The Countryside Alliance has been concerned over the last couple of years about the rise of online abuse against the country sports community.

A spokesperson for the alliance said it is “not against robust debate”, however, added: “When that descends into death threats, posting people’s home addresses online, and leaving false bad reviews for businesses we wanted to understand how big the problem was.”

Forms of abuse ranged from the bizarre to downright harassment.

Some of the most extreme involved:

  • Death threats on online forums;
  • Sharing addresses and car number plates;
  • Taking people’s personal details and photographs, including photographs of people’s children and posting them elsewhere on social media to generate abuse and death threats;
  • Using social media to generate emails and telephone calls to people’s employers trying to lose them their jobs;
  • Abuse through falsified Facebook accounts;
  • Creation of groups and pages to direct abuse at people involved in country sports.

At the beginning of the summer, we ran a survey which over 500 people responded to and showed that 62% of respondents had experienced online bullying or harassment for supporting country sports.

The majority of it was related to either hunting (47%) or shooting (32%).

Respondents commented that:

  • “My pictures have been manipulated and posted on social media; my front door picture has been posted on social media and my children’s pictures have been posted on social media with comments calling me a paedophile.”
  • “I had a really bad experience last winter with regard to the hunting debate. I was called a criminal, a murderer and likened to a paedophile. I found the whole experience very distressing and I am now seriously considering keeping my views to myself. These anti-hunting people can be violent, aggressive and downright cruel. I also had a threat to my property and my three beautiful Labradors; one of whom is a rescue dog.”
  • “I think it’s getting worse. The comments I’m getting make me feel ill; very nasty and shocking. To be honest, it is scary.”

The survey highlighted that the online bullying of rural communities who support country sports continues to grow year-on-year and has become more aggressive and antagonistic.

A spokesman for Countryside Alliance said: “When we first raised the issue last year, we asked social media platforms to take action and to understand the serious nature of animal rights extremists online; we were met with platitudes that they take all forms of bullying seriously, yet our survey results tell a different story.

“The Government and social media platforms need to act now to reassure country sports supporters that content on platforms is policed properly and all forms of abuse are taken seriously no matter which community is targeted.

“We will once again write to Facebook and Twitter asking for a meeting and demand that they take this kind of abuse seriously.”