Cyberhate & The Rise of the Trolls

David Baddiel

Thousands of years were required for society to develop the norms that enable us to live relatively peacefully, socially and productively.  Rooted deep within these norms are a sense of our own identity as the key to enforcing our obligation to the social contract; no surprise that a prerequisite to breaking this contract is often covering your face.

Inside all of us though, is that inner deviant – who wants to unleash chaos, collect power and acquire status.  The internet provides a perfect medium for this deviant (our inner ‘troll’) to flourish – giving anonymity and ‘identity loss’ – breaking that social contract and freeing us to test the boundaries of the acceptable.

Whilst trolling has been (rather benignly) described as, ‘the act of posting disruptive or inflammatory posts to lure others into pointless and time-consuming discussions online… characterised by aggression, success and disruption… often for the purposes of personal amusement…’ the act(s) that constitute trolling have real world consequences – from self-harm and suicide, to terrorism, the subversion of democracy and even genocide.

To learn more about the phenomenon of cyberhate and the reality of trolling I spoke to David Baddiel (comedian, author, screenwriter & presenter), Ginger Gorman (journalist and author of Troll Hunting: Inside the world of online hate and its human fallout) and Hussein Kesvani (journalist and author of Follow Me, Akhi: The Online World of British Muslims)

Q: When did you first encounter internet ‘trolls’ and abuse?

[David Baddiel]:  I first heard about Twitter through a journalist friend of mine called India Knight.  She said, ‘it’s fantastic, like a cocktail party where all of your best friends have turned up!’- she was right, it was like that, for about 15 seconds….

It did feel like a lot of people I knew were being really nice and just chatting on this thing… as if Silicon Valley had come up with a digitised, virtual version of a pleasant conversation! It seemed, on the face of it, to be a good idea.

Then, in 2011, I did a short film called ‘The ‘Y’ Word’ with my brother.  It was about anti semitism, and went out on the internet, football grounds and I must have tweeted about it.  All of a sudden, there was incredible hate reaction from this particular thing!  It was disliked by some hardcore Tottenham fans who mistakenly took it as an attack on their club, but the volume of hate then is now automatic and standard on today’s social media.  At the time though, it was extraordinary and I remember Jonathan Ross joining in, defending our show, and he too got a huge amount of abuse in the pile-on.  Again, it’s totally accepted and expected now that if you are piled-on, and someone sticks up for you? They will be piled on too and get targeted.

The other aspect of internet pile-ons that became clear was the fact these people were not interested in discussion, not even, really, argument… just very angry people shouting at each other, and shouting at me…. Calling me a ‘Chelsea C**t* basically…

[Hussein Kesvani]: I noticed trolling because I was a troll when I was a teenager.  I was one of those guys who spent a lot of time on forums at the weekend – trolling people.  Back then, it was more like pranking; sending people a dud-link that would send them to a weird cartoon or porn site.  It was the sort of thing that teenagers did back then.

It wasn’t until 2014/15 that I came across the type of trolling we see today.  For me, it was because I have a Muslim name, and that would solicit anti-Muslim abuse online…. And as my profile has grown, the abuse has become more common. I don’t get the worst of it by any stretch, but I can definitely expect one or two significant pieces of abuse online or via email every month.

Q:  What is the scale of online abuse today?

[David Baddiel]:  There was a gradual shift… I came to expect more and more abuse online… I mean, I’m not someone who will avoid using a platform to express my opinion, so I decided I needed a way of dealing with it.  I looked at these people as hecklers… as a comedian, that’s what you do. You rebound heckling with comedy. I had to think of funny, witty ways to make them look foolish for giving the abuse.  The way I did that (and still do it today) is to retweet or screenshot what they said, however vile, extreme or unpleasant – and think of something to say back which defuses it, disarms them, and makes them look stupid.

I guess this strategy has worked, insofar as a lot of the following I’ve built-up on Twitter is people who say that one of the reasons they’ve followed me is to ‘enjoy the show.’ Will Arnett (who is a brilliant American comic actor) once direct-messaged me out of the blue to say, ‘I really love how you deal with the trolls in this swamp…’ which I was very chuffed about.

I’m actually developing a show right now, which will be touring in 2020.  It’s called Trolls, not the Dolls, it’s partly about the comedy value of dealing with trolls online.

However, this method isn’t available to everyone…. One thing is the fact that I’m a comedian – I’m very used to being heckled, and have learned techniques over the years to do it – and apply the same to the trolls… I never get angry and upset with them – I offer to accept what they’ve said, and come back at them.  I once got a troll who read something about me and tweeted, ‘The only thing I want to read about you is your obituary…’ my comeback, ‘well, at least I’ll get one mate!’ – that accepts his position (that he only wants to read my obituary) and turns it back at him without aggression.  That’s how you have to do it, that’s the basic rule.

The other thing of course is the fact that I’ve been able to build a large following, meaning I have an audience for the comebacks.  There’s no doubt that I quite look forward to it… I still get abuse that makes me think, ‘oh god that’s horrible….’ or receive the anti-Semitic stuff which is extraordinarily bad, but I have to say, if I get the standard ‘you’re shit… you’re unfunny… blah blah blah….’ whether it’s from the right or the left wing…. I will think of it as material and throw it back at them….

Online trolling and abuse is a real problem now. A lot of people who want to express an opinion now are fearful that they’ll get piled-on.  And there’s no real immunity from it: Zadie Smith’s brilliant New Yorker story “Now More Than Ever” is really an expression of her terror of the arbitrary possibility of being judged by a moralistic internet pile-on, of being as they say cancelled, and this is Zadie, a woman of colour, and kind of impeccable progressive credentials, who wrote this.

There’s also of course this huge army of paid trolls (like Putin’s) who can be hard to spot, but definitely there, whipping up hate and confusion just because it’s part of the Russian state process to do that.

Q: Top what extent has trolling become normalised for its recipients?

[Hussein Kesvani]: I’ve always felt the stuff I get online is not that bad, perhaps because I spent my formative years on 4Chan and similar places… so I’ve seen some pretty dark stuff.  A lot of these YouTube guys in their 30s and 40s who still troll everything came from a time where the internet was a place where you could post vulgar and insulting content everywhere.

For a lot of people however, they’ve never had that relationship with technology – they see the internet as a sort-of extended forum of polite discourse, and so this kind of behaviour is extremely shocking for them.

I do agree though, that in recent years receiving abuse online has been normalised to the extent that I expect it and know there’s very little I can do to stop people from saying these things.  As a result, one of the things you do about it is to ignore it.   Sometimes I’ll choose to engage in a way that’s counter-intuitive and a bit humorous… but that’s just because I feel that the trolls don’t really expect you to say anything… and also because I get bored easily!

I commute a long distance, and in that time… where I probably should be reading books… I’m on twitter…

Q: Why does our morality differ online?

[Ginger Gorman]:  There’s a really important phenomena called the online disinhibition effectIt’s the academic way of describing the fact that we don’t behave online in the same way we do in real life.   Right now, I’m sitting opposite you. I see your facial cues, and we (as human beings) have thousands of years of history that teaches us what that means – we smile, we nod, we see micro-gestures and expressions.  The internet has removed that…. I don’t have the same sense of social obligation online to you as I would if I saw you in a supermarket.  On the internet, I’ve had someone tell me: ‘I’m going to cut your uterus out and kill your children…’ – nobody would say that to me directly in a supermarket!

The social contract we have with each other is missing online, and the instant gratification of social media also gamifies it…. It makes it feel unreal, which is a problem because predator trolling, hate speech, violent speech… they all have real world consequences. What I meant by predator trolling is that one or more individuals uses the internet or digital devices to do real-life harm to someone else.

The internet is very new – it’s only been around (in the format we know it) since the mid 1990s, and we haven’t developed social norms for this new world.

We also have to be aware that we all have a troll within us, it’s part of our own psychology.  I’ve certainly been tempted at various points to be far more aggressive online than I would be offline, and I’m sure you have too…. we have to be conscious of that in our dealings with other people and check ourselves. Am I actually behaving in a civilised and respectful way in this online interaction?

Q:  Why do people troll online?

[Ginger Gorman]:  Trolling is a spectrum of behaviours.  At one end, you may see mild-pranks and jokes. Then in the middle we can have aggressive speech that is uncomfortable but not harmful. Predator trolling is at the far end and causes extreme harm. Some types of trolling are useful social and political mechanisms. So I’d never say all trolling is bad. Besides, people shouldn’t be stopped from disagreeing right?

The cohort that piqued my interest are the predator trolls, as I mentioned. They are mostly young white men (not exclusively, but mostly) who are setting out to do real-life harm to people – psychologically and/or physically.   There are of course some women, some LGBTQIA folk and people of colour in the cohort but it’s mostly young white men.

Research shows that trolling is strongly correlated with the dark tetrad of personality traitspsychopathy, Machiavellianism, sadism, and narcissism – but sadism has the strongest link.  What that means is that the trolls want to hurt you and they take pleasure in hurting you.  Pretty much every single one of the young men that I spent time with, admitted to being sadists.  Whether they were left or right leaning, and even those who were not predator trolls (those just pranking media for example) enjoyed upsetting people and causing disruption.

If you are on the receiving end of trolling, it’s important to know the trolls want to hurt you and that they take pleasure from it.  They’re looking for your weakest point and treat it almost as ‘business.’  I’m a woman, my family is Jewish. That’s where trolls attack me. You’re a person of colour…. for someone else, it might be that they’re obese…. Trolls will find your vulnerability and target that.

[Hussein Kesvani]:  At the time I started writing my book, I realised that Islamophobia was going to have to be something I would talk about.  I was trying to find a way not to do it… because I felt it wasn’t something I could say a great deal about… but my publishers were quite insistent about it….. I was sat at my desk thinking about how to have an angle on Islamophobia, initially using data and trying to tie that in to the increase of Islamophobia online… but then I noticed in my other messages was a guy who kept messaging me anti-Muslim stuff.  He’d been sending me stuff 1-2days a week for 3 weeks, and I’d chosen to leave most of it unread… most people send one or two things and then leave, but he’d been pretty consistent, for almost a month.  I accepted his message and said, ‘hey, thanks for your messages… sorry I couldn’t reply sooner… you’ve been sending me these messages for the past 3 weeks, it’s really interesting because I thought you’d move on?…’ – as we were talking, I got really interested in his motivation.  For him it was like, ‘I’m sending you stuff to provoke you, but I genuinely do believe that Islam is an evil religion, and believe you follow an evil death cult…

This aspect fascinated me.  When I was trolling people as a teenager, it was because I was bored and not allowed to go out on Friday night… there was no ulterior motive… I wasn’t trying to convince people of my positions or debate them… I was trying to make people laugh, get upvotes and stuff like that….

For this guy however, he was doing some of that same provocative trolling but also with an additional aspect of sincerity where he truly believed he was doing something important.  That mixture of sincerity and trolling… the blurring of lines between trolling and harassment… that’s what interested me.

Q: It seems the behaviours of online abuse have now just followed-us into the real world?

[David Baddiel]:  It’s interesting and frightening that we see the same behaviours online and offline.  Our online life (for better or worse) constitutes a huge amount of our real life these days and the way that discourse exists online blends into real life.   A concrete example is the election of Donald Trumpa man like Trump would never have been president without social media, and that’s not just because he’s on Twitter a lot… the voice of Donald Trump  – arrogant, stupid, without empathy – is the voice of a troll – and that adds a very large constituency when it comes from social media. People with that kind of voice have found an identity on social media, not just on Twitter, but on Reddit, 4Chan and the many other places where trolls exist.

Some people like to say that none of this matters… that it’s just ranting on a website, nothing to do with the real world. There’s an old-hat idea that ‘it just happens in the bubble of social media’, it’s not as simple as that.  Some things do, some things definitely… people get far too upset about stuff that stuff that perhaps doesn’t have a life outside Twitter, but I think the bleeding of the anger and the polarisation that you see on Twitter into real life is an absolute real thing.

 

Hussein Kesvani

Q: How can we best understand this blurred line between trolling, provocation and harassment?

[Hussein Kesvani]:  There are very few people who troll just for the sake of provocation nowadays.  The dominant kind of trolling now is mixed with a form of sincerity or ideology.  We have a very simplistic understanding of what trolling is… and that means that analysts can dismiss it, ‘oh… these are just people on the internet making jokes, why should they be considered public dangers?’ – it’s a very reductive way of looking at the situation.

The lack of understanding also fuels people on the fringe of society, they can hide under the guise of irony.

Let’s take the Christchurch shooter and their ilk.  Many of them started off on these forums, irony posting… hiding under the guise of, ‘oh… I’m just having a joke, hanging out with my friends online…. We can just say these spicy things from time to time… it’s our right… it’s free speech’ – people really use this cloak to their advantage, and it’s really difficult to detect if their being sincere or not until after the attack and we’re like, ‘oh, that wasn’t a joke, it was a manifesto….

It’s no longer a case of saying, ‘do we need a more nuanced understanding of trolling?’ But rather that we need to realise that trolling has fundamentally changed, and is now inextricably mixed with identity, politics and culture in a way that allows it to translate into material human and political experiences.  The internet trolls no longer exist in a separate world.

Q:  To what extent are trolls radicalised?

[Ginger Gorman]:  When I started researching trolls, I got criticism from some quarters.  I consider myself to be a left-wing feminist, and people said, ‘why would you engage the perpetrators like this? Why give them a platform?’ I went in with radical empathy and chose to listen to them, and really understand why they behaved the way they did. I don’t think you can solve a problem unless you deeply understand what’s causing it.

I had a revelation during the process of meeting these young men…. A lot of them had a similar pattern of being brought-up (or, rather, not having been brought up at all).  They often came from quite low socio-economic circumstances, often from violent and neglectful homes.  They had often been left on the internet from very young ages, often from around 10-15 years old, completely unsupervised.  They were spending their time on the cesspits of the internet: Reddit, 4Chan, Tumblr… they were imbibing white supremacist society, misogyny, anti-LGBT ideas… all types of hate… they were getting radicalised into trolling.

Predator trolls are radicalised in a similar way to how ISIS recruits… it’s almost identical apart from the fact that one group is young white men… The fact that they are young white men has led politicians and law-enforcement to ignore them… and that’s when you get an event like the Christchurch Massacre.

Q: How do trolls choose their topics and targets?

[Ginger Gorman]:  There are extreme left and extreme right trolls, and those through the spectrum but generally these young white men police discourse with themselves at the centre… so anyone that is not a young white man and does not share their belief system is considered the other and gets attacked.

These individuals feel marginalised and left-behind by society and blame anyone who isn’t them.  For example, they hate feminists (particularly white feminists), they attack people of colour, gay people… they feel minorities are threatening their status… and feel their rightful place in society is at the top of the food chain (thus rejecting any idea of other groups having equality).

I commissioned nationally representative polling in from a think-tank called the Australia Institute that showed that 44% of women and 34% of men get attacked online, but do so in different ways… Men get attacked mainly about their political beliefs and ethnicity, whereas Women get attacked more in every other category. Predator trolling against women is more violent, sexual and sustained.

Focusing on misogyny, alt right trolls blame women, particularly white feminists, for losing their status.  Here I am…. A white, Jewish, feminist, journalist (they hate the media too) who is in a mixed marriage. I was their perfect hate match and it’s amazing to me that they trusted me so much and formed such ongoing and sometimes deep relationships with me. I tried to explain to quite a few of them that equality isn’t a pie. If I get a slice of the pie, it doesn’t mean that you get less pie! We can have a fair and equal society without specific groups getting disadvantaged.

People are experiencing marginalisation not because of women and feminism but because of structural problems with society and its economics.

Trolls aren’t who you expect. These individuals are often very bright, extremely well-read, and are having lots of discourse; but they are in these echo-chambers where bigoted ideas are getting reinforced all the time by the likes of Richard B. Spencer and Jordan B. Peterson. You can be very bigoted AND very educated.

Q:  What is the relationship with the media business model and trolling? 

[Ginger Gorman]:  This is complicated and interesting. Trolls hate the media and prank the media all the time. They actually have a phrase for it – media fuckery.  They deliberately play the media because they feel the media are propagandists who regurgitate stuff without checking facts. And you know what, they’re kind of right.  We’ve seen advertising revenue dry up globally, and with 24 hour news cycles and less journalists doing more work, content is becoming shallower… very few journalists are producing stories with real analysis or investigation… and that means newspapers carry more opinion pieces, and specifically… more hateful-opinion which is smashed-up quickly onto websites.

You will often see that an ‘article’ is published about an individual by a commentator, attacking that individual. What that does is gives the predator trolls de facto permission to hunt that person online.  It’s like a trigger for an online pile on. And those pile-ons can get very vicious and real-world.

The media needs to ask itself serious questions about the extent to which they, as journalists, are complicit in creating and propagating predator trolling.

Let me give you one concrete example.  When the massacre occurred at the mosque in Christchurch, the killer released his full manifesto online.  That was media fuckery. It was bait, laid very carefully and intelligently for the media (as well as signalling to the killer’s own cohort).  The Daily Mail published that manifesto in its entirety, they played into his trolling and really, did his bidding. They [the Daily Mail] were bringing people to that white-supremacist ideology without any checks and balances.

If you think about the media’s job to hold power to account, and to analyse and discuss the really crucial issues in society, this was the most critical fail you can imagine.  We need to ask how complicit the Daily Mail and other publications are in these crimes.  In that instance, they really have a case to answer.  How many young men were brought to that really angry, violent, racist ideology because of what they did, and how many other people will now go on to do other violent things?  It’s an abomination.

Ginger Gorman

Q: To what extent is trolling a structural problem?

[Ginger Gorman]:  The mechanisms that exist in the offline world to keep us safe do not exist online – law enforcement doesn’t help you.   Almost universally, law enforcement agencies around the world are out of their depth when it comes to social media and the internet.  We saw this after the Christchurch Massacre, we saw this after the Aztec High School Shooter.  Law enforcers do not have the technical skills or resources to deal with this.

Internet companies also have a duty of care to the public, and at the moment they don’t.  They are completely missing in action.  Internet companies have been whining about fixing cyberhate since about 2006 and nothing has happened.  Events happen, people die, and they say, ‘whoops, sorry! We’ll fix it!’ – they haven’t fixed it and they’re clearly not going to fix it.

Governments need to intervene and legislate a duty of care onto technology and internet companies because they will not do it on their own. And they will not do it because their revenue model is based on these behaviours. If you have a large scale cyberhate event and people pile onto that platform, the company makes more money. It does not suit the revenue model of internet companies to fix trolling.

Facebook has been implicated in the Myanmar genocide, and in the broadcast of the Christchurch Massacre.  What does it take to get these companies to take accountability?

These are giant businesses with the scale and wealth of nation states, they’re practically impossible to call to account.

Imagine being an entrepreneur today creating products like tobacco, where people were clearly dying because of your business.  The government would come down on you like a ton of bricks.  There would be laws, you would be in jail, you’d be in court.  It’s baffling to me why these companies have so much power, don’t pay any tax and are doing people so much harm and no-one is calling them to account. I can’t really understand it.

Germany has brought in a cyberhate law whereby hate speech needs to be taken down within 24 hours, otherwise the platform (e.g. Facebook) is fined 50 million Euros.  The law works, but it’s also culling free speech. The law goes too far but what it does show is that it’s possible to legislate to make social media platforms radically change their behaviour.

Here’s what really bothers me.  How much harm do we have to come to, before we pay attention? I remember speaking to Facebook while I was writing my book and pointing out the fact that Facebook Live did not have adequate safety mechanisms in place and that people were getting murdered and raped on platforms like this…. I asked why they released a product that’s not safe? They said, ‘no, it’s safe…’. We’ve just seen what happened in Christchurch – 50 people died and the massacre was streamed live on Facebook.

Make social media companies accountable to the public. It’s an emergency.

Q: How should we respond to trolls?

[Ginger Gorman]:  People always ask me what they can do, and I always give victims of cyberhate the same advice. We need to need to be very wary of expecting victims to solve this problem. They are targets. Imagine telling a domestic violence victim, ‘you are responsible for what happened to you, and you now have to change your behaviour…

The United Nations has recognised internet access as a human right; we all need to be online for work, for social reasons, for access to information – it’s nonsense for us to expect individuals to be held responsible for being victims of cyberhate.  Cyberhate and predator trolling are linked to real world murder, terrorism, stalking, domestic violence and more; you cannot expect victims to be held responsible!

As bystanders, if you see someone getting bullied online you can amplify their voice.  If I saw you being attacked online, I would tell my followers to amplify your voice by retweeting you and making your voice bigger.  It’s about giving people a cohort to support them – the trolls don’t like that… they like it when you’re weak, alone and vulnerable.

I stole this technique from women in the Obama administration. Many of women on the team experienced the phenomenon of old white men wanting to interrupt them and talk over them all the time.  They would back each other by stopping other people talking over them and saying, ‘wait a minute John, I just want to hear the rest of what Susan is saying….’ And they would repeat her message once she’d finished – ‘Susan it’s an interesting point you made that [paraphrase what she said]’ – effectively making her voice bigger.

When we see people being attacked online, we can also use corrective speech.  People say don’t feed the trolls, but unless your mental health is suffering and you need to step away, it’s important not to be silenced.  I don’t want to be silenced as a woman, I don’t want other women to be silenced, I don’t want anyone to be silenced.

However, when you talk back to trolls, it’s absolutely crucial to stay calm and be polite. Correct factual mistakes in what they are saying but never, ever use aggression. I’m also all about enforcing offline social norms. So, I might say: “Hi Peter. Lisa is a hardworking and lovely person. Would you say that to her in real life?” And usually that shuts them up – especially if quite a few bystanders do it.

[Hussein Kesvani]: When I was a teenager hanging around in forums, the thing that defined forum culture was this golden age of internet speech tempered by human moderators (who were assigned or elected) – they enforced guidelines for conversations!  These forums had very strict guidelines- you weren’t to harass fellow members, you weren’t to ‘dox’ fellow members, you can talk about vice, porn, drugs, whatever… but your relationship with other members was set by the same (or similar) guidelines to conversations in the real world, with mutual respect and mutual understanding, and with the view that everyone has the right to be on the page.

Human moderators also had a greater understanding of the nuances of coded language, and so could better understand what was going on.  Today, I feel we’re in a situation where people want to avoid having any legal ramifications or cost to allowing this kind of speech.  People outsource their comments and discussion to platforms that are not publishers and so are not liable for the harassment, racism, and sexism that may appear on their threads…. It’s become like advertising…

You then have platforms like Twitter and Facebook who largely use algorithms to figure out if someone has been in violation or not.  Yes, Facebook is starting to enrol human moderators – but many of them are not acting like forum moderators, they’re based out in India and elsewhere… working in sweatshop conditions…. They (themselves) are often traumatised by the content they’re seeing.  Just think about it… they’re trying to moderate the largest social network in the world!

Technology aside, we need to involve humans and human understanding rather than outsourcing our accountability to AI.  The codes people use to signal to their followers, the tropes, the memes, the subtle language…. These are things which we as humans can see, but machines will find it difficult to.

My worry is that social media platforms don’t seem to have the willingness to act, and politicians don’t seem to have the will to enforce.   For them (the politicians) everything can be resolved by the public…. And public understanding..

Social networks have two fundamental choices.  They need to either involve more human moderators, or provide places of safety and privacy- doing away with the principle that there should be one big open space with lots of open conversations that anyone can get involved with.  They need to realise that people need privacy, safety… The challenge being that even by providing safe spaces, you run the risk of extreme activity taking place behind those locked doors.

Q:  What can we do to curb social media abuse?

[David Baddiel]:  The platforms have a very ambiguous attitude towards hate and lies online.  They come from the position that, ‘everything that can be put on the internet should be put on the internet…

If someone had come to you or me 20 years ago and said, ‘there’s going to be this technology which is going to allow everybody to share everything… and see into each other’s lives….’ we would have said, ‘oh wow! That’s amazing!’ we would have assumed it would increase the sum total of truth in the world… but it’s done the opposite… it’s increased the sum of lies, because people don’t tell the truth – they tell their truth, curated truths, and the sum of propaganda-esque truth.

Platforms don’t like taking people or content off, partly because they have a financial model based on having as many people, and as much content, as possible – but also because they simply not have the technology to do it.

There is a quote used by anti-Semites, mistakenly attributed to Voltaire which goes, “To know who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise,” it has been shown on twitter before with the image of a hand, with a Star of David, crushing people… it’s become a code for the anti-Semites online, and now they often use the quote without an image… and it’s obviously very difficult for an algorithm to spot that.

You will often see the automated bots and trolls (Putin’s trolls) jumping into conversations about anti-Semitism – And I’ve often found it puzzling… why would they do that? Well, one reason is that Putin himself may be an anti-Semite, but the other is that the trolls are wanting to ferment discontent in general, and the way they do that is to perpetuate the myth that Jews represent an elite who are repressing society.  Anti-Semitism is a very noisy thing online, a lot of people are attracted to talking about it- whether it’s those who are perpetuating it, or fighting it…  To give you one example…. There was one very anti-Semitic account, over a year or two, it got 12-13,000 followers and all of a sudden, the month before Brexit, it started tweeting about Brexit.  There are so many accounts like this which seem to automatically jump into the conversation around buzzwords and try to manipulate that conversation towards a political purpose – it’s unbelievably frightening and devious.

It’s also important to realise that it’s not just about trolls who are angry and give abuse, it’s about mob-mentality, about moralistic pile-ons…. People who go on Twitter and say, ‘oh f*ck off, i hate you’ are much less important than those who think they are on the side of right and truth. Everything terrible in this world has been done by people who think they are on the side of angels. This is why I believe The Mitchell And Webb sketch where a Nazi says “Are we the baddies?” is one of the wisest things ever written…


View Interviewee Biographies

An accomplished comedian, author, screenwriter and television presenter, David Baddiel returned to stand-up comedy in 2013 with his critically acclaimed show, Fame: Not The Musical. In Spring 2016 David premiered his latest show, My Family: Not the Sitcom,at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory. Opening to a wealth of glowing reviews, the show has been described as “a rare production that boasts side-splitting laughs and also moves people to tears” (Evening Standard), universally joyful” (Chortle) and “compelling to watch both for its unvarnished truth and complicated affection” (The Guardian). A huge hit, the show transferred to London’s West End where it ran for five weeks at the Vaudeville Theatre and ten weeks at the Playhouse Theatre, was nominated for an Olivier Award, and toured nationally throughout 2018.

In June 2016 David Baddiel’s first children’s novel, The Parent Agency won the LOLLIE award for ‘best laugh out loud book for 9-13 year olds’ and is currently developed into a feature film by Fox 2000, written and produced by David himself, alongside Academy Award and BAFTA winning producer Ruth Kenley-LettsDavid subsequently published further children’s novels with The Person Controller, AniMalcolm,Birthday Boy and Head Kid, and has previously written four critically-acclaimed adult novels; The Death of Eli Gold, Time For Bed, Whatever Love Means and The Secret Purposes. David also wrote the hit comedy film The Infidel which starred Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Matt Lucas and Miranda Hart and received a glut of four star reviews hailing it “the Summer’s funniest film” (Andrew O’Hagan, The Evening Standard). It has since been adapted into a musical, also written and directed by David, with music by Erran Baron Cohen, which ran at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in late 2014.

Baddiel created and presented – with Frank Skinner – Fantasy Football and Baddiel & Skinner Unplanned, attaining three number one hits alongside The Lightning Seeds with the football anthem Three Lions. In 1992, he performed to 12,500 people with Rob Newman at the Wembley arena, in the UK’s first ever arena comedy show and was credited as turning comedy into “The New Rock’n’Roll”. This followed the hit TV shows The Mary Whitehouse Experience (BBC2) and Newman and Baddiel in Pieces (BBC2). In 2010 David reunited with Frank Skinner to exclusively present a series of shows from the World Cup in South Africa for Absolute Radio, (which attracted over 3 million downloads). His travel documentary for Discovery entitled David Baddiel On The Silk Road, aired in Spring 2016 and in 2017, Channel 4 also aired The Trouble with Dad, a one-off documentary following David and his older brother Ivor as they care for their father Colin and his experiences with Pick’s Disease, a rare form of dementia, which is also one of the central themes of My Family: Not the Sitcom.

In 2004 David created BBC Radio 4 show Heresy which sees a team of three highly opinionated guests use their wit, wisdom and verbal dexterity to argue against popular prejudice and overthrow received opinion. In 2014 he created and hosted a new radio 4 late panel show, Don’t Make Me Laugh which ran for two series and in 2015 he created and fronted David Baddiel Tries to Understand… for Radio 4 which is now in it’s fourth series.

In 2010, David made his directorial debut with The Norris McWhirter Chronicles, a film for Sky 1 which he also wrote, with appearances from Alistair Mcgowan, Lee Mack, John Thomson (The Fast Show, Cold Feet) and Frank Skinner.

Ginger Gorman is an award-winning social-justice journalist based in Canberra, Australia. In 2013, Ginger and her family suffered the effects of online hate first-hand, and it was this experience that set Ginger on her professional journey into the world of trolls. In 2017 her series of articles on trolling for Fairfax newspapers in Australia went viral, and became some of the most read Australian stories of the year. She is now in demand as an expert on online hate, and has written and spoken extensively about trolling and social media self-defence in Australian and global contexts. Her first book, Troll Hunting, is published in February 2019.

Hussein Kesvani is a journalist, editor and producer based in London. He is the Europe editor of MEL Magazine, and has written for BuzzFeed, ViceThe Guardian, the New Statesmanand The Spectator, among others.

His 2019 book, Follow Me, Akhi’ has been described as ‘A rich exploration of the unexpected online worlds of British Muslims.’ – Entering a world of memes and influencers, Muslim dating apps, and alt-right Islamophobes, Hussein Kesvani reveals how a new generation of young Muslims who have grown up with the internet are using social media to determine their religious identity on their own terms—something that could change the course of ‘British Islam’ forever



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