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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Humour & Abuse on the British Blogosphere – A Disturbing Story

We’re a couple of months away from a General Election in the UK, and though we’ve tried to emulate the successes of the US political blogosphere, we’re a few steps behind as I pointed out in a diary last year -. Two recent events (the second happened today) serve to illustrate why.

The first is a humorous story about Conservative Party’s attempts to muster up smear website called Cash Gordon, using a US company that has run sites against HCR and Gays in the military. The site is almost identical to the Heritage Foundation’s vehicle designed to scupper carbon trading legislation designed to combat climate change….

So far, so familiar to my friends in US Blogistan…


Yes spot the difference!

Unfortunately we Brits aren’t so hot on social media – or rather the conservatively minded among us aren’t.

Though it cost the Tories nearly $30 thousand, they forget to moderate their #cashgordon hashtag twitter feed. Within a few tens of minutes of the site launching people started tweeting anti-tory tweets with the #cashgordon hashtag. The Tories were initially cock-a-hoop because the hashtag was “trending” as the second most popular hashtag in the country. Except that the majority of tweets were anti-Tory.

Then someone cottoned on that you could tweet javascript and it would be executed in the readers’ browser, again because there was no checks by the cashgordon website. They used that to direct people to the Labour Party website, a bit of Rickrolling, and eventually some porn.

Someone has made a great graph of yet another campaign misstep from the Tories who, from a double digit lead, find Labour narrowing the gap in the run up to the GE.

I have no problem with any of this. If a political party wants to waste money on US software, and then employ incompetent IT people to run it – then they deserve all the hacking and hassle they get. And I’d say the same if the Labour Party screwed up like this.

But yesterday I discovered a much darker story from the recesses of the British Blogosphere.

A Libertarian Site that Encourages Personalised Cyber Attacks against a 16 year old girl

Basically, since the right has been in opposition, the sites that have flourished have been right wing or quasi libertarian. The epitome of this site is Guido Fawkes – a toxic sewer of personal smear, foul language, unsourced rumours, and a plethora of commenters who seem to be auditioning and failing for an audition for Britain’s Got Comic Talent.

I got to know a lot of these Libertarian trolls in the early days of Labour List (a year ago) when they swarmed the site. Some of them are still there. I checked another blog where some of them consort, run by a masked coward called Old Holborn.

What I saw today shocked and disgusted me like nothing I’ve ever seen on a political blog.

In short, the owner of the site (who is running for Parliament for the seat of Cambridgeshire) found the blog address of a 16 year old intern for a now retired Labour minister. Posting a picture of her, and describing her appearing in sickening terms, he encouraged his reader to visit her unmoderated blog.

What happened next I’ll have to leave to your imagination: suffice it to say, the twitter account of the poor woman reads:

I can’t even describe how upset I am, I really don’t need this.

I didn’t see those posts, but from what I’ve seen of these sites it doesn’t bear thinking about. It even shocked one the bullies who participated in this disgusting attack:

Hands up: I feel physically sick with disgust at myself for what I wrote about Ms Heywood last night. I crossed so far over the line that it’s just a dot on the horizon.

If I could find a way to send this apology to her, I would, because she completely deserves one and needs to know what I wrote was not actually aimed at her. It was petty, spiteful, disgusting, and completely uncalled for. I am 100% in the wrong, and none of what follows is in any way an excuse, just an explanation.

A workmate and friend of mine died suddenly last week, at just 26, and it’s hit me hard. I was drowning my sorrows on the night before his funeral, and in a particularly foul mood at the God damn unfairness of life. I piled in with the mob and lashed out at Ms Heywood without even reading anything about her, or the issue. Just straight to the comments section and vent.

That was utterly wrong, and I feel awful about doing it. What a vile, lousy way to deal with the death of a decent man. Ms Heywood has done nothing but try to serve the public good. She’s done more good in her short life than I have in my wasted one. I am, as many of you have noted, pathetic and sad, and I’m letting this serve as my wake up call.

This will be my last post here. I have got to change my spiteful nature, and I can’t do that in this toxic environment.

I wish you – all of you – the very best, but would respectfully suggest that this blog may be hazardous to your soul.

If anyone can find a way to pass this apology on to Ms Heywood, I would very much appreciate that.

Despite this, the mass of the bloggers there have defended this kind of action, and even give incited the same actions against another 17 year old Labour supporter.

I rarely write a diary feel this disgusted or upset. I think of my own daughter, only 17, subject to such personal hate and vitriol merely for showing enthusiasm for a mainstream party, and I just feel angrier still.

This is the first diary I’ve every written with a call to action: but if anyone can help me bring down this blog and punish the offenders, I would eagerly seek their advice, or encourage them to act too.

UPDATE: I’ve had some interesting contacts via the DailyKos version of this diary, which may go some way to solving the problem.  


  1. sricki

    This young woman was just targeted based on the party she supported?

    I do have some thoughts on that.

    Political intolerance is like any other form of intolerance, in my opinion. Just like any sort of prejudice — be it against African Americans, immigrants, members of the LGBT community, liberals, conservatives, etc. — one of the primary characteristics of the phenomenon is the complete dehumanization of the targeted person(s) or group. It gets to a point, with some people, where they are so encapsulated that they ignore, disregard or entirely fail to see the humanity of other individuals.

    So a 16- or 17-year-old kid becomes not a child, but a mere cog in a complex fixture that the people berating her despise. Her humanity is discounted or forgotten — she is seen as an accessory to something that is “wrong” with the country or the world. Her individuality is lost as her attackers meld her into a sinister whole, consisting of numerous likewise blended elements ranging from people to policy. People get caught up in a cycle of hate, and that’s where the humanity of the hated gets forgotten. Or maybe it’s the other way around — maybe in order to hate someone, you have to first discount their humanity.

    And in that vein, let’s talk about hate. It’s a very strong word, but it’s tossed around pretty casually these days. I am guilty of that myself, and I’ll “hate” anything from liver and onions to Dick Cheney (I’m not sure which is more evil, truth be told). But do I really hate them? Well, I toss the word around, but when I was a kid overusing the word, my dad defined hate this way: Hate is something that keeps you up at night and consumes your thoughts for prolonged periods — hate is something that controls you.

    So if I said I hated liver, for example, he would ask, “Does liver keep you awake at night?” The answer was always no. Now, occasionally I did come to detest schoolmates to a degree that I brooded over them in the dark — but that I outgrew as I got older because my father often reminded me that if you hate people enough to obsess over them, they are in control of you. And who wants someone they dislike to have that kind of power? So in truth, though I may say, “god I hate Sarah Palin,” my feelings toward her don’t really meet my own definition of hatred. Saying I hate her is just a quick and easy way to express my distaste.

    Maybe when it comes to seeing and acknowledging the humanity of people unlike you, it’s necessary to love someone unlike you. My father is deeply flawed but is in many ways a good man — a charitable one, when it’s a charity of his choosing. He is difficult to understand at times. He’ll take a homeless man and the man’s family out to lunch at a place of their choosing, but on the other hand, he feels that we could solve the health care crisis by allowing poor people who can’t really afford care to be treated by quack doctors who failed out of medical school. He is wrong about a lot of things — callous in a lot of ways — but I see his love and affection for his family and friends and Schnauzers, and even his generosity to strangers when it is on his terms, and I cannot call him a bad man.

    People like Sarah Palin… she has many of the same opinions my father has. She is doing great harm to her children (abstinence-only education, anyone?), her party, and my country, but I do not hate her. I do not discount her humanity — or anyone’s. It’s one of the many reasons I am so staunchly opposed to the death penalty. A person is a person, no matter what. No “buts” — all human beings are… indisputably… just that — human beings. It should never be forgotten. The Palin types get my derision and ridicule because they put themselves out there to be made fun of — in a way that the young girl you mentioned seemingly did not — but even in the midst of all my disgust for Palin and her ilk, I do not wish ill on the health or families of anyone I am politically opposed to. I wish a swift death to their political careers — and that is about it. That’s about how my big bad Rightwing daddy feels about it, too — he expressed sympathy at Ted Kennedy’s passing, despite loathing near everything about the man.

    I would still like to think myself much more tolerant than my father, of course, but who knows. ; )

    Point of this ramble being… hate causes us to lose perspective — and our heads. Hate makes it easy to victimize a child for her political leanings, an African American for his skin color, a lesbian for her sexuality. With hate all ills are possible. Sometimes, when I find myself feeling something that approaches “hatred” for Republicans or any other group I disagree with, I step back and look at my parents — and remember both what my father told me about hatred, and that their beliefs are quite similar to those of many teabaggers. And then some of the vitriol melts away.

    If I’m off topic too far, forgive me. HATE it when I ramble! ; )

  2. than the launch of the RNC’s site. Let’s face it, most of the kEwL nerds are either liberals or libertarians. Not many conservatives among that crowd. And, I’m not so sure about the libertarians.

  3. Cheryl Kopec

    Wow, Brit — I started by roaring out loud at your graph and related commentary, then coming up short at the dénoument of your post. I do not know how to get a blog taken down, but I am sending positive thoughts your way (wish I could do more, but I’m tending to a dog that got attacked by a pit bull a few nights ago, and still haven’t filed my socialist taxes yet).



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