BASC lead the fight against online defamation

Ross Ewing

Ross Ewing

Ross is BASC’s political and press officer in Scotland. He is a recent graduate of the University of St Andrews and his shooting interests include lowland game shooting, clay pigeon shooting and deer stalking. Ross has been embroiled in the debates surrounding shoot licensing since university where he wrote a dissertation on attitudes towards licensing driven grouse shooting in Scotland.

We’re heading into interesting times after last week’s announcement that Ofcom, the communications regulator, will be asked by government to add social media to its brief.

This is a welcome move. For too long, Facebook and Twitter have been seemingly untouchable, with offensive and defamatory content rife across both platforms. BASC has been the target of such content on many occasions and we’ve had little real success in getting the social media companies to police this content.

Indeed, last week I blogged about the troubling response on Twitter to a tweet from veteran SNP MP, Pete Wishart, about a celebratory game dinner he attended with BASC alongside deputy first minister of Scotland, John Swinney MSP.

The tweet (see below) attracted hostility from various quarters and we reported some of these responses to Twitter. And yet the posts remained live for all to see and live for people to retweet and requote.

One tweet was obviously libellous. It branded BASC Scotland as “environmental vandals” – and was shared many times despite BASC officially asking Twitter to remove the post to no avail.

Social media has, undoubtedly, added fuel to the disinformation and defamation fire: more people can read what you have to say in a far quicker period of time than was ever possible in traditional print media.

Arguably, that is why individuals with a social media following – particularly those in positions of apparent authority and credibility – must be ever-more mindful about what they say publicly on these platforms. 

My colleagues and I were in no doubt that something had to be done about this defamatory slur. When it became clear that Twitter would not be removing the post in question, we instructed lawyers to take action and the individual was subsequently told to remove his original tweet and apologise.

The tweet was deleted, and the following statement was published: “I’ve deleted a tweet where I inferred that @BASCScotland were ‘environmental vandals’. What I should have said is that based on scientific reports I have read, I believe that Muirburn is extremely detrimental to the environment, but should not have named the BASC the way I did.”

This is a welcome statement, and we appreciate the individual acting swiftly. 

Shooting is under intense pressure from all sides. Here in Scotland we are fighting potentially damaging legislation being imposed on the back of the reviews into deer and grouse management; while at the same time trying to build cross-party political support for shooting in the face of ever-more concerted efforts from the anti-shooting lobby to undermine us. It is important BASC stands strong to challenge misinformation whenever and wherever it appears.

In a sense, our actions with the lawyers have let Twitter off the hook. It’s been a fortnight – and counting – and we still await a response from the social media giant; They either can’t cope with the volume or don’t care. To that end, Ofcom’s involvement can’t come quick enough.

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