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Anti-Social Network: Online bullying and me

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Richard Bacon Richard Bacon | 11:34 UK time, Friday, 16 March 2012

Richard Bacon

Two years ago I was innocently Googling my own name (everybody says they don't. They do. It's just human nature).

That was how I came across a website called "Richard Bacon is a ****."

The title gave a subtle hint as to what the author thought of me; I was prepared for abuse. But what I wasn't prepared for was the sheer level of hatred on the site.

As a broadcaster, people hating what you do and hating you is an occupational hazard.

But this fella was fantasising about my death, daydreaming about me dying in a plane crash, and expressing his hope that my body would be mangled in a car wreck.

After a while, he also took to Twitter, under the name - if memory serves - "**** of the Day." As the months went on, he became utterly obsessed. Not content with just repeating how much he hated me on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis, he started posting links full of abuse to my wife, mother and work colleagues.

My new-born son even garnered a few mentions.

And it was this that got me thinking about the cowardly new world of internet abuse.

It turns out that the level of vitriol I was receiving was mild by comparison with what hundreds, probably thousands, of people around the UK were subjected to.

I'm a presenter. I come into people's homes via the radio and the TV. And I understand totally that I wind some people up.

I know that abuse comes with the territory.

Slagging me or my show off, despising my style of presenting - that's fine. After all, that’s freedom of expression.

But when someone becomes intensely personal, and crosses the line between disliking you and publicly fantasising about your death, things change.

But in the course of this programme, I discover first-hand that internet abuse is much, much worse for some people.

Imagine you're the parent of a child who has died in tragic circumstances and you're reading a tribute site dedicated to their lost loved one.

Underneath the comments from friends and acquaintances, you stumble upon graphic, violent and sexual abuse from anonymous people. People who their deceased child never even met.

Reading their awful stories was the moment I began seriously wondering what kind of people would do this sort of thing. Why would they do it? And what did they get out of it?

Beyond that, I also wanted to know where the law and the big social networking companies stood when it came to the issue of mocking dead children.

The answer, as you'll see in this show, is not very reassuring.

In The Anti-Social Network (Monday 19 March, 9pm) I meet victims, psychologists, police, devastated families and ultimately come face to face with two people who I believe are internet trolls.

Before filming began, I thought that this would be a dark, murky, complex and unsettling world.

It turns out it’s even more dark, murky, complex and unsettling than I ever imagined.

The Anti-Social Network is on Monday at 9pm.

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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Usually the best way to deal with personal abuse is to ignore it. Sooner or later the abuser will get bored and move on. Abuse involving loved ones begs a protective reaction. There's evidence that old fashioned chivalry and politeness were the result of the real threat of being challenged to a duel. That went out a century ago hence the disappearance of decorum in public life! It seems some human beings cannot restrain their behavior unless they sense a direct threat and even then may push the envelope to see how far they can go. Humour, ridicule, transparency through naming and shaming and of course hurting the abuser's back pocket would seem to be the best antidotes.

  • Comment number 3.

    Sadly, you have to develop something of a thick skin if you're a celebrity using Social Media. For years those of us who foray into message boards and comment sections live by the rule "don't feed the troll." Don't respond to the rantings of bitter little people, you're the one with a successful life and that is the reason why you've attracted this bile.
    If you do dignify them with a reply all but the most rabid will go quiet, realising that you are a human being rather than a CGI character on the television and feel rather embarrassed that the subject of their ire as actually called them out on their trolling.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm sorry this is clearly harrassment and should be subject to the law and I don't know why it isn't, there's always been bitter, warped and twisted folks and there always will be, they're worthy only of ridicule and their actions say more about themselves than anyone else. Let's expose them and their pathetic lives like Panorama did recently.

  • Comment number 5.

    You & your family certainly shouldn't have gone through that abuse, but that is mild in comparison to what my family have endured in 2010. I was a regular chat room user and I'd come up against someone that had sent takeaway food and the Fire Service to my door. Eventually he was prosecuted, but I and my family shouldn't have been subject to that.

  • Comment number 6.

    there are two types of trolls there are those who play pranks on their friends and the other type of troll is the ones who take the micky out of sick things and are just disrespectful to the person or their family.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    brilliant programme and excellent advise at the end....just ignore and block/report...the sick individuals live off the feedback...i just would not waste my time

  • Comment number 9.

    I would ask noone try to find out who I am, I used to be a kind of part time troll, I wrote about my experience in a blog on tumblr, then stopped using it,, if you want to read someone experience, I'm not asking for any popularity, quite the opposite really

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you for doing this Richard, here is a cyber hug for you and yours. We are victims of high profile crimes and victim advocates who run online victim support services and we have been through so much pain and torment because of these cold cruel net trolls, it became such a problem that we were forced to close down our online accounts and almost had to close our voluntary victims services altogether.

    These net trolls have posted things like we should be raped, tortured and killed, that we should be forced to watch our loved ones suffer the same fate and even threatened to abuse the graves and corpses of our loved ones.

    We reported it, we have thick skins, we try to take it well, we never feed the trolls, we try not to let it break us and we try hard to help our devastated and angry friends and family (who also see this awful stuff) to cope with it - but the truth is, these net trolls are real people, who live in the real world and use the virtual world of the internet to cause very real harm and suffering to real and innocent people.

    It would cost very little to police and block troll activity - we need a better online police presence supported by more robust ISP anti-troll policies. Shy Keenan and Sara Payne MBE

  • Comment number 11.

    My ten year old daughter was recently called a slag and a bitch by a so-called friend on facebook and I am really worried these incidents will increase with her age! I believe in freedom of speech as much as the next person but once these abusive comments have been read, the damage is already done. There has to be a way to stop this new and horribly damaging form of bullying.

  • Comment number 12.

    The trouble is bullying 'does not happen' in a lot of places, playground bullying start now via text , and social networks. Its so easy just to write a quote or glib comment but the peope are real behind the cyber road and not nameless driods. It does not matter where you live whether it be in town or a small village muck spreads all the same and its very easy now to write whatever you like and there be no proper policing of this.

  • Comment number 13.

    This type of behaviour is just an abuse of power. Just the same as any abuse of power. When somebody uses behaviour or language that is designed to unnerve, unsettle or intimidate someone for the purpose of entertainment. The perpetrator is emotionally bankrupt and gets a sinister joy from making others feel terrible. It's not any different to stalking, harrassment, racial abuse, homophobic insults or any derogatory comment made about a disability/ learning difficulty or special needs. The law needs to reflect this. And society needs to agree that this us unacceptable.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thanks Richard I thought that was a really informative and shocking programme. I do think that, whilst these are clearly very serious issues that need to be tackled, you were sometimes too quick to criticise social networks and the government for not doing more to arrest or censor trolls. Freedom of expression on the internet is extremely important, as has been reported in the "Arab Spring", and it is a genuine dilemma, and I believe that people taking action to censor and arrest people for voicing things on the internet need to be cautious and limited with their powers. I also feel that, whilst sometimes necessary, this may not be the best approach in general - the psychology of the trolls, particularly the one who had been arrested and continued doing it, suggests that a non-coercive method may be more effective. I think things such as educating people more about the harms they could be causing, as well as more productive things they could do with their life (You must have to be very sad, as well as perverse, to get pleasure out of the things you showed in your program) could help. Again, it was a very good programme, i just think a mention of these other perspectives would have been useful.

  • Comment number 15.

    I just finished watching on iPlayer. Very interesting although I think RB could have followed through with tracking down his own hater and putting a camera in his(?) face. In most cases, anonymity is the greatest weapon these people have.

    I also have a slight issue with the terminology. Recently, the media seems to be conflating a number of activities and putting them all under the catchy banner of "trolling". I've been on the internet since forever and trolling has always been and still is, in my experience, a legitimate if sometimes irritating activity. Trolling to me is simply being critical of somebody else's opinions expressed in a public space (on the internet). Nobody's opinions are or should be sacred, and those that get irritated by trolls often feel that their opinion or right to express them uncriticized, are [sacred]. Often, trolling is mischievous but never threatening. If you feed the trolls, ie run to defend your precious ideas, then you will likely find only more scoffing criticism. This I think is healthy. If my opinions are not sound, modifying them to withstand a good trolling is a fortifying experience that can reap educational rewards. Many times I have challenged the thoughts of others in online forums and then continued to debate(?) the poster's responses to me, in a fashion that has my opponent(s) given to accuse me of being a troll. In those circumstances I don't mind the label at all. I am interested in the topic, I disagree with somebody else's opinion and their response to me can often expose more flaws in their position (in my opinion). There are boundaries to this type of activity that common "trolls" recognize and do not cross.

    The terms "cyber-bullying", "cyber-stalking" and "haters" have been floating around in the online lexicon for some time now and these I think, more accurately describe the kinds of much more personally directed and sinister activities that were highlighted by the program. Maybe a new word is needed for the tribute/R.I.P. hate spammers?


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