Catching Up 1: Babies and Trolls

As the term is now well and truly underway, it’s perhaps worth considering some of the issues and debates that have been on the news agenda recently. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll attempt to catch up on one or two of the main issues that have been talking points in the media over the summer so expect some thoughts on royal babies, threats to democracy, on-line misogyny and twerking (occasionally both at the same time) – and then… the new season awaits: the release of GTA5, the end of Breaking Bad and Dexter and the start of American Horror Story all to come… amongst other things I am sure.


July: Thanks of course then to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for producing a media event (a baby) at the start of the press silly season. Cornflower blue dresses, debates over names and post-birth bellies/’weight loss’ dominated the press and tabloid media for a couple of weeks and the BBC (and other broadcasters, to be fair) proved yet again that someone somewhere seems to think that the audience will be informed, educated and entertained by staring at some closed doors for an age as long as the reward of a royal family group walking to a car is provided sooner or later.


Reading the news media on a regular basis throws up some popular themes and preoccupations. The ‘internet‘  takes a bashing on a regular basis this summer saw trolling, misogyny and threats of both sexual and non-sexual violence making their way to the news agenda.

August: There were several cases of high profile females receiving abuse and threats leading to the disturbing conclusion that some people really don’t like women holding opinions, being successful or having political and/or cultural power. Some of the attacks  led to debates about service providers’ responsibilities in dealing with abusive and (at times) criminal acts. The gendered nature of the reported events is complex and raises some interesting questions:

  • is internet abuse against males treated as less of a problem?
  • does focusing on this abuse represent women as victims and add to the perception of them as weak, vulnerable and in need of protection?
  • has the misogyny seen online uncovered underlying issues within our culture than would not have as loud a voice without social media?
  • have the attitudes seen online been subject to ‘amplification’ through their replication and escalation via social media?

I don’t have the answers to these questions but I do know that:

  • the BBC have said that getting female experts to add their voices to news and media debates can be difficult with some citing the potential for on-line abuse as a reason not to join discussions
  • women who go public with opinions based on gender politics are likely to receive vitriolic and often crazily violent responses on-line
  • it is not uncommon for women in the public eye to be judged on their appearance regardless of the reason for their public presence
  • to protest Twitter abuse some people decided to boycott the service for 24 hours

One thing is clear then – internet abuse, bullying and trolling shuts down debate, discussion and communication. Trolling seeks to shut people (often, but not always, women) up. This is exactly what the abusers want as they fear debate and discussion and yet hide behind the concept of freedom of speech to defend their ‘right’ to behave this way. Hopefully the media’s focus on the issue and Twitter’s response will help tackle some of the excesses of this type of ignorant abuse.


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