The Telegraph has called for the beheading of Nicola Sturgeon. In the wake of the First Minister beginning the process for a second independence referendum, the national newspaper that claims a monthly readership of 27.1 million ran the headline:
People took to social media to express their outrage at what they say amounts to “incitement”. Calls for the murder of an elected representative are wrong, no matter whether they are intended to be taken in jest. And given the political murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016, there is surely a responsibility for newspapers to be extra cautious.
The Telegraph has since changed the headline. But it still brands Sturgeon as “another treacherous queen of Scots”.
On social media, one spat between the author of the piece and a concerned reader turned extraordinary. Columnist Allison Pearson accused ‘Jen Jansen’ of libel for quoting the Telegraph headline back to her:
Professional journalist thinks it's libel if people believe stuff with your byline on it was written by you. pic.twitter.com/eFfOyxGJMN
Pearson may not have written the headline, but someone at The Telegraph did. And her byline is attached to it. Besides, the headline is not the only cause for concern when it comes to Pearson. A personal tweet from the columnist on 13 March read:
I suspect more Scots will vote Stay this time round and Sturgeon has signed her own death warrant. #indyref2
Pearson’s questionable language extends to personal insults. She takes a swipe at Sturgeon’s appearance in the recent article:
The love-child of a Bay City Roller and a Shetland Pony
Other commentators have also made vicious remarks about the First Minister. In 2015, columnist Katie Hopkins called for the death penalty against her:
Nicola Sturgeon is a short ginger poison dwarf. She might be a terrorist. Ginger people are not to be trusted.
She should get the death penalty just for being ginger and being Scottish.
The Telegraph and its columnist are normalising such speech on a powerful platform when there is an ongoing police investigation into death threats sent to Sturgeon. Police Scotland is looking into a “catalogue of horrific abuse” against the First Minister. These include death threats and violence but also “extremely offensive and sexualised insults”.
Such publishing must be avoided. Especially with an online environment of death threats and hate speech. The language contributes to a violent worldview all too apparent from the murder of Jo Cox. The wrong person might read it.
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