THERESA May has ordered an inquiry into abuse and intimidation experienced by MPs during the General Election – much of it online.

Here we are again, discussing online abuse. It gets exhausting, doesn't it?

But it's important we keep talking about this, because hearing MP Diane Abbott speak about her experience during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday was horrific. She described in graphic detail the kind of racist and sexist abuse she receives daily online. While she said that social media had “turbo-charged” it, she also pointed out that she’d experienced abuse throughout her time as an MP.

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It's no exaggeration to say social media abuse reflects the worst that we can be. These things exist on a spectrum. At the lighter end we see the foundations of dehumanisation laid through racism, bigotry, sexism, homophobia and all other types of othering. We fight an eternal battle with what our own nature makes us capable of, and it's vital that all of those battles are won.

This is why the way we frame online abuse matters. At the moment it's all about tribalism, and that makes it even more dangerous. Online abuse is a form of bullying, it’s as simple as that, and that fact should shape our responses.

When a child is being bullied at school, or an adult is being bullied in the workplace or anywhere else, we don't make excuses for the perpetrators. We don't elevate the status of the bully. Rather, we focus on the effects of bullying on the victim. Stories are framed by the impact bullying has on people’s lives.

Often, the bully becomes faceless and nameless. We don't obsess over the facets of their identity and use it as mudslinging material against anyone else with those attributes that we don't like.

But this is not the case on social media. Instead, the online bullies revel in the attention we hand to them when we give them identity status.

It seems to work like this: If you're relentlessly harassing another person online, it's not because you're a bully, it's because you're a nationalist. When you throw racist insults around, it's not because you're a bully, it's because you're a unionist. When you're spitting in anger at a woman with an opinion, it's not because you're a bully, it's because you're a right-winger. When you're labelling complete strangers as scum of the earth, day after day, week after week, month after month, it's not because you're a bully, it's because you're a leftie.

So when someone like Diane Abbott, or any other high-profile political figure or commentator, speaks up about the abuse being dished out to them, social media often descends into futile arguments about which side is the worst.

Prolific social media users need to realise that it's less about online abuse revealing something about the nature of the cause it claims to speak in the name of, and more about the bullies of our world attaching themselves to causes in an attempt to legitimise their behaviour, to make their abuse acceptably mainstream.

Bullies are human, and the potential to be one exists in all of us. The legitimising role that social media can play in certain types of bullying could make bullies of us all if we're not careful. With tribalism and intolerance in the mix, we’re in dangerous waters here.

The next time you carry out a character assassination on a total stranger on social media because rage has overtaken you, stop and listen to the little voice flickering in your mind that knows it's far more than the "criticism" you'll likely dress it up as.

We all have a role to play here. Where I once was concerned with freedom of speech, I now have no problem blocking and muting people online who have no intention of civil discussion, only of disruption and trolling.

We don't put up with bullies in other areas of life – rather, we stand up for one another; good people rise against the bullies and take care of those who've been harmed. Good people do not make excuses for bullying because hey, we're supposed to be free, right? It doesn't work that way. If you use your freedom to oppress another's, you must be challenged.

It doesn’t matter that online abuse happens online, not really. As Abbott says, the behaviour is not new, only the method of delivery, and if we want to fight it we must break out of our tribal mindsets and return to the basics. It’s humanity versus inhumanity – which side are you on?

If you’re on the wrong one, it’s not too late to change.