Panel discussion at the Mumsnet Blogfest 2012, headed by Eleanor Mills, Times Online journalist
The word ‘troll’ for a person who comments on blogs or online news articles in a way to elicit fear and disgust may be new, but ‘hate mail’ is as old as the newspaper industry itself, according to Suzanne Moore. No longer are newspaper offices recipients of scribbled letters in green ink, as technology has found new ways of dispatching hate directly to the writer.
The more controversial the topic, the nastier the comments received, although Moore surprised us by saying that an article on Morris Dancers provoked the most hateful response of her career. ‘Don’t write because you want someone to like you’, she continued, ‘and expect people to disagree’.
Blogger Cath Elliot talked of her experience, including scary stalkers and a sustained and organised campaign of hate, which ended in a report to the police (and it is still ongoing).
Eleanor Mills reported that since the Times Paywall went up, there has been a marked reduction in abusive comments. The Paywall requires the registration in the user’s real name, and the resulting lack of anonymity means that people remain more civil than on the anonymous (and notorious) Guardian CIF comments fields.
It was something that a few Guardian journalists noted – they are encouraged to respond to the comments, something that is surely not easy when they are being called ‘thick cunt’ or ‘fat whale’. Who wants to read comment like that about themselves?
All the journalists remarked on the stunning misogyny of the comments, ‘It is an attempt to silence you’, noted Suzanne Moore.
Tanya Byron made us laugh when she told us of her mum saying, ‘Darling, if the daily mail is saying nasty things about you, you are an outstanding woman’
Legal Blogger David Allen Green was asked to advise on the best way to proceed, and recommended asking for the local police computers crime division – but advised caution. Only in extreme cases is the involvement of the law generally useful.