January 27, 2013
Following the appearance of Mary Beard on the BBC’s Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013 there has been an outbreak of largely anonymous abuse, directed at the Cambridge University Professor of Classics, originating from discussions which took place on the programme.
The website ‘Don’t Set Me Off’ which included some particularly offensive comments has subsequently been closed down by the website moderator who commented that friends and colleagues of the academic had been “trolling” his site and bombarding it with Latin poetry. He also commented that Beard ought not to seek to curb freedom of speech. Beard suggested that it was desirable to have a consensus on appropriate behaviour for on-line postings and that the nature of boundaries regarding what is acceptable should be considered.
As well as reflecting on the personal impact of the abuse on Mary Beard, a number of more general issues arise from these incidents and are perhaps worth considering: the relationship between the comments and the debate which actually took place; the quality and accuracy of reports on the debate made by sections of the press; the reasons which underscore the various controversies created by the programme; the potential inhibition of democratic debate and the willingness of individuals to place their heads above the parapet in a public forum of this type. Read more of this post