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Opinion: When did we become such a cruel and unforgiving society?

PUBLISHED: 17:04 02 April 2019

Undated file photo of a person using a laptop keyboard.

Undated file photo of a person using a laptop keyboard.

When did society become so cruel?

That’s the question I’ve found myself asking this week in light of two incidents in which families going through the most terrible of times have been subject to horrific abuse from others.

Ellie Long of Wymondham. Picture: Nicki LongEllie Long of Wymondham. Picture: Nicki Long

The first case was covered within this newspaper and followed up in a heart-wrenching interview with Nick Conrad on Radio Norfolk earlier this week.

In it, the family of Wymondham teenager Ellie Long told how they had been targeted by trolls who taunted her sister with emails blaming her for the tragedy.

The 15-year-old suffered with an eating disorder and depression and died on December 12, 2017, despite every effort of her loving family to help her through tough times.

The second was, I’m afraid, another case involving the death of a young daughter, but in very different circumstances.

In this, an inquest heard how an 18-month-old girl had passed away after the electrical cord of baby monitor had somehow become wrapped around her neck.

It’s the sort of nightmare every parent dreads and, to her credit, the girl’s mother spoke out to warn others and to try and prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

She was devastated of course and no doubt both her and her partner have gone over the events of that fateful day time and again to ask what they could and should have done differently.

Perhaps they made mistakes (however the inquest apportioned no blame), but that doesn’t mean they deserved to lose a daughter and doesn’t mean they deserved the barrage of abuse meted out to them later on social media, especially Facebook.

It was until this point I’d always believed the type of people who hand out abuse in situations like this were very much in the minority. That it was a case of a very small number of people being able to make a lot of noise, thanks to social media’s power of amplification.

However, I was genuinely shocked by the number of people who saw fit to judge, berate, slate and even mickey take two parents going through what must be their own personal hell.

And we see examples of this every single day, whether it’s through people slating those with different political views than themselves, rival football fans going beyond what can be described as harmless banter or even simply when people express opinions someone else doesn’t agree with. Too often it gets personal and downright mean.

What I can’t fathom is whether as a society we have grown increasingly cruel and judgemental and less empathic, or whether we were always like this and social media has given it more of an outlet?

But a mob mentality has developed. One in which you’ll be protected and defended if you are seen to be ‘on the right side’ or criticised and ostracised if you aren’t.

In the past these people have been described as ‘keyboard warriors’, with the long held view being they hide behind anonymity, which gives them the confidence to say whatever they please.

But even that appears to be less commonplace and the abuse is coming from people who aren’t worried about being identified - they just want everyone to know how angry they are.

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