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The ‘progressives’ who revel in online harassment

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Recently, Governor General Mary Simon came under fire for her decision to host an online harm symposium last weekend. Not because the concept is bad, not because it is inappropriate for the Governor General to use her office to highlight an ongoing issue with internet harassment, no. She came under fire for the fact that her office was doing so in support of Liberal party legislation with Justice Minister Arif Virani, who introduced the bill, in attendance. It is a pretty clear violation of the non-partisan role the Governor General is expected and constitutionally obligated to perform.

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Subsequently, National Post published a column critical of the event and commenting on the substance of the concerns expressed by participants. Personally, knowing many of the panellists myself I can attest to the fact that they have been subject to a lot more than “mean comments on the internet,” which has taken a massive toll on those who have experienced it. Despite attempts to suggest otherwise, the Post column never stated that actual threats of violence were merely “mean comments.”

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Knowing the history of online harassment faced by some of the symposium panellists makes it even more unbelievable that some of those same people, who just days ago were decrying online harms, went on to participate in it, this week, against the author of the column — expressing apparent “hope” online harassers “pick” her — and anyone, myself included, who they deemed unworthy of the protection they continually request for themselves. I won’t link to any of those posts here, despite my impatience.

When the left bullies people on the internet they justify it as the “moral and right” thing to do, when the right does it then it is simply because they are evil. In his brilliant 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson talks about this phenomenon and the way shaming is used for social control, often by those who see their cause as righteous. One of the stories he covers is that of a woman about to board a flight to South Africa, who right before getting on the flight tweets an admittedly very inappropriate joke. By the time she lands 12 hours later, her life is completely destroyed. She lost her job, friends and faced a vast array of death threats. Those who led the charge saw nothing wrong with this, because you see destroying a stranger on the internet is fine if you disagree with them.

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I tend to get a lot of it. Mainly because I am the wrong kind of progressive. The bad kind. I believe in most everything progressives do, but I also had the audacity to write an article criticizing progressives for their response to the rape of Israeli women on Oct. 7. That was strike one. I have voted Conservative federally most of my life and will this next election. Strike two. While also advocating against Islamophobia, I have been extremely vocal against the rising tide of antisemitism in Canada, including criticizing the executive director of a sexual assault centre calling the rapes on Oct. 7 “unverified.” This is of course a big time strike three.

So you see I deserve it. Because I think wrong.

Wednesday, one of the biggest voices regarding combating online abuse found fault in my use of a meme to respond to the suggestion that newspapers do things to sell newspapers. This was really a nothing response but what followed was a sweeping indictment of my character, my feminist credibility and later a fun implication I was racist.

When this happens it is almost always by the left, and very frequently by women. The goal, to get back to Ronson’s book, is to “publicly shame” me, because I am not progressive enough, and because of that deviation, attacking me online is acceptable, because I deserve it. Shaming me and calling me out for not being feminist enough accomplishes nothing for the causes many of these women claim to believe in. Does telling me I am an embarrassment and questioning my morality end online harms? No. Does implying I am a racist for a piece I wrote about the rape of Israeli women on Oct. 7 bring an end to the bombing in Gaza? No. Does blaming me (wrongly) for the firing of a sexual assault centre executive director help any sexual assault survivor? No. But it makes you feel righteous and that performative sense of “rightness” is apparently much more important than actually affecting change.

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But that hardly matters because I am seen as a conservative and when you are a conservative then it’s not bullying, it’s brave.

So lets go back to the online harms bill. There are a lot of substantive criticisms and concerns with it that I won’t go into here, but I will point to one thing, the event for the bill was attended by left wing and/or Liberal partisans. If there were any conservatives at the event, they were vastly outnumbered. Because again, bullying conservatives is considered fine. With the notable exception of former Liberal minister Catherine McKenna, I never see the level of hate that I do when I post about Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith or other notable conservative voices. I am not just talking about disliking their political views, I am talking about hateful and deeply personal comments that if I ever said (and I wouldn’t) about outgoing Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley or any left-wing politician I would be destroyed online. The left loves to claim to care about online harassment as long as it doesn’t apply to their harassment of others, because, again, it’s not bullying if you are doing it for good.

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When you are deemed a bad progressive you get it worse because you’ve strayed from the path of righteousness. I would argue that it’s not those of us who can see the world and politics in grey that have strayed, but instead those on the left who use their platforms to both decry bullying online with one side of their mouth and engage in it daily with the other. Either it’s ok or it isn’t, and if you think it is ok because you believe you are right then you are absolutely no different from the people you wish to legislate against.

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