Online witch hunt against people joking about fatal railway accident

Emergency services at the scene of a fatal rail accident on Braakstraat in Oss, four children were killed, 20 Sept 2018
Emergency services at the scene of a fatal rail accident on Braakstraat in Oss, four children were killed, 20 Sept 2018. (Photo: @ProRail / Twitter)

A witch hunt is happening on social media against people who posted tasteless responses or jokes about a railway accident in Oss in which four children were killed last week. Some of the targets of this witch hunt feel so threatened that they've deleted their social media accounts, De Stentor reports.

There are at least 10 pages on Facebook on which jokers' personal data, photos and employers' names are shared. Hundreds of people are participating in this. Some even go so far as to contact the perpetrators' employers with the aim to have them dismissed, according to the newspaper.

A metal company in Eindhoven is under fire because an employee made inappropriate jokes about the victims. The director is furious at the employee and worries that his company will lose clients as a result of this controversy. "I can not help that he was so stupid", the director said to the newspaper. "Believe me that we will tackle this boy hard. He regrets it a lot. But yes, it's too late now. This is causing us a lot of problems."

According to the director, the employee in question is now facing serious threats. "He completely underestimated the impact of his comments. He does not feel safe." The company is considering pressing charges against the person who linked the company's name to this controversy. "Our reputation is now at stake."

Viva Zorggroep is also under fire because of an intern's reaction to the accident. "We have taken note of this, we are going to solve it internally", a spokesperson said. A primary school teacher in The Hague was dismissed because of hurtful comments made on social media, according to the newspaper. She has since deleted her Facebook and Twitter accounts. 

Media professor Jan van Dijk of the University of Twente spoke of "medieval conditions" when he was confronted with the scope of the online witch hunt. "These people egg each other on and make each other feel like such a hunt is justified. That they're doing the right thing with this. There is no brake on this hunt, that's dangerous." 

The police are aware of the hurtful reactions, many of which mention the young victims, police spokesperson Manon van der Heijden said to the newspaper. According to her, many social media users think that they can "safely respond" on Facebook or Twitter and "simply say whatever they want".

The police urge social media users to think carefully before they post comments that may be hurtful. "They can have a huge impact on victims, family, acquaintances or surviving relatives. Think about what you post as a reaction on social media. It can be very hurtful. How would you feel if there was such a response to an accident in which your brother, sister, father or mother was a victim?" the police said. "Report it to the police or your community officer if someone goes too far, we may be able to talk to the person behind the account."