Bullying and nastiness seems to be reaching an all time high at the moment. Despite various equality laws that have made big steps forward over recent decades, abhorrent, vile views are now spreading like wildfire on the internet and spilling out into the real world. The Home Office released statistics this week which showed hate crime has increased by nearly a third in the last year, with the biggest rises being against people who are transgender and people with disabilities. The work of Ditch the Label is extremely important in the struggle to create a more equal world that is free of bullying and prejudice.
The internet is definitely a massive driver of what is a growing culture of toxic hate. Politicians understand this all too well. It’s part of our job to listen to different views, form an opinion, take difficult decisions, and justify all of that to the public whom we answer to.
Of course sometimes you will meet a difficult character who makes it very clear that they hate you and everything you stand for, but what we are seeing over recent years is the internet providing a platform for the wholesale manufacture and distribution of hate. Amnesty International ran an analysis of Twitter in the lead up to the General Election and found over 25,000 abusive tweets sent to female politicians in a six month period. Diane Abbott alone received over 8,000 abusive messages, mostly focused on her race and gender. So politicians know a lot about online abuse and bullying. We know it has to stop.
Ditch the Label focuses their efforts on people aged 12-25, probably the age range where most people face bullying. It’s also the time in life where most people are working out who they are. These are the formative years where you are trying to figure out what style you like, what music you like, what your sexuality is, what your political and religious beliefs are. For some people, it’s the time when they grapple with deep questions about gender identity. It can be an intense and confusing time for many people.
Bullying can be deeply traumatic and make it difficult for people to be the person they want to be. It also has a detrimental impact on people’s mental health, which can extend long into the future. But mental health problems can also lead to people being bullied. The social stigma around mental health makes it difficult for people to reach out for help and support, so they try to just deal with it alone. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 45, so something is going terribly wrong. Support is out there – family, friends, support groups, charities, GPs and specialist mental health services – but the hardest step can be reaching out for help in the first place. The easier we can make those conversations, the more help people will be able to access, and the happier and healthier we will all be.
Ditch the Label’s collaborative online focus seems like the perfect recipe for making an impact on the future of the Digital Generation. Their #isitokforguys campaign is focused on supporting young men to be comfortable with who they are, free from the dangerous shackles of toxic and oppressive masculinity. Their #GamersUnite campaign is about standing against bullying and trolling in online games, where apparently half of people surveyed reported experiencing bullying in game. These types of campaigns are about breaking through commonplace bullying and oppression, giving people the tools to survive and be themselves. I’m proud to have hosted Ditch the Label in Parliament yesterday, to support them to lead the debate in society and make real changes for the better.