Commentary: Toughen up

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b524 (Published 24 February 2009)
Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b524

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  1. Jonathan Freedland, columnist
  1. 1Guardian, London N1 9GU
  1. freedland@guardian.co.uk

    Most readers of the BMJ will, I’m sure, be stunned by the revelations in Karl Sabbagh’s article (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2066). A deluge of nearly 1000 hostile emails will strike most as the stuff of nightmares. The language of some of those missives—abusive and bigoted—will have seemed truly shocking.

    But for journalists, especially those in the opinion business, there were few shocks in Sabbagh’s essay. They have come to learn that in today’s wired world, wading into any topic of controversy—not just Israel-Palestine—can bring an instant email bombardment. It simply comes with the territory.

    So when I wrote in the Guardian during the US election campaign that the world’s verdict would be harsh if Americans were to reject Barack Obama in favour of John McCain, I received what I estimate were between 3000 and 4000 emails. At one point, they were arriving at the rate of 10 a minute.

    Many of these were just as vicious and ugly as those received by the BMJ in 2004. A random dip into the inbox produces this treasure from Middlesex, North Carolina: “As a proud American I can’t think of a nicer way to say this to you: Go Fuck Yourself.” Equally reflective, this from bioguy777: “I love it! A pansy-ass limey Brit begs the US to do his bidding while his own country slips further towards total Islamic rule. We’re electing McCain, and the rest of the world can piss up a rope if they don’t like it. 1776, BITCH!”

    These messages were coordinated. It turns out that several rightwing …

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