Glass mouses

No doubt many people are shaking their heads after the revelation rugby league player and "online bullying crusader" Robbie Farah is guilty of the behaviour he's so outraged by, however, it shouldn't detract from the importance of the debate this episode has sparked ...

Farah, who reached out to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to toughen laws against online trolls after a Twitter user made a distasteful comment about his dead mother, apparently had another offering for the PM on September 28 last year.

He suggested he'd like to buy her "a noose" for her 50th birthday and has since apologised to the leader of our country for being a dickhead.

While some would say Farah has been revealed as a lumbering hypocrite, I'd suggest most of us are hypocrites, some of us just try harder not to be, while others are better at hiding it.

A few weeks back, many tweeters raised similar questions of double-standards about reality TV star Charlotte Dawson, when she too unfurled her crusader cape to track down an anonymous troll who'd exhorted Dawson to "go hang herself" (not with Farah's noose, however).

Tanya Heti, a Monash University staffer, was subsequently suspended from her job after Dawson identified her and contacted Heti's employer about the "offensive" tweet.

As outlined on the Reality Ravings TV blog late last month, Dawson is anything but a cleanskin when it comes to the rough and tumble of online banter, having once tweeted her desire to see fashion blogger Brian Boy killed (a record of which can also be located online using Topsy.)

The reason the entire mainstream media ignored the fact Dawson had cried foul over online malfeasance she herself was guilty of, was because she'd had been admitted to hospital after a ferocious and vile response to her cyber vigilantism from other Twitter users.

The thinking in the media, as explained to me by one national editor, as well as an ABC radio producer was that to do anything but cast Dawson as the victim might "push her over the edge".


This was an ironic sensitivity considering that, in the above mentioned Twitter exchange, Dawson describes fashion blogger Patty Huntington as "custard flinging batshit crazy" and a "breathless fashion crazy".

Dawson's mental "fragility" was also questioned after she took time out from her convalescence to do an interview about her Twitter travails with 60 Minutes.

Of course, Farah and, no doubt, Dawson, would say their hurtful - dare I suggest, bullying - remarks were made in jest; a sentiment I thoroughly agree with, as I'm sure would Tanya Heti.

If anything, the hypocrisy of both Farah and Dawson - that they can give it, but not take it - illustrates powerfully how decisions of what is tasteful and/or "funny" online can be misused. More so, how dangerous it is to ask politicians and police to adjudicate these issues on the fly.

Yes, authorities already do this in matters of racial and religious vilification but we, the public, by and large, have now been schooled that this stuff is off limits and has serious consequences.

As distasteful as is mocking someone's dead mother, it's still not illegal. Neither is it to (jokingly) suggest someone go hang themself, that someone (jokingly) kill a fashion blogger or (jokingly) offer to buy our Prime Minister a hangman's noose.

If it were illegal to say this stuff, surely Charlotte Dawson, Robbie Farah and Tanya Heti would have by now had their "keyboards replaced with handcuffs", as was boldly proposed Monday by the visionary NSW Police Minister Michael Gallacher.

Social media has got ahead of itself and you can be certain companies such as Facebook and Twitter are already working up business plans that will see them costing out armies of moderators to swoop down on trolls with the mighty ban hammer.

The upside to all of this celebrity self-righteousness is it has actually ushered in what could develop into a rational and informed discussion about online bullying and freedom of speech.

As I wrote on Tuesday, 100, even 50 years ago, denigrating someone's race, religion, sexual orientation and gender was fair game but, as a society, we've matured to a point where this sort of "bullying" is now out of bounds and in many cases criminal.

It's not a big leap to expect that very soon our laws will catch up with people who also make vile, anti-social comments online such as the ones directed at and, articulated by, Robbie Farah, Charlotte Dawson and Tanya Heti.

However, someone will first have to work out if they're joking.


Are you courageous enough to face your fears? Thanks to AMP's support, the Sir David Martin Foundation is offering you the opportunity to scale down 26 floors of the AMP Building in Circular Quay, Sydney, to raise money to help youth in need. Now in its third year, this year's award winning event will be run over two days on 19 and 20 October 2012. There are only 60 spots available and already three-quarters of these have been snapped up – so register quickly to avoid missing out.

If you'd like to take the leap and officially become a participant in AMP Abseil for Youth, log on to register here. A $200 deposit is payable to secure your booking, and all participants are required to achieve a minimum sponsorship amount of $1,500 prior to the October event. All of the funds raised will assist the Sir David Martin Foundation to turn young lives around.  The Sir David Martin Foundation supports young people who are struggling with addictions, homelessness, mental health issues, abuse, depression and self-harm.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.