Thursday 20 June 2019

Love or loathe Mrs Thatcher, there's no place for the torrent of bile and vitriolMargaret Thatcher, pictured in 2009, was vilified by many online. Getty

There is an admirable old Irish tradition that you don't speak ill of the dead while they are still above ground. There is plenty of time to shred a reputation and dance on a grave after a person is buried. In fact, some people go further and live by the rule that, of the dead, nothing but good should be spoken.

However, any taboo that existed over gloating about the death of an enemy has been sadly eliminated in this era of social media.

The vitriol and bile that went viral about Maggie Thatcher on Twitter, Facebook and on message boards within minutes of the announcement of her death last week reached a new low and was truly sickening.

In Britain, media monitoring firm Synthesio estimated that one-third of the first 25,000 comments posted online after Mrs Thatcher's death were negative. Among those stepping forward to bury Mrs Thatcher before she was even cold was Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who tweeted: "Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people. She will be remembered for her shameful role in the hunger strikes."

Mr Adams, when you pass away, will you be desecrated on Twitter for your role in shameful actions during the Troubles? Let's recall the IRA statement taking responsibility for the Brighton bombing in 1984, in which Mrs Thatcher narrowly cheated death. "Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once – you will have to be lucky always."

The hateful comments were by no means confined to Britain. Here at home, there were outrageous postings from otherwise civilised people.

I am loath to repeat the worst of them but here are some examples of the milder ones. "She was a cave woman – uncouth, uncivilised and uncultured." "Milk-Snatcher Thatcher was a horrendous, callous, extreme right-wing Tory who thought 'greed was good' and that there was no such thing as society or the common good . . . Like Lady Macbeth, she lacked the milk of human kindness. No loss; no tears for the senile, demented fascist bag."

Thankfully there is some criticism of the outpouring of hate online and on the streets. Martin McGuinness tweeted: "Resist celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher. She was NOT a peacemaker but it is a mistake to allow her death to poison our minds."

Mrs Thatcher was an old woman who suffered ill health and severe dementia in the last years of her life. No matter what she did in her public life, and what you thought of her politics, surely common humanity calls for more civilised, balanced and reasoned comment than the hatred spewed out by thousands. She was human.

Twitter and Facebook are becoming less about debate and more about people shouting as loud as they can to get attention. We are blitzed daily with millions of knee-jerk, top-of-the-head, wild opinions and statements from people who would not be tolerated elsewhere.

While social media is playing an increasingly bigger role in all our lives, the Thatcher vitriol is a real reminder of the value of newspapers. We are very lucky in Ireland to have a largely responsible press. Newspapers moderate debate and seek to have balance. They rightly refuse entry to unreasonable, sometimes untrue, over-the-top ranting. On social media, it runs unchecked.

That is not to say that newspapers do not give a voice to different opinions. That is part of their job and their role is not to act as censor.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing or even despising Mrs Thatcher's policies. Criticising her now that she has gone is one thing. Her legacy must be challenged, analysed and recorded in the history books. But it is not acceptable to desecrate someone's memory in a vile fashion, especially before their family have even buried them.

Whatever you think about Maggie, love her or loathe her, debate needs to be conducted with civility and humanity. Everyone, even the Iron Lady, deserves that.

Irish Independent

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