I challenged the controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and received a torrent of online abuseby Cathy Newman / December 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
Not so long ago I posted an innocuous tweet about the book I’ve just written, and received a reply from a man who said that every time he looked at me he felt he was looking at the devil. Charitably, someone replied: “Should have gone to Specsavers.” It was a reminder of how toxic social media has become, but also how many kind souls are out there, determined to make it a more civilised place.
We have recently had a bit of a reality check about the online world that many of us, however grudgingly, inhabit. At Channel 4 News we reported extensively on the politically-motivated harvesting of millions of Facebook users’ data. We’ve started to get a sense of the scale of manipulation and fakery of news. And some of us have learnt the hard way about co-ordinated abuse of women, in particular, online.
In February the eminent classicist Mary Beard posted a picture of herself online, crying. She’d been mercilessly hounded after a comment she made about Haiti. She tweeted: “I speak from the heart (and of course I may be wrong). But the crap I get in response just isn’t on; really it isn’t.” She was quite right.
Research—most recently from the Law Commission—has shown that while men are targeted (and women sometimes do online “trolling”), the vast majority of the victims of online abuse are women. The Labour MP Jess Phillips revealed earlier this year that she had 600 rape threats in a single night. Ethnic minority women are often singled out. Phillips’s colleague Diane Abbott, for example, received almost half of the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the 2017 general election campaign.
“When you’re being targeted by a campaign, there’s such a torrent of misinformation, the truth gets washed away in the flood”
Sadly, I have personal experience of all this too. At the beginning of the year I challenged the controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson about the gender pay gap, among other things. Afterwards, his army of online followers, many hailing from the alt-right, aimed all the verbal weapons they had at me—from “cunt,” “bitch,” “whore,” to specific threats to come and execute me. My home address was publicised. I was targeted on every single platform, so my teenage daughter saw a…