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.
- The body you complain to is populated with senior members of the UK’s newspaper industry – so very little chance of a fair or impartial hearing.
- The PCC limit the scope of the complaints you can make about their members.
- If a newspaper doesn’t like the way the PCC timidly pursues it – they can simply leave the PCC and have all cases against them dropped.
- The chair of the PCC, on the basis of this BBC interview, is unrepentant in her stewardship of such an obviously incompetent authority.
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?