As part of BBC Three’s One Click Away season, beauty vlogger Em Ford, who was a victim of online abuse and fought back, targets the alarming rise of online abuse in Britain in her first ever TV documentary, Troll Hunters.
As someone who spends pretty much all of my time on the internet, and in particular social media (both for my day job, and for this blog) I’ve seen the good and the bad sides. When the internet is nice, it’s great, when it’s not, the internet is a very dark and nasty place to be.
Unfortunately, for those who live their lives out on social media, such as the bloggers, vloggers and celebrities of the world, they know only too well that trolls exist. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘troll’, it’s basically a label that has been given to people who go out of their way to upset other people on the internet, primarily across all social media.
In July 2015, beauty vlogger Em Ford, known online as My Pale Skin, released a video on YouTube called YOU LOOK DISGUSTING, which shows some of the comments she received online after posting images of her face with and without make-up.
The video has now been viewed over 18 million times and as a result Em has been given her own BBC Three documentary, Troll Hunters, which sees her target the alarming rise of online abuse in Britain, by trying to track down the trolls responsible. In true vlogger fashion, earlier this month Em took to her YouTube channel to announce the news.
With the help of technology journalist David McClelland, Em goes on a mission to put a face to these anonymous bullies and confront them with their victims. At the start of the documentary, Em tells David that she’d like to meet a troll, “to get a better understanding of why people think it’s OK to act this way online”. It’s through meeting victims of online trolling, that Em is able to meet trolls and get to the bottom of why they act the way they do.
The first person she meets, is 20 year-old model Neelam Gill, who was the first Indian model to be cast in a campaign for Burberry. Neelam first started receiving racist comments online two years ago when she entered the modelling world. Sadly this hasn’t died down and now that she’s in the public eye more, the comments just continue to grow and grow.
What was tough to hear, was Neelam talking about these comments make her feel very paranoid, asking “What if people outside think that of me?” going on to say that the comments make her not want to leave the flat, go food shopping or for anyone to see her because she “gets scared”.
One of her biggest trolls on Twitter is @DavidClarke00, who has tweeted Neelam calling her “an ugly, annoying, curry slapper” and uses a barage of racist language, too vile for me to repeat on here.
Referring to him as a “keyboard warrior”, Neelam tells Em that if she were to come face-to-face with him, or someone like him, she would want to know why. “Is it because they’re insecure as a person? Is it because they don’t have a job? Is it because they really dislike me? And if it is, I want to know what they dislike."
Em also visits Neelam’s family to see how these comments affect them, and how they are victims of online trolls too, especially when posting photos with Neelam. Thought the course of Troll Hunters, David McClelland attempts to track down @DavidClarke00... But does he manage to? You’ll have to watch to find out.
She also meets with author and former politician, Louise Mensch, who has a long history with social media. During the London riots in 2011 she called for Facebook and Twitter to be shut down, and in 2012 a man was given a suspended six-month sentence for sending an email to Mensch, which threatened to kill one of her children if she didn’t stop using Twitter.
In a clip from BBC News, which is shown in the documentary, Louise says she “can’t count the number of times” she’s been “threatened with rape on Twitter”, a true shocking statement, and one which is difficult to take in.
Over the course of the documentary, Em together with the help of David McClelland, try and track down one particular Twitter user, who calls Louise a “feminazi”, “lesbian evil tory scum” and regularly sends her pornographic images.
When asked what she would say to him if they were able to track him down, she said “I’d ask him if he had any women in his life, if he’d be ashamed if his employer knew what he was sending to women online. Would he sit down at the dinner table and show his wife, his daughter, his sister and when asked what he did today say - Oh, I sent some obscene seventies porn to a woman in the public sphere on Twittter? Will Louise come face-to-face with one of her biggest trolls? Again, you’ll have to watch to find out!
One of the stats to come from the documentary is that over a third of teenagers have experienced harassment online.
The most heartbreaking story in Troll Hunters, and the one which I must admit brought a tear to my eye, was that of Izzy Dix. At just 14 years old, Devon schoolgirl Izzy Dix, tragically decided to take her own life after suffering the abuse of trolls online as well as bullies at school. These trolls would tell Izzy to “go and die” and that “nobody wanted her”. Sadly, she took notice of them.
In the documentary, Em goes to visit her mum, Gabbi Dix in her new home in Bath, having moved out of Devon when Izzy died. Together they look at a scrapbook she has kept of her daughter, a video of her daughter on her phone and Gabbi talks openly about her daughters relationship with social media and what happened the day her daughter died.
Following Izzy’s death, the trolling continued on her Facebook page and on the page for The Izzy Dix Anti Bullying Memorial Group, with people leaving nasty comments such as “Izzy Dix isn’t breathing anymore, hahahaha!”.
My only criticism of the documentary is that it gave airtime to Milo Yiannopoulos, someone I like to think of as a “professional troll”, a phrase I also use for Katie Hopkins. Under the guise of “Free speech advocate”, Milo's usual target for his vitriol are women, in particular feminists.
Troll Hunters sees Em meet with Milo, who tells her that victims of online trolls should “toughen up” and refers to those comments as “tough criticism” and says that anyone who is threatened with rape or death over the internet should report it to the police and “get on with their life”.
His advice to anyone suffering from online abuse is to switch their phones or their computers off and to “stop tweeting every five minutes”. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Milo makes the shocking statement that "people get the comments they deserve”. Luckily Em was smart enough, and clever enough, not to agree with him.
These days online trolling is rarely out of the news, this weekend for example, The Sun have run a story about Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Lawson, calling the police over a racist comment someone left on her Instagram page which also threatened to assassinate her daughter.
As with many BBC Three documentaries, Troll Hunters is a must-watch for people of all ages, as it offers a fascinating insight into online trolls - who they are, why they do they do and how they really make people feel. If anything, I hope this documentary can stop even just one troll from doing what they’re doing online.