Internet Trolling, Twitter and the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail has a long history of attacking Twitter users as sad loners trading insults anonymously with each other and directing their ire at celebrity targets en masse when it suits them – as if Twitter is one giant hive mind. This then seems to contradict with the other articles that the Daily Mail runs, that Twitter is also a site that allows self-important liberals to get all offended all the time and lead ‘campaigns’ against things (like certain Daily Mail articles / writers).

Either way, the Daily Mail enjoys trawling Twitter for easy copy and to generate page hits to the now all-consuming Mail Online website (when it comes to Internet trolling the statistics don’t lie: the Daily Mail is king). There have been a couple of articles that have caught my attention recently. Firstly, the Mail writes some standard guff about how Twitter trolls have been targeting Carol Vorderman – they ‘trade vile insults about her looks‘. Fair enough, but they should perhaps pay more attention to Vorderman’s words:

Speaking to the Mail, Miss Vorderman added she does not let online bullies affect her self-esteem. But she said Twitter abuse should be monitored to protect more vulnerable victims.

Yes, protect vulnerable victims from Internet abuse, I think we can all agree that insulting someone who can fight back is one thing, whilst insulting vulnerable people is generally considered at the very least unsporting. Step forward Daily Mail Reporter and the recent article on Emily Lloyd posted on the Mail Online website. This article is a particularly nasty example of the ‘look at this person, they were beautiful 20 years ago, BUT JUST LOOK AT THE STATE OF THEM NOW!!!’ articles that the Daily Mail delights in (both online and in print). What you need is a little background – which, amazingly in the context of the article, the Mail Online gives:

In 2009 Emily revealed she had been suffering from crippling chronic insomnia and admitted this led to her having more time to analyse her situation during long nights in her bed dwelling on a career that might have been.

For Emily has suffered from mental illness on and off for 20 years and there have been various diagnoses, among them mild schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder.

Emily Lloyd is the sort of vulnerable victim that deserves protection from Internet trolling, yet the Daily Mail is happy to print this kind of article (which is now edited, the original having been airbrushed from history as usual by Mail Online). What the Daily Mail never acknowledges is that most Twitter users spray their hate to a handful of followers and occasionally direct it at a celeb who might have thousands of mentions a day; this is a world away from having the platform of being one of the world’s busiest websites and printing trolling articles aimed at vulnerable individuals.

It isn’t the first time Emily Lloyd has come under fire from newspapers playing the ‘look at what celeb X wore to the shops!’ game, and the Mail article acknowledges this as well;

Trademark wit: Emily may not look on form, but three years ago she laughed off critics of a similar photo by asking what attire might have been appropriate – a ball gown and tiara?

Yet, elsewhere in the article: ‘She wore a mismatched outfit as she walked her dog, carrying a few items from a local shop.’

Even though they acknowledge the stupidity of the main thrust of the article, they go ahead and publish it anyway (You can read more about the Emily Lloyd article on the Rethink Mental Illness website).

Elsewhere Amanda Platell attacks Twitter users in her weekly column of increasingly confused and desperate bitterness:

However many loyal fans a celebrity has on Twitter, it has become the underground playground for twisted inadequates who revel in others’ misfortune.

Be it Stephen Fry or Rebecca Adlington, no one is spared their malign attacks.

Twitter allows trolls, under the cloak of assumed identities, to make comments that they would not dare say even to their worst enemy in the pub. Comments that can be fired off in seconds without thought, decency or shame.

And as soon as one troll attacks, others pile in, validated and encouraged in their bravado by each other’s odious spite. The language of hatred becomes a badge of honour for these subterranean internet-obsessed losers.

This from someone employed as a professional troll, working for the most famously hateful newspaper / website in the world. Especially look at the accusation that Twitter users hide ‘under the cloak of assumed identities’ to make comments they don’t want to take responsibility for, isn’t that exactly the same as all the hateful Mail Online articles attributed only to the Daily Mail Reporter?

Not to mention that Platell exists purely to spread hate – in fact, she’s so good at her job that the Mail have even had to issue apologies for her articles in the past:

A column by Amanda Platell on 17 September 2011 referred to Sheryl Gascoigne as a ‘gold digger’ and as ‘sleazy and degrading company’ for the other participants in the Leveson Inquiry. We now accept that these allegations are entirely unfounded and went beyond fair comment. We have sincerely apologised to Ms Gascoigne in court for the distress caused and have agreed to pay her substantial damages and costs.

You know you’re spreading some hate when even the ‘only-apologise-when-forced-to-in-a-court-of-law-whilst-paying-damages’ Daily Mail feels that a columnist has gone ‘beyond fair comment’.

Platell does reserve a special hatred for Twitter (maybe it’s that Twitter hate is seen as competition) in the past she has dismissed Twitter as ‘the domain of the inane, the insane and the desperate’ whilst declaring:

In a civilised democracy, the idiots who use Twitter should be banned from voting altogether.

At least Twitter trolls do it for the love of hate, rather than the money.

Twitter’s new moral arbiter: Kelvin MacKenzie

Twitter uses are set to be monitored in 2012 after ex-Sun Editor Kelvin ‘The Truth’ MacKenzie appointed himself as Twitter’s moral arbiter:

Kevin Spacey, the talented and charming actor-manager, has stopped tweeting because of the avalanche of online abuse he was receiving.

The vileness of these internet thugs is beyond belief.

If the stuff written on Twitter was said on the streets, the police would arrest those responsible in their hundreds.

Of course, it would be difficult to trace these disgusting cowards because they hide behind anonymity.

But can I suggest the police start doing so? The language used is disgusting and the threats are ferocious.

From the New Year, I am going to start monitoring Twitter and will report back to you.

Yes, you read that correctly. Kelvin MacKenzie, who once edited the Sun and was responsible for the front page lies about Hillsborough – never apologising either – is now set to monitor ‘disgusting cowards’ on Twitter. Well, I guess it takes one to spot one.

I guess the correct response to this is to set up a hashtag and ensure that MacKenzie knows exactly what the general public thinks of him. Now is your chance, he will be watching.

Kia Abdullah is not a Guardian columnist

Paul Dacre, and therefore the Mail, seems to hold a special contempt for the Guardian. Dacre’s speech to the Society of Editors back in 2008 had lots to say about the criticism that newspapers received – largely because Dacre:

passionately believe[s] that Britain has the best newspapers in the world and – indeed, our papers today are as good as they’ve ever been.

He therefore seems to hold any newspaper that dare have a media section with a special contempt normally only reserved for the BBC:

Why does not a week go by that the media supplements and their columnists do not denigrate our industry as a whole?…

the problem, of course, is that it’s only leftish and liberal media outlets – who, almost by definition lose millions of pounds a year – that have media sections. With such a monopoly, they exert a huge and disproportionate influence on what people – particularly, I suspect, the judiciary – think of the British media.

In regards to his first rhetorical question: not a week goes without criticism because not a week goes by without exceptionally poor journalism being printed in the Mail, let alone all of the other tabloid newspapers. Secondly, Dacre seems to be in sync with the Mail outlook that somehow – even though the Sun and the Daily Mail are the top two selling newspapers in the UK – the ‘leftish and liberal media outlets’ have some kind of ‘monopoly’ going on. Presumably, Dacre – with sales of the Mail trouncing the sales of the Guardian – could easily break that monopoly by simply having their own media section.

Except, of course, tabloid editors rarely dish the dirt on other tabloids because they’re all waist deep in sewage and any ensuing shit-fight would see them all go under.

Anyway, this is a bit of context behind this headline today: ‘Guardian columnist Kia Abdullah Tweets cruel taunts death gap year boys‘ [istyosty.com link].

Kia Abdullah has indeed been stirring up a bit of controversy on Twitter with her comments about the death of three boys on a gap year. She isn’t however a Guardian columnist – even though the Mail describes her in the first two paragraphs as both  a ‘newspaper journalist’ and ‘Guardian columnist’. At the end of the article the Mail has to come clean (the article, as usual is attributed only to ‘The Daily Mail Reporter’) by quoting two Guardian statements. The first is pretty clear:

‘Kia Abdullah is an occasional freelance contributor to the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.

‘She has never been on contract, is not on the staff of the Guardian and has not written for any part of the Guardian since May 2010.

‘The Guardian is not responsible for what occasional contributors write on Twitter.’

The second even clearer:

Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of Guardian News & Media, said: ‘Kia Abdullah is not, as has been reported, a Guardian journalist or a Guardian columnist. She is a novelist freelance writer who, in common with thousands of others, has written occasional pieces for our comment website. The last of these was 14 months ago.

‘Her grossly insensitive remarks were on her own personal Twitter feed, for which the Guardian has no responsibility and over which it has no control. Of course we deplore her comments and the distress they have caused the relatives and friends of Max, Bruno and Conrad. The Guardian would never have published such offensive comments.’

Indeed, the last comment is interesting because what kind of newspaper would publish offensive comments about the death of fellow human beings? Well, the Mail certainly don’t mind publishing offensive articles about the dead – indeed they pay columnists an awful lot of money to do just that.

In 2005 the highly-paid Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn thought he’d discuss the murders of five women who worked as prostitutes and the Mail published the following:

It might not be fashionable, or even acceptable in some quarters, to say so, but in their chosen field of “work”, death by strangulation is an occupational hazard.

That doesn’t make it justifiable homicide, but in the scheme of things the deaths of these five women is no great loss.

They weren’t going to discover a cure for cancer or embark on missionary work in Darfur. The only kind of missionary position they undertook was in the back seat of a car…

These five women were on the streets because even the filthiest, most disreputable back-alley “sauna” above a kebab shop wouldn’t give them house room.

The men who used them were either too mean to fork out whatever a massage parlour charges, or simply weren’t fussy. Some men are actually turned on by disgusting, drug-addled street whores.

Or what about the newspaper that published that article by Jan Moir in which she claimed in her title that ‘there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death’. Of course, Jan Moir is another highly-paid Mail columnist and her article – in which she maintained that: ‘Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered’ – holds the records for the most complained about article in British newspaper history and the Press Complaints Commission website broke under the strain of it all.

Only this week the Daily Mail have used the hugely unlucky accidental death of a 13-year-old girl as a tool to attack the teacher’s strike, disgracefully forcing the shocked and upset parents to issue a request that newspapers stop using their dead daughter to pursue their own agendas. Yet here the Mail is, calling for someone to be hunted down for their comments on Twitter – comments which were made to a tiny following of 862 and are now only becoming well known thanks to their repeated publication in the press.

Two main things strike me about this Mail article:

  1. It’s insulting that the Mail have the balls to fain outrage over the kind of stuff they print every other day in unattributed ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ articles and what they pay huge sums of money to columnists to write.
  2. If the Daily Mail wants to use these Twitter comments as a way of attacking the Guardian for unfairly criticising other newspapers – including the Mail – it probably doesn’t help that the article smugly attacking the Guardian is just another example of the sort of dishonest agenda-driven drivel that the Guardian’s media section frequently points out.