Bringing order to a new wild west

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IT’S not something I’ve experienced but if I was a betting man I’d be willing to wager that being mistakenly accused of child molesting by thousands of people online isn’t an entirely pleasant experience.

I’d be willing to venture that’s the sort of thing which plays on one’s mind.

I’d be willing to speculate indeed, that Lord McAlpine – the innocent peer incorrectly named on Twitter in connection with child sex allegations – probably wasn’t exaggerating when he said the whole ordeal felt like being consigned to hell.

It would, wouldn’t it?

One day you’re quietly living your life’s latter days in Italy. The next there’s a metaphorical mob demanding you be burned at the stake for something you never did in a town you never went to.

Some pickle.

And that’s before you take into account Gordon the Gopher sidekick Phil Schofield flashing your name as a possible paedophile between fashion shots and Z-lister interviews of This Morning.

Amazing, then, that 70-year-old Lord McAlpine has handled the last few weeks with such dignity.

There’s his reputation being ripped apart by the likes of George Monbiot and Sally Bercow – self-righteous nonentities both – and how does he react? Not by raging. Not by railing. Not by rolling over and being defeated.

Rather by calmly making clear the allegations are false; by offering sympathy to the victim who had mistakenly identified him; and by giving an interview to the very corporation, the BBC, who started the witch-hunt.

And then, finally, by announcing, with resolve becoming of a peer of the realm, that he is to take action against all 10,000 people who libelled him online. The suggestion is they will be asked to publicly apologise and pay £5 to charity.

Well, good. Good for Lord McAlpine. And good for the rest of us too.

Because the internet has basically become the new wild west, hasn’t it? Full of keyboard-slingers, self-appointed vigilantes and cowardly bully boys who use its vast, un-policeable landscape to be entirely cretinous towards other human beings.

Sometimes they act illegally (naming rape victims, anyone?) and sometimes they are just objectionable, like the little coward who taunted Tom Daly about – real funny, this – his dead father.

But these trolls, rumour-spreaders and moral-outragers almost always do it because they believe there will be no redress.

And, largely, they’re right. The police can’t deal with every under-sexed imbecile making cretinous comments on Twitter. Neither, except in cases where laws are broken, should they.

But if Lord McAlpine suing 10,000 people can make 10,000 more realise their grubby words do not have immunity then surely he’s doing all decent-minded internet-users a favour. And if he can make them also understand one simple rule – don’t scream online what you wouldn’t say in person – then, yes, we should thank him.

For perhaps, ultimately, his redress signals the start of a new order: that online, as off, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.