on Google because of the vile stuff that has been said about them – and also the fact that when they approach the web providers to have these posts removed, they are invariably told that this is a freedom of speech issue. But it's not.

It's about being able to tell lies about someone with impunity.

Even from li'l old me's perspective the abuse has been quite spectacular – apparently I'm everything from a paedophile to a predatory homosexual to a convicted violent criminal.

And in the unlikely event that my boss is reading this, can I just reiterate that I am none of the above? Honest.

But they are just three examples of many off the top off my head, while another website had a poll discussing the preferred manner of my death. For the record, apparently it was bowel cancer so I would end up "covered in as much shit as he writes in his column".

And all of these, of course, from anonymous cowards who would never dare say that to someone's face.

You may like this column, you may not.

But at least my name is on it and I am held accountable for my views, as are the likes Kevin Myers, Eamon Dunphy or David Quinn – frequent victims of vile online abuse who, unlike their persecutors, at least have the balls to put their name to what they write.

So thank you, Michael.

You've done us all a mitzvah.

(That last sentence was specially for the guy who seems convinced I'm Jewish.)

iodoherty@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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