Fracking opponents are increasingly using social media to attack shale gas supporters
In the last few months, we've seen a real escalation in the number of instances of anti-fracking activists using social media like Facebook and Twitter to unfairly pressure companies and individuals with links to shale gas and fracking - no matter how oblique or distant those links might be.
This could be a response to the fact that their previous tactic of staging intimidating protests outside people's premises has backfired after we and others made a point of bringing that sort of unsavoury behaviour to the attention of the wider public.
Whatever the driver is, it's a sinister new development.
Anti-fracking activists weaponise social media in several ways:
On Facebook, they might find your company page and then start to leave false reviews and 1-star ratings, making you look like a less attractive business to prospective customers. On Twitter, they might start to 'troll' you. And they might also try to connect with you on LinkedIn, the online networking site for professionals, after which they will then try to form links with your other connections so that, when the time is right, they can post negative comments about you knowing that your LinkedIn network will see them.
Take a look at this FractivistWatch post about how activists have targeted green charity the Lancashire Wildlife Trust.
The may also 'clone' your Facebook page and Twitter accounts by creating fake profiles that look like yours before starting to interact with your social media fans and followers.
Whichever channel is used, the end result they seek is to frighten you into severing any fracking ties you have and to dissuade you from making any supportive public comments about shale gas.
You may think that you have to just put up with it, but you don't: much of what they're doing is against the law.
Section 127(1)(a) of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send a message etc that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. Section 127(2) targets false messages and persistent misuse intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety. Additionally, The Malicious Communications Act 1988 section 1 deals with the sending to another of any article which is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient. The offence covers letters, writing of all descriptions, electronic communications, photographs and other images in a material form, tape recordings, films and video recordings. Poison-pen letters are usually covered. Particularly serious examples may justify a more serious charge, e.g. threats to kill. In all cases, the offence is one of sending, delivering or transmitting, so there is no requirement for the article to reach the intended recipient.
For this reason, it's a good idea to keep any evidence you get in case the police ever need it.
There's another angle to this that also needs to be exposed, and that's the way in which opponents of fracking will take advantage of the reporting tools on social media to try and shut down any debate or discussion of their behaviour. In orchestrated attacks, groups of individuals will submit false reports to Facebook, for instance, in order to get content removed. They'll claim that their copyright is being infringed (it's not) or that it constitutes harassment (it doesn't), knowing that these reports aren't all uniquely reviewed by humans, but by bots and algorithms that arent capable of fine judgement and take automated actions. It's an attempt to subvert free speech and amounts to an assault on the democratic freedoms contained in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 - it's funny how they want everyone to uphold their rights but are quite happy to trample on everyone else's.