I HAVE recently been the subject of relentless online abuse. I don’t use “relentless” lightly – I’m talking hundreds upon hundreds of tweets about me, my appearance, my intelligence, my work – even the fact that I’m autistic. Lies spread, poisonous words spat at me for days at a time, journalists scrambling to make a story out of my suffering. One evening I went to bed, and six hours later, I woke up to the eyes of more than 600 new followers on me.

My crime? Going on holiday to my favourite city.

As an autistic person, New York has long been my special interest. I recently had the skyline tattooed on my arm for anyone in any doubt. It’s no secret that I’m equally as passionate about Scotland – so a trip to New York for Tartan Week has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I loved every second of it, there’s nothing that will fill you with pride in your country quite like seeing it celebrated so boldly on the international stage. Probably why the Union Jack trolls in particular were so incensed by it.

The fact that it was in New York was the perfect collision of my worlds and interests. And try as they might, they will never be able to steal the joy that it brought me to be there.

I’ve seen it happen, on numerous occasions, particularly to young women in the political sphere. I was warned about it when I embarked on Make Me Prime Minister.

Lives torn apart and livelihoods demolished at the hands of a ubiquitous, venomous online presence. Bolstered by bad journalism and acting as a nutrient source for the clickbait masses.

To my surprise, I never received any trolling at any point during the show’s airing and the vast majority of interactions I had online were very supportive and positive.

Naively, I thought that would last.

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Much to Scotland’s international embarrassment, there is a deeply sinister problem at the heart of our online political discourse. Vindictive accounts are left to run wild – ruining lives as they go, with no consequence. They are obsessive, consumed by the palpable hatred that radiates from their every interaction. It’s an interesting observation too that the Venn diagram of abusive accounts and transphobia is clearly a circle.

The truth – no matter what issue it is they’re getting their knickers in a twist about – is a notion lost on them. They don’t ever deal in the truth – and they have no interest in what the truth is, only the narrative they want to spin.

They accused me of being on holiday at the expense of the taxpayer. Even after I tweeted evidence that I in fact paid for my own holiday (gasp) – the abuse did not stop. It simply evolved, it became less about spending taxpayer money and more about my appearance. The fact that I did reality TV, that I am “glamorous”, “photogenic”, “a bimbo”. All of the loaded, misogynistic tripe women are well accustomed to. But it got more sinister than that.

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One particularly rotten account spent time searching my Twitter for every offensive word under the sun in the hope that they’d find one they could ruin me with. The most they found were the somewhat embarrassing ramblings of a 13 and 14-year-old me – but they still sent them to my former employer, anyone known to associate with me and almost every news outlet in Scotland. Alastair Campbell was even given the privilege of reading about the time my boyfriend cheated on me when I was 15.

Luckily, I have a very supportive employer who sees this harassment for what it is – but not everyone is as fortunate. This obsessive behaviour really has the power to tear down someone’s entire livelihood – and I’ve seen them do it.

They didn’t stop there, either, they found and subsequently tweeted pictures of my family members and their Facebook accounts. I was left fearing for my safety. Now, a platform I once loved and found a lot of community on has become a hotbed of incessant abuse.

Some of them have no idea who I even am – with one troll tweeting a photo of me in a swimsuit in Greece and asking his somewhat creepy audience whether they thought it looked like I was focused on Scotland’s interests. Given that I haven’t worked in politics or government for almost five years, I’d be concerned if Scotland’s public interests were considered even remotely my responsibility.

These people have no idea who they’re even trolling – and given that they troll multiple different people on a daily basis, it’s really not personal. They’re just chronically online and full to the gunnels of hatred.

It’s no secret to anyone involved in Scottish politics in any form that there’s been an obvious, mass online radicalisation in recent years. People that were once level-headed, kind and actively even fighting for marginalised groups, are now consumed in their every waking moment by hatred, and it’s spilling online because they’re so fixated on it, that they have to find an outlet to express it. That outlet – due especially to the convenience of its recent rolling back of protections – is mostly Twitter. I’ve even seen them bragging that they’ve ostracised their friends and family on account of their newly acquired beliefs, mostly about the trans community.

It’s textbook radicalisation and whilst it initially was about the GRR Bill, it’s not contained to a single issue. Bigotry never is.

While this problem is widely recognised, the lack of structural support for victims of online abuse in Scottish political life is utterly dire. If you find yourself a victim of it, you better hope you’re strong enough mentally to cope, because the support simply doesn’t exist. There is nowhere to turn and no accountability on these platforms.

These people are mass-organised and it can take only minutes for your account to be overrun by their bile – but the organisation on the other side is lacklustre. They also exist as real people offline and have presented a risk to safety in the real world. And still, it hasn’t been enough to inspire meaningful action.

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Narratives have been allowed to spiral out of control and hatred has been allowed to fester because of a distinct lack of action and gut from any of the main parties.

Enough is enough. I’m calling on all main parties now – reach out. Let’s have a discussion about how to make this space more accessible and safe for everyone who wants to participate – and let’s stop allowing the sad, obsessed few to dictate who can and can’t contribute.

They want me to shut down my account and run away from politics like I’ve seen them do to others. So directly, to every person who has hounded me for weeks, whose hobby it is to bully people online – you’re not going to silence me. Whilst you dedicate your entire life to being an online bully, I’ll be over here fighting for the rights of marginalised groups and representing young, autistic, disabled women in a space they are so criminally left out of.

In fact, expect to see me campaigning against online abuse and radicalisation.