Image by Chris Kasurak - under a Creative Commons Attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license
I have twice been subject to some very inept blackmail over a posts I had made on twitter.

The first time was after I called a particularly nasty company "twunts" over a dispute I'd had with them. I'll be the first to admit that it wasn't a particularly mature reaction - but I'm not sure it warranted taking a screenshot of the tweet, threatening to show it to the CEO of the company I worked for, then continually calling the company to complain about me. I was a private citizen, not tweeting on behalf of his employer. Luckily, my employers were very good about it and supported me. There is no small measure of schadenfreude when I read about my blackmailers current protracted legal difficulties.

The second time was rather different - and in many ways nastier. I was at a private function and twitpic'd a photo of a (very) minor celebrity. I was immediately contacted by his PR team saying "please don't tweet anything he says - it's a private event." Not a problem for me, I emailed back saying I'd keep schtum.
A few weeks later, I got hauled over the coals and threatened by his "team" for "invading his privacy" and "endangering him by revealing his location." All over a blurry twitpic which, if they'd asked at the time, I would gladly have removed. Again, threats were made to me about the consequences of my tweets.

Both tweets have now been deleted.

All of which has left me with a rather sour outlook. I now think twice before I tweet anything. Who knows what innocent, flippant, or satirical content can be taken, twisted out of context and then used against you?


All of which brings me, in a round about way, to a cause célèbre on twitter - @Baskers. I've met her a couple of times at social occasions, but I wouldn't say I knew her well. Even though enough has been written about her to fill a book, but I'd like to add my tuppenceworth.

It would be the height of egocentricity to claim my experiences were anything like hers. I've neither been pilloried in the press nor caused my employers publicly defend me.

But there is a similarity. We are both victims of bullying. It took me a little while to realise this but, since doing so, it has made the world a lot clearer.

@Baskers was the victim of a vicious and petty bullying campaign in two national newspapers.

Perhaps she got picked on because she's a smart and successful woman. Bullies hate those more successful than themselves.
Was it because she is witty, intelligent, and able to eloquently express her opinion that lead her to be despised by talentless hacks?
Or, as is so often, was she a victim of someone who can only make themselves feel good about their pathetic and wretched life by randomly lashing out at a weaker target?

Whatever the reasons, it's abuse. Using a position of power to bully someone who can't respond on the same scale is disgusting - especially from papers which claim to be against bullying.

What Should We Do About Bullying?

I was told by countless teachers that you should ignore bullies and eventually they go away. That may well be true for some childhood scrapes - but removing oneself from the vengeful eye of the gutter press isn't just as simple as closing the curtains and hoping they go away - as Zoe Margolis found out.

So, can we go down the "official" routes to complain? Sadly, the game is rigged.

In the case of the UK's legal system - the costs are prohibitive, the players all work against you, the rules are obscure, and even if you win - you're still tainted by association and may not recover your costs.

In the case of the the Press Complaints Commission the game is so one sided that you stand virtually no chance of success.

Unsurprisingly, the PCC once again looked after their members' interests.


But what can we do? How do we stop these hideous cyber-bullies?

It's tempting to think of revenge. It's a basic human instinct. I'm salivating at the thought of extracting retribution - both on my behalf and by proxy for @Baskers. I'd love to set a pack of ravenous paparazzi on the editors of those newspapers and hound them until they couldn't take it any more. I'd love to fill the pages of other newspapers with a long exposé of their reports weird sexual habits (as an aside, subscribe to Private Eye and read Street of Shame - they're the only paper which reports on other papers).
I want to set up website detailing every miss-step a journalist has ever made - and SEO it so that when potential employers search for them, all they find is the very worst.
I want parody twitter accounts dedicated to making them a laughing stock.

I'd love to watch newspaper editors and journalists in utter despair as their children come home weeping because of what the other kids are saying about their mummy or daddy.

And that's why revenge is wrong. It's morally wrong to stoop to their level. Hurting other people just traps you in a cycle of violence. Revenge is usually indiscriminate and hurts far more than the target.
Besides, as they say, "never fight with a pig. You both end up covered in shit - but the pig likes it."

I'm not saying we should passively resist them. We can't let them beat up our friends and hope they get tired and go away. We can't simply watch bullying ruin life after life. We can't close our eyes and wish for the best.

What Can We Do?

I'm a hippy. I think it's up to us to take a stand in what we believe in. To be the better person. Ultimately, to forgive and show the bullies that there is a better way.

I'm inspired by Michael Lapsley - my wife's uncle - and the work of The Forgiveness Project. Michael, and the others on the site, have managed to find forgiveness for those who have done them dreadful wrongs.
I can't even begin to compare Michael's horrific and permanent injuries to the next-day's-chip-paper assaults on members of our community. Although I do know the mental scarring from bullying can be as painful as anything which can be done to our bodies.

Reading through the stories on the site one thing becomes clear. It's important for both parties to understand each other. To understand where the pain comes from and why it was dished out so callously.

I don't know how we make this happen. I don't know whether it's as simple as inviting Quentin Letts out for a drink. Chatting with him and letting him see what pain he has wrought. Is it a case of "adopting" a journalist and showing them how twitter works - and helping them make friends?

How do we reach out to these bullies? How do we show them that they don't need to fear us? How do we make them understand that their words have consequences? How can we make them see that picking on people isn't big, and it isn't clever?

I don't want (some) newspapers and (some) blogs trying to ruin the lives of those who have caused them no harm. Is that really an impossible task?

5 thoughts on “#WeLoveBaskers

  1. Tony says:

    While I have every sympathy for @Baskers for the MSM beating and nothing but contempt for the PCC this:

    The complainant said her activities on Twitter and other social networking sites (she also had a blog and had uploaded pictures of herself on Flickr) were private. While it was true in theory that anybody could view the information she had posted online, she argued that she had a "reasonable expectation that my messages...would be published only to my followers".

    betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the internet in general and social networking in particular. You have to assume that when posting something online you are shouting it in the face of everyone including your boss, your ex and your worst enemy.

    1. Hi Tony,

      Yes you should be careful what you do online. I doubt anyone is unaware that their boss may see what they post.

      What I don't think anyone expects, is a national newspaper deciding to pillory you for no discernible reason.

      If you are famous or in some way important, I can see the "value" in reporting what you say to the nation. If you are also being particularly hypocritical, I can understand why a paper would choose to expose that.

      If you're just a normal person, talking about your normal life, I do think it's an invasion of privacy for a newspaper to circulate your thoughts and provide highly critical comment to millions of readers.

      From what I understand (which isn't a lot) the PCC only provides a limited variety of complaints. I don't think invasion of privacy is the strongest argument - but if that's all the PCC will talk about, what choice do you have?

      Thanks for your comment.


  2. says:

    I sided with the PCC argument that the Tweets were in a public environment, but sided with the complainant that the reporting of them was unjust.

    Sadly, that second bit is not what she seemed to have complained about, which was a bit silly IMHO.

    As for the Private Eye, while they do maintain a very good database (hmm, open data?), I find their rather smug attitude to reporting other people's mistakes and glossing over their own regular errors a bit irritating.

    Ultimately though, the only way to stop the tabloids behaving the way they do is for people to choose not to read such material in the first place and take their custom elsewhere.

    I doubt a tabloid editor is going to care all that much about what The Guardian write about them - as none of their readers will have bothered to read up on it either.

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