Monday 22 January 2018

Laurie Penny: The sad, pathetic chatroom trolls who confuse the right to free speech with freedom to abuse and harass

FRANK Zimmerman is a 60-year-old agoraphobic, and last year he wrote to a female British MP in threatening to kill her children. Like far too many women in public life, Louise Mensch, MP, often finds herself the target of hate mail and death threats, but she chose to take this one to the police, who quickly traced the violent, sexually aggressive messages to Zimmerman's computer.

Whether or not this recluse intended to carry out his disgusting threats makes no material difference to how Mensch must have felt when she opened that email. This week, Zimmerman was given a 26-week suspended sentence, one of the most high-profile such cases in recent years.

Mensch and I don't have a lot in common besides the fact that we both have vaginas and opinions, but those, as luck would have it, are precisely the qualifications that misogynist internet trolls of all political stripes and none are looking for. Abuse of women online cuts across political camps, and chatroom masturbators of all affiliations routinely confuse freedom of speech with freedom to abuse, bully and harass with impunity.

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