Wednesday 16 January 2013

Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill - social media trolling - who is the bully?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Who holds the moral high ground in the Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill saga?

Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill have this week joined a rapidly growing club of people, mainly women, who become victims of social media trolling. It’s a club no one wants to join, but cyber posters with an axe to grind run the membership committee, and there’s no opting out.

The saga began when Ms. Moore wrote an article for the New Statesman describing challenges faced by modern women, who she said were expected to look like “Brazilian transsexuals.” That didn’t go over so well in the LGTB community, and Ms. Moore said her Twitter feed quickly became so swamped with angry and abusive comments that she had to stop using the service. Bullied off a social network. She is hardly the first.

It’s a wrenching experience. Having spoken to dozens of female targets of cyber bullying in the past few years, I have been told repeatedly that the most painful aspect of becoming such a target is the sudden loneliness and the lack of support that one suddenly falls into. Open internet forums abruptly turn into dark alleys.

Zusanne moore trolling on twitter
A very lonely place to be
Social media “friendships” reach the boiling point and evaporate into thin air. Apparently, cyber bullying is contagious—people don't want to catch the disease, so they quickly disassociate themselves from the target. Some even join the mob. So it is not surprising that Ms. Burchill, an Observer columnist who wrote a piece in support of her bullied colleague, suffered a similar fate herself: she was harassed so much on Twitter that her preferred form of communication became unusable.

What is astonishing is that so many of those who decribed Ms. Moore’s allegedly insensitive use of the expression “Brazilian transsexuals” nevertheless found it appropriate to silently witness her get eaten alive by bullies and trolls. Interestingly, as often happens in trolling cases, the person who dared to stand up for Ms. Moore became a target herself. The message is loud and clear: stand up for the victim of internet trolling and you will pay a high price for your stupidity.

Many targets of internet trolls tell a similar story. It begins when they unintentionally say something that acts as a trigger. They are then surrounded by an amorphous mob that rapidly closes in on them. Many of the victims will never forget the loud silence of the majority—all the members of the social media forum who ignored their distress.

With a few notable exceptions, internet trolls appear to prey on female targets. There is also evidence that some internet trolls are organised. They communicate with one another about new forums whenever they find an opportunity to harass a vulnerable victim.

One of the most shocking internet trolling incidents I have seen took place recently on Amazon. The victim was a lady who simply wrote an unfavourable review about her purchase. She received almost 200 harassing and distressing messages within a couple of hours. There was not a single message in her defence. It is likely that Miss Moore’s harassing trolls were organised, “professional” groups.

Unfortunately, they were later joined by naïve politicians and other self-interested parties who found the opportunity to inflame irresistible. Internet trolling is the modern equivalent of medieval stoning.

Those who in the name of liberalism and political correctness reprove Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill for their articles, yet fail to condemn those who bullied them off their chosen medium of communication, appear to be deaf to the irony and hypocrisy of their position.

They would do well to remember an important fact about internet trolling: it is never the choice of the victim to become a target.

By Yair Cohen

Julie Burchill  article reprinted
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Dear Yair,

    Whilst no one excuses the sharp end of abuse hurled at either Suzanne Moore or Julie Burchill, this article is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

    The trans community was upset by a series of vile tweets by Moore, not merely the line from her article you've picked up.

    Meanwhile, Burchill's article was riddled with hate-speech. You can read it here:

    The great irony here is that Burchill has been a prominent online bully of people who don't agree with her ideal of white, middle class feminism for years.

    Perhaps you could learn what trolling means. Disagreeing with someone, however vocally and in whatever terms you choose to do so, isn't trolling.

    1. Samuel, we both take issue with anyone being forced out of social media through threats and abuse. There is no justification for an individual, regardless of who they are to be the subject of hundreds of abusive messages, to the extent that they feel fearful and hugely intimidated.

  2. Thanks so much for this article, for speaking the plain obvious truth about the Moore/Burchill spat. It was truly concerning to watch. This relates to wider problems on the internet involving trans activists trying to use their power as profesional geeks to shut up female feminist critics of the trans movement.

  3. sometimes it begins AFTER workplace bullying and mobbing, when a target is ousted from the workplace, career, professional and social relationships already destroyed, and target already has PTSD at the start of the cyberbullying and impersonation; worst part is the perpatrator has your SS number and everything else via your personnel file. Then you are really alone and have no recourse. Since workplace mobbing is often considered the "stressor of all stressors" it is no wonder we hear so little about these cases. I believe most victims die via suicide or health issues related to stress.