‘If I ever see you in the street, I hope you get shot’

Dawn Foster

The first time I wrote an article for a newspaper, the first online comment said: 'If I ever see you in the street, I hope you get shot.' The article was about being abused and harassed in the street, specifically while cycling. I wasn't surprised that the online comments mirrored the behaviour the article addressed. But unlike the men who shouted at me as I waited on my bike in Clapham, the online commenter could be sure I wouldn't spit in his face in response.

I ended up moderating comments at the Guardian for two years: without a doubt, the worst job of my life. The time I spent washing heavily soiled laundry in a care home didn't affect my sleep; the insults hurled at me in a major bank's call centre were far milder. The comments that appear under most Guardian articles are barely worth your time; the ones that don't make it through are completely toxic. Hundreds of people, day after day, create multiple accounts to spew the most extreme racist, sexist and homophobic abuse imaginable.

At the same time, the volume of comments was increasing rapidly, but the number of moderators was not. The process became more automated and the focus shifted from 'steering a conversation' to simple damage control. Writers were encouraged to go 'below the line' and reply to comments, but the presence of authors, especially when they were women, encouraged commenters to act up and hurl more insults. The vast majority of commenters are men, and the Guardian’s own research shows that the writers most often abused on their site are women and black journalists, and the least abused contributors – surprise – are white men. (This is also true of the LRB blog.)

The patterns are replicated on a much larger scale on social media. Demos released a report this week on the extent of online misogynist abuse. Most women don't need a report to tell them how much a lot of men hate them: going out in the street tells us that. We know that smiling or pretending to ignore unsolicited attention from strangers is often the safest response; we don't answer back for fear of violence.

The Demos research analysed comments over a three-week period, using an algorithm to determine whether tweets that used the words 'whore' and 'slut' were sexist insults or 'conversational'. They found that 6500 users were targeted by 10,000 'explicitly aggressive and misogynistic tweets'.

Has the internet made people more hateful? Perhaps. Or it may simply have made it easier for people to express their hate. The first time someone called me a 'whore' I was 12 years old, walking home in my school uniform. He had to wind his window down and wait for me to pass his car. When I first got a mobile phone, I'd sometimes get abusive phone calls late at night. It all took the men responsible a lot more time and effort than sending a tweet does. Now, quite often men will tweet photos of their erect cocks to me, in response to nothing at all, and their profiles show they do this to as many women as possible, several a minute, before their accounts get shut down. It must be an easy way to get a kick without leaving the house.

People who don't get harassed in the street, or who have never noticed random racial or sexual abuse hurled at someone else, may think it doesn't happen very often. But you're more likely to experience racial abuse or sexual harassment and homophobic abuse when you're alone, and an easier target, so there are fewer witnesses. But not always: and when you are attacked in a place with witnesses, the familiar casting of eyes downwards and elective deafness tells you that, even though you're physically surrounded, psychologically and politically you're on your own. Most women and gay men I know won't get night buses alone now, because they've experienced this public abandonment and tacit condoning of abuse too many times.

But the ease of sending messages to strangers through social media has also flattened power structures for the better. When I worked for an MP, she got letters and occasional emails. It took people effort and thought to send them, and researchers and staff acted as gatekeepers. Most MPs now have Twitter accounts, which make it easier for them to publicise what they're doing, but also easier for constituents to get in touch and express their displeasure at their elected representatives' voting patterns.

Last December, for example, a lot of people got the impression that MPs on the right of the Labour Party voted in favour of airstrikes against Syria in order to undermine Corbyn's leadership, rather than out of a deep and abiding belief that it was the best way to save civilian lives and bring peace to the region. The deluge of complaint that followed surprised some MPs – and, predictably, many tweets directed at women expressed their anger in misogynist terms. Hate speech sticks in your mind, and has no place in public debate; Facebook and Twitter do too little to protect women and stamp out racism on their platforms. But you can't use the hate speech as an excuse to dodge the valid criticism.


  • 28 May 2016 at 8:01pm
    Bob Beck says:
    If hateful behaviour, like so much else, is learned behaviour, then the internet likely has made at least a subset of people more hateful -- precisely by making it easier for them to express their hate. They get immediate gratification by seeing their bile broadcast to the world; near-immediate support and validation as others chime in to like effect; and all without so much as a reproving look by way of consequence.

  • 29 May 2016 at 6:59am
    philip proust says:
    Even though the rate of virulent mental illness and personality disorders is very low, if one considers the entire Anglosphere then the absolute numbers of those suffering severe psychopathologies would be in the many tens of thousands. In that case it is unfortunate but hardly surprising that male sufferers would be drawn to the violent bullying that often accompanies sexism, racism and homophobia.

    The person who shouts randomly and abusively in the street is recognisably 'mad'; however, the derangement is less obvious apparently when the shouting masquerades as an 'opinion' on a blog site.

    There is of course an elective affinity between those who are compulsively driven to send "explicitly aggressive and misogynistic" messages and the mainstream social institutions, such as right-of-centre political parties, that have refined the art of dog-whistling their messages to the faithful. One suspects that, as Trumpism entrenches itself, and explicit expressions of bigotry become normalised, there will be an upsurge - on-line and off - in the depressing phenomena Dawn Foster has communicated in her article. Even the ‘normals’ will be encouraged to join in.

    • 31 May 2016 at 10:04am
      Greencoat says: @ philip proust
      Unlike the entire Arabsphere, which of course is entirely empty of 'severe psychopathologies' like anti-semitism. You need to come to the Labour Party for that.

    • 31 May 2016 at 5:57pm
      Granite Sentry says: @ philip proust
      Please understand that the Left has spent decades "Dog-whistling their messages to the faithful" via their private news media, as those of us on the Right could do little to respond.

      Now the comments sections have finally given us a voice. It's regrettable but not surprising that now some of us are less than polite. Sorry for the inconvenience, but you should have made more of an effort to play fair.

    • 31 May 2016 at 7:43pm
      jcarveth says: @ philip proust
      There is as well an elective affinity between the deranged and those whose work brings them close to the deranged. Step out of the fray. The fray is avoidable.

    • 31 May 2016 at 11:37pm
      tonygreenstein says: @ Greencoat
      this is a good example of a racist bigot. There is no 'Arabsphere' or a 'Jewsphere'. Probably a Zionist who is using 'anti-Semitism' to ward of criticism of Israel

    • 31 May 2016 at 11:38pm
      tonygreenstein says: @ tonygreenstein
      and why the fuck is comments are mnoderated do you let racism like this through?

    • 1 June 2016 at 9:32am
      Alan Benfield says: @ Granite Sentry
      'Private News Media'? What's that about, then?

      Those on the right surely have the majority of the UK papers (print and online) at their disposal. Which rock have you been living under?

    • 1 June 2016 at 4:04pm
      Mona Williams says: @ tonygreenstein
      My first reaction to the term "Anglosphere" was that it referred to language, not race, and therefore was not objectionable. But the replying commenter may not have seen it that way, and may have thought his "Arabsphere" a permissible parallelism. Then that was attacked as racist. Then the moderator was attacked...

      And so, as the vagaries of language and the difficulties of communication are exacerbated, occasionally, by simple frustration, we keep on getting ourselves into trouble. But we will keep on trying, I hope.

    • 2 June 2016 at 9:39am
      robert higgo says: @ philip proust
      So bad behaviour is attributed to mental illness, is it? Shame on you

    • 2 June 2016 at 1:10pm
      outofdate says: @ Granite Sentry
      How far to the fucking right do you have to be to feel underrepresented by the Mail and Sun?

    • 2 June 2016 at 5:20pm
      M.G. Zimeta says: @ robert higgo
      Well said. I tried to make the same objection BTL at The Guardian a few months ago and the mods deleted my comment.

  • 29 May 2016 at 1:53pm
    Graucho says:
    It is said that when President Truman got angry with someone he would type out a stinking letter and then file it in the bottom drawer and never send it. Marvelous as instant communication is, it has the quality of a hair trigger. Knee jerk reactions and half baked ideas are out there in an instant and can be shared and retweeted across the globe. Equally dangerous is the complete absence of body language and visual cues in the communication. Face to face one might say I want to shoot you and the other party could see it was meant in jest, maybe not so in a tweet. In conversation one can guage the mood of the recipient and adjust tone and content accordingly, in a mass broadcast this isn't the case and the odds of a significant proportion of readers taking something the wrong way is high.

  • 29 May 2016 at 11:17pm
    bernieduffy says:
    I myself have been on the receiving end of hateful comments and even death threats. As a contributor to a left-wing online newsletter, in 2004 I found myself on a "kill list" hosted by Yahoo-groups. The threats towards me and my family were specific enough to get the police involved and we actually traced the individual posting the threats back to his home in San Diego. He was a retired naval officer, a Vietnam vet, and must have got the shock of his life when the police showed up on his doorstep. When I fond out about him, it made me feel very sad, I pitied him.
    Those people who take the time to be vile to another human being online are typically sad creatures themselves. They have no other way to act out their frustrations. True, they are usually white, older males - and this might be their reaction to a world which is moving too rapidly past them. They need help, not further alienation.
    Comment moderation is a vastly underrated job. It puts you on the front line with pathetic, but sometimes potentially dangerous, lost souls. It takes nerve - I hope you were paid enough, a lot of us do shitty, unappreciated jobs for survival wages. But most importantly don't lose your humanity in the face of their anger. They can't fight kindness!

  • 30 May 2016 at 7:11am
    Alan Benfield says:
    As a long-time Grauniad reader, I have always been surprised by the low level of below the line comment there: often rude, irrelevant or just plain ignorant. I thus almost never bother to read it or comment myself (life's too short, frankly). Why am I surprised? Well, somehow I had always assumed that comment on the Graun would be rather like here, which, apart from the occasional obviously committed troll, is mostly restrained, reasonable and informed. Perhaps, however, being a mainstream Centre-Left paper means that the poor old Graun attracts the lowlifes, who scour its articles daily waiting to pounce.

    Is it that the trolls have missed the LRB? Or is it too niche to be worthy of their attention? Or is the blog being so well moderated that we seldom see it?

    Any comment, Thomas?

  • 30 May 2016 at 7:52am
    Bill Cooke says:
    David Aaronovitch, A Guardian regular, called David Miliband 'A vulture' eating 'carrion' for stopping the bombing of Syria* (albeit in the Times)

    Nick Cohen invoked the holocaust and said Miliband could no longer speak of its victims, for the same reason. In the Guardian.

    He called people who supported the Venezuelan government 'pimps'. In The Guardian.

    Day be before yesterday he tweeted ' I have always respected Danny Dorling but this is intellectual cowardice', linked to some vaguely Corbynist thing Dorling had written. No other critique or logic, just the name calling.

    Critics of the Guardian's reporting of the Brazilian Coup - in Guardianspeak a new 'centre right' regime, led by Michel Temer, 'a quiet lawyer [] well placed to take over' are moderated; yet multi-posting disruptors of Brazilian resident critics interesting and clever developing of accounts of what is happening, post freely.

    Ben Goldacre lumps good social science with his fish-oil salesmen, uses derisory ephithets.Saint Monbiot villifies the left in the most macho of terms if they are not green enough for him.

    But all that kind of stuff is ok, right ? Doesn't create an atmosphere where people want to respond in (un)kind ?

    Likewise, it is the Guardian that actually creates the fora where anonymous trolls can dump bile. This nastiness is not the consequence of some inevitable natural phenomenon. It happens because the Guardian designed and continues to operate a system which encourages it. Compare it to Facebook, we all use our real names, and if we make a posting which attracts bile, we can delete that comment. There is still crap, but it is not a problem like that described in this blog. If it is such a problem the Guardian could start by insisting that people post under their right names.

    Perhaps it doesn't because is because its business model (I am guessing) uses numbers of clicks, reads and comments to sell advertizing. Perhaps that is why the Guardian markets itself so hard to the USA where there are more clickers; but as well as attracting Clintonites to the 'worlds leading liberal voice' it attracts Trumpists too who pollute its comments, and Bern-ers, alienated by its Clintonism.

    Likewise, the Guardian could employ as moderators people who are well paid, who get training and debriefs, and who never have to do it as their whole job, but as a small part of their job, and like exam marking at universities, something that everyone from the highest to the lowest has to do.

    Perhaps then, what is happening in this blog - the conflation of hate-trollers with people who feel wholly let down by the Guardian will become apparent.

    And the latter is the reality. The bile and hate of the Cohens and the Aaronovitches is that of a London Blairite elite whose King is dead and whose rightful heir did not succeed.

    I am a Green, so the Labour Party can look after itself. But I am also a Professor of Strategic Management (ho yus mother, it says so on my office door so it must be true).

    On purely business terms the resounding popular success of Corbyn, and that of Sanders in the US, shows where the Guardian's natural readership is politically, and socially as well. The Guardian disses Corbynists continually and, to be honest, nastily. It turns to a clickbait online strategy to counter this willful distancing from its core customers, and exacerbates the problem.

    Simultaneously we have more and better alternatives, online and in print. The Conversation. Bland but serious analysis and factual reporting. The Intercept. Needs wider coverage, bit quirky, but excellent factually. The Wire. Serious comment - well, actually, the LRB is much better (thank you for Perry Anderson on Brazil, for example; but surely the Guardian should be asking why this level of writing is not appearing in their pages ?).

    And, like any other mega-corp, Guardian contracts out the 'dirty work' of clearing the shit to the young and the powerless and the badly paid if they are paid at all.

    The Guardian's writing, and reporting is so so nasty and narcissistic. This making news of below the line bile which the Guardian has created the conditions for, and which it could do something practical (but click-restricting) to stop, is hypocritical.

    For me, the moment the Guardian goes belly up cannot come to soon. It crowds out the growth of new reporting using new media. And it is not very nice.

    • 30 May 2016 at 10:47am
      sol_adelman says: @ Bill Cooke
      Very true. The Guardian now trolls its core readership with unreasoned pro-Blair and Clinton reportage and opinion columns. Much is explained by the fact that the Guardian has been owned since 2008 by a private company, not a 'trust' (The Scott Trust *Ltd*). And the board is stacked with card-carrying members of the same predatory and parasitic financial sector that pays Blair for advice and Clinton for legislation.

    • 30 May 2016 at 12:25pm
      Bill Cooke says: @ Bill Cooke
      Ok, and forgive me for this rejoinder to myself, but someone contacted me about a personal correspondence.

      The other form of internet bullying in which The Guardian takes the lead is what my correspondent calls 'chewtoying'. I don't know if this is in popular usage.

      But, in, for example, the accusation of being a 'pimp' or talking 'bullshit' or even, 'anti-semitic' a signal is sent saying the object of this language is fair game for anything that gets thrown at them.

      Here, you anonyomous internet attack dogs, let me throw you this chewtoy called Miliband.

      And in denying he is really Jewish, or using antisemitic tropes against him, we are signalling 'beat him up for his Jewish characteristics as much as you want, we aren't gonna step in'. Looks funny (looks handsome, to me, looks like a lot of my relations, like me when I was young and thin). Funny voice. Funny nose. Eating a bacon sandwich. Look, a jew, a jew eating a bacon sandwich, and he wants to be prime minister. Its funny, its funny isn't it.

      But alongside the high profile people are those ordinary civilians who get chewtoyed despite having no public profile. The academic who publishes a draft of a paper on a website for works in progress. The kids at the centre of a tragedy accused of homophobic bullying.

      All kinds of utter filth gets thrown at theses people, below the line on The Guardian, and also across other platforms.

      Raise it with The Guardian, as I have, and the response is a shrug of the shoulder. Our comment is free; and the facts are what we believe them to be.

      And let me say this. When I was growing up in Reading in the 1960s and 1970s, antisemitism was low level but rife at the Grammar School. Refusal to share you crisps - 'bloody jew'. Or, 'jewboy' in a germanic nasal accept, stroking big nose, and the whole class doing it when we read that bit from The Great Gatsby. No mention of Israel, but bloody shitty everyday antisemitism. He's a vulture, see. But antisemitic, me ? I am an authority on antisemitism...' Sometimes its not a fucking dogwhistle, its the echo of breaking glass.

    • 30 May 2016 at 3:02pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ Bill Cooke
      Thanks, Bill, you've almost persuaded me to stop my Guardian Kindle sub.

      And even if 'chewtoying' is not in common use, I think it should be, as it perfectly encapsulates what you are describing.

      Your final paragraph also chimes with my growing up in the 60s and 70s, partly in London, partly in Suffolk. At primary school in London, my three best mates were respectively white, orthodox Jew and black (Caribbean), all born Londoners (although in two cases, mum and dad were born abroad). I remember being cornered one playtime by the class bully (a caricature fat kid with bad breath), who challenged me on 'why I hung around with the nigger and the yid'. I said, 'What?', so he punched me in the chest and walked off. I guess I got off lightly. Later, at secondary school it was common to hear 'yid', 'jewboy', 'coon', etc. bandied about, even talking about friends.

      At the time, I was puzzled by the attitude and still am. But that casual racism still seems to be with us. I have lived now in the Netherlands for nearly 30 years. When I came here I assumed, like most people, that the Dutch were among the least prejudiced people you could find, but was soon disabused of that: just because the Dutch have enacted very liberal legislation, it doesn't mean attitudes have changed, or at least not that much. And for all that has improved, the prejudice remains. The liberal legislation is now seen by many people as having been enacted by the 'metropolitan elite' (a favourite straw man) over the heads of 'ordinary people'. And this is all grist to the populist mill.

      Our much-loved (note to trolls: irony alert) Geert Wilders neatly encapsulates the new racism, which is largely against Muslims, of course (he claims not to be racist, as Muslim is not a race: but he is currently in court because of rabble-rousing against Moroccans). He is often helped in this by the fact that some noisier activist Muslims are wont to make extremist anti-Semitic (mostly anti-Israeli) remarks in public, which allows the anti-Muslim faction to give all Muslims a good chewtoying. Mr Wilders is much fêted by certain Jewish factions (he has been a guest of AIPAC in the US and has been a frequent visitor to Israel, but is not notably popular among Jewish Netherlanders), which makes him unusual for a racist, I guess, but then even Marine Le Pen and the FN have tried to move away from the straightforward anti-Semitism of her father's day, anti-Muslim sentiment being much more acceptable these days.

      But scratch a new racist and you find an old racist underneath. We may like to think things have changed a lot in Western Europe, but they haven't really. And look East and you will find the most unreconstructed racism from the Oder-Neisse line all the way to the Urals and further and down into the Balkans. Listen to, say, a Slovak talking about Roma, or a Russian talking about Jews, Tatars, Chechens, whatever (I have, by the way and some of those attitudes come from people I think of as friends, which is painful).

      Or am I too pessimistic?

    • 31 May 2016 at 5:35pm
      Mickstick says: @ Alan Benfield
      No, I don't think you are. It appears that we've abandoned civility, along with any requirement for probity and (some) truthfulness in our politicians. Regard Trump, or Johnson. Still, it's all discourse, and value is a social construct.

    • 31 May 2016 at 5:37pm
      Mickstick says: @ Bill Cooke
      Re your last para: it was as bad at most Grammar schools: then, and in the '60s.

    • 31 May 2016 at 10:59pm
      Adam_Morris says: @ Bill Cooke
      An accurate picture, and a sad one for those of us who can remember when the Guardian used to be a great paper. Their rolling news on the Greek Crisis was their last hurrah.

      The constant, unyielding, unthinking anti-Corbyn stance has persuaded me never to give them a penny – no matter how many begging messages I get from P. Toynbee or P. Monbiot.

    • 1 June 2016 at 12:25am
      James Tapper says: @ Bill Cooke
      To take one of your examples, this is what Aaronovitch actually wrote, at the end of a long piece about Syria: "And in this moment of crisis it became clear — as it does — what Mr Miliband is. A personable man (and he is a very pleasant companion), politically he is not a presence at all, he is an absence. He is Oedipal Ed, the negator of the unpopular actions of the fathers; the anti-Blair, the non-Brown. His technique for victory to is follow behind the leader, wait for a slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping."

      The equivalence with the trolling of women on the Internet is obvious. It certainly is nothing at all like the civilised disagreements of the past, such as the time that Neil Kinnock said of Margaret Thatcher "For the right hon. Lady to protest a dislike of abrasiveness is rather like Count Dracula professing a distaste for blood", or Jonathan Miller, who wrote of her that she was "Loathsome, repulsive in almost every way", or the time that Norman Tebbitt yelled at a Labour MP "Go away and have another heart attack!", not to mention all those respectful characterisations of Kinnock, Foot and Callaghan by the Daily Mail that I can't be bothered to find. No, you're plainly right - Internet misogyny and rape threats are the fault of the Guardian's comments pages and Caroline Criado-Perez should lay the blame for her abuse squarely where it belongs.

      By the way, bravo for making the argument that the LRB, the Conversation and Intercept can replace newspapers. It's like asking why we have secondary schools trying to teach so many pointless subjects when children could be educated at over-priced universities instead.

    • 1 June 2016 at 3:03am
      Paul K says: @ Alan Benfield
      Well, Bill, at the end of your two vituperative posts you are kind enough to suggest that there might be more modern media for us to feed on, but you leave us dangling by not saying exactly which media you mean.
      The Grauniad which you clearly read, but do not seem to agree with, does not fit with your biases. You give examples, some of which I agree with, some not. You are paradoxically, given the article to wehic your comment is attached, allowed to attack this news outlet quite viciously, and it is a focused attack. One wonders why.
      Would you perhaps consider giving us a critical review - you are, after all, a professor of strategic studies - of say, the Daily Telegraph, or the Times, or perhaps even the Spectator or the New Statesman? Where I currently live the "media" are severely hamstrung by less than beneficent newspaper ownership. One has to read between the lines for any "real" news. There seem to be a serious dearth of reporting or even serious comment. There are those like Chris Hedges' TruthDig, or Tom Dispatch, who comment mainly from an American perspective. So, I return to my question, respectful of your status: to which media would you suggest we turn?

    • 1 June 2016 at 9:48am
      Alan Benfield says: @ Adam_Morris
      Agreed. Although they have a very good economics commentator in Aditya Chakrabortty, their coverage of the Greek crisis has been and continues to be very poor, parroting the received economic wisdom without examining the facts.

      Nowhere have I ever seen it pointed out how the original position, which was, certainly, of a profligate state (having entered the Eurozone only because of the machinations of Goldman Sachs, by the way), borrowing money from profligate banks, who should have known better (and in pure capitalism would have been punished for their error by taking losses), suddenly became one of greedy profligate Greeks stealing from the pockets of thrifty German taxpayers, simply because Merkel and Schäuble decided to take over private bank debt by propping up German banks (notably Deutsche) as they didn't want them to go belly-up. The French did similarly, but with less noise about it.

      Thus was what should have been a private matter between a nation state and its lenders escalated into an assault on one nation state by another using EU and Eurozone mechanisms. Disgraceful.

    • 2 June 2016 at 2:05pm
      BobMountain says: @ Alan Benfield
      I have just finished reading NEWSPEAK IN THE 21ST CENTURY by Edwards and Cromwell of Media Lens.

      Their analysis of the history of the corporate media contains a great deal about The Guardian's split personality, and persuades me that my money would be better spent supporting Media Lens than supporting The Guardian (tho it is still the best of mainstream media outlets?).

      It also goes a long way to explaining why Glenn Greenwald went off to do his own thing at The Intercept.

    • 7 June 2016 at 2:56pm
      Bill Cooke says: @ Paul K
      Hi Paul (Paul who ? Paul Kaye ?)

      Well the original article is about the Guardian, and it is by a Guardian writer, that is why I focus on the Guardian, rather than the Daily Telegraph or the Times or the Spectator. Hope this helps with your wondering why.

      Vituperative, vicious - well, perhaps those are your biases, and perhaps you might reconsider given some of the postings that have appeared since above

      But yes I am angry true enough. But, hey I have given my right name, I am 'owning my anger'. Why ? Well, give that reading between the lines another go, I don't think it is too difficult to work out.

      Meanwhile, try keeping up with The Conversation, The Wire, The Intercept for a month or so. At the very least, they are good to read alongside/against (in the sense of counterargument and alternative) The Guardian. And of course, keep up with the LRB. And the FT and the Economist. Neoliberalism writ large, but by and large they do adhere to the 'facts are sacred' ethos, and they don't pretend to be something they aren't. And Private Eye, which with its geographic spread and detail of reporting is, in plain view, turning it into the UK's sole truly 'national' newspaper.

    • 7 June 2016 at 3:31pm
      Bill Cooke says: @ James Tapper
      The AntiDefamation League and numerous scholarly sources identify the depiction of Jews as vultures as typical of virulent anti-semitism. For Jews to scavenge, to eat carrion (a word I did think Aaronovitch used but I was wrong) is for them to be non-kosher.

      So, I beg to differ. When a jewish politician is described in these terms it is not morally equivalent to the other insults you cite, and certainly not Kinnock on Thatcher.

      On this, I follow the late Norman Geras, scourge of racism, anti-semitism, and, uncomfortably for me, ardently pro-Israel. He challenged those who would defend the depiction of Obama as a monkey by saying Bush had been depicted in the same way. The depiction of black people as monkeys is a long racist tradition, part of the racists' intended dehumanization of all black people, which is what was happening to Obama, rather than the simple caricature of Bush.

      Of course, when a leading authority on anti-semitism writes about a leading jewish politician in this way, then I too think it is a matter worth remarking.

      That the Guardian is responsible for internet misogyny ? Well, if we agree that we all know it is out there and particularly repellent, then it has a duty of care to make sure its employees (if indeed they are paid) who are doing the moderation come to no harm from being exposed to it.

      But, more than that, what is it when Nick Cohen accuses defender of the Venezuelan government of being the same as men who force women into sexual slavery and profit from that disgusting coercion ? And, actually, yes, in terms of the chew-toying I was talking about, it has certainly led to women I know feeling they had been exposed to misogynistic hate postings by the actions of the Guardian.

      At least we agree that universities are overpriced. In my case, I think they are simultaneously over-priced and undervalued.

  • 30 May 2016 at 6:31pm
    Eddie Fez says:
    "The vast majority of commenters are men...The patterns are replicated on a much larger scale on social media. Demos released a report this week on the extent of online misogynist abuse. Most women don’t need a report to tell them how much a lot of men hate them: going out in the street tells us that."

    From the linked press release for the report:

    "In this 2016 research, 50 per cent of the propagators were found to be women."

    QED...Bill Cooke's comments above are much nearer the mark. Newspapers have long judged columnists by the size of their postbags

  • 31 May 2016 at 5:31pm
    cato says:
    It might help a bit if posters on Internet forums were required to register real names and addresses. In the days of real newspapers, it was always required that letters to the editors be signed. Anonymity breeds cowardice.

    • 1 June 2016 at 9:30pm
      Martin says: @ cato
      Says Cato.

    • 2 June 2016 at 9:20am
      Alan Benfield says: @ cato
      Well, I post here under my real name...

      ...or do I?

      How will you ever know? :-)

  • 31 May 2016 at 5:52pm
    AnneC says:
    I don't agree that the Guardian comments are all bad. I hang about there in bursts (currently in a phase of trying to refute the worst excesses of the Brexiters) and while there are certainly things that slip through the net, on the whole I think the moderators do a good job. People commenting there can help by reporting comments.

    In the Guardian BTL comments section I have had civilised arguments, learned things, and laughed until I wept at some of the humour (and no I am not a person who enjoys "hearty banter" - I am talking about actual humour).

    I do also wonder though whether the Internet has made people more hateful - it has certainly made it easier for the hateful people, and the conspiracy theorists, to find each other and exist in an echo chamber of their own views. (As we know, you can spend hours on the internet never once be confronted with a view that contradicts yours.) It has certainly made it easier for misogynists and racists to air their invective. I do worry that the internet - which ought, by rights, to have made us all better informed, and more open to the world, etc etc - is actually damaging to democracy. But that is perhaps a bigger issue than the Guardian's BTL comments.

    • 31 May 2016 at 5:57pm
      AnneC says: @ AnneC
      PS My Guardian "commenter name" is gender-neutral, or perhaps gender-concealing. This is deliberate. I simply assume that as a woman, I'll be taken less seriously. I haven't worked out yet whether this is a valid strategy or a capitulation to the patriarchy.

  • 31 May 2016 at 7:26pm
    ohneeigenschaften says:
    One reason the Guardian gets such a large number of very low-level comments (compared to say the New York Times or the FT) may be because you don't need to be a subscriber or at least registered to comment. The absence of this admittedly very low barrier seems to open the floods gates to the "unwashed masses yearning to troll" on a largely free newspaper.
    It's a shame, because it's an excellent paper with an untenable business model.

  • 31 May 2016 at 10:44pm
    mark jones says:
    What Demos' research actually showed was that more misogynist abuse came from women than men (50% women, 40% men), or in figures that there were a total of 450 such tweets a day of which on average 225 came from women, 180 from men and the remainder from organisations etc. Their previous report on the subject showed that 'male public figures are several times more likely than women to receive abuse on Twitter'. Your article, which suggests an overwhelming torrent of male abuse directed at women is actually quite unsupported by Demos' research - which demonstrated the opposite.

    • 1 June 2016 at 8:01am
      kadinsky says: @ mark jones
      Yes, those findings that women deliver more misogynist abuse online than men were very well publicised. I was waiting to see them mentioned in the article above and was left wondering why they weren't.

  • 1 June 2016 at 5:32am
    DSpeight12 says:
    I think it's similar to road rage. Just as you have anonymity on line, you are you have apparent protection when in a car, which encourages you to express thoughts that would be better left unsaid.

  • 1 June 2016 at 7:51am
    outofdate says:
    Actually the Guardian used to have a fairly good comments section where people chatted to each other rather than screaming into the ether, but they redesigned it because staff hated it so much -- the comments were usually better than the articles. Moderators were always bad and are now abysmal. You can call a Tory any name under the sun, but woe betide if you disagree with the Blair-lite party line. They're also badly educated and badly paid, so half the time they have no idea what they're moderating: can't blame them for playing it safe.

    Not long ago the paper had a series of articles just like this one about how awful the general pooblic are and asked, 'How can we create the Internet we want?' I did think that was a bit outside the remit but decided to help by asking them to delete my account (not as easy as you'd think).

    Of course there exists no right to be heard in the have-your-say bin of a free online publication, but my guess is that the people who used to keep the debate at a certain level -- and would probably have taken care in their own way of commenters screaming pointless abuse -- have migrated away, so now it's left with what it deserves.

  • 1 June 2016 at 10:41am
    Gresham says:
    I comment a fair bit in the Times- often contentiously.

    While the readership who comment are largely predictably Tory mostly with a small t. (Im not) .

    Most replies are not very rude and many are very informative.

    The Guardian however is at a distinctly lower level of comment. Poorly argued- emotional and often offensive.

    The Telegraph which used to be very captain Mannering - I can't work out how their comments work now.

    • 1 June 2016 at 1:53pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ Gresham
      ...or as Private Eye has it: Colonel Bufton-Tufton.

    • 1 June 2016 at 2:48pm
      outofdate says: @ Alan Benfield
      On a tangent, whatever happened to Sir Nicholas Bonsor MP? He had exceptional hair.

  • 2 June 2016 at 2:25pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Has anyone noticed the lack of logical connection between the two parts of the threat to Ms. Foster that started off this long set of comments? It’s basically an “if . . . then” construction in which the “then” usually implies some kind of causal relationship to the “if”. But in the case of this very idle threat it could simply mean: “I don’t like you, I hope somebody shoots you.” Yet the way the sentence reads it means that the nut-job who wrote it should be present when the shooting takes place (is he/she referring to itself as “somebody” or just hoping for another nut-job to come along and do the desired shooting?). Most of us don’t expect logical consistency from nut-jobs, and in this case our expectation is fulfilled. “Road-rage” style ventilation on the internet (and sometimes in the letters columns of newspapers) is always seeking a target of convenience or opportunity for expressing a general dissatisfaction with one’s own life without accepting any responsibility for the condition one is in. So, we shouldn’t expect it to make much sense. If it doesn’t in fact make sense, why do publishers/moderators allow it to appear? Is it because it has “expressive value”? Or because current publishers/moderators are insufficiently educated to spot the lack of logic? More likely, I think, is that publishers/moderators think the cheap thrill that goes along with flagrantly abusive language attracts more readers.

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