EYEuse open source journalist techniques to examine comedian Kate Smurthwaite’s experience of ‘online abuse’ after participating in a BBC 1 debate about sexism.
The comedian Kate Smurthwaite received 2,000 abusive tweets for objecting when a men’s rights activist called her “darling” in a TV debate. Some called her “bitch”, “slut”, “harpy”; some were explicit threats of violence and rape. Yvette Cooper MP
This is the third in a series of articles attempting to evaluate the legitimacy of claims about online abuse using open source journalism techniques.
On the one hand this analysis proved to be the least interesting and most predictable of the three. On the other it could be argued that it’s possibly the most remarkable, given that Yvette Cooper MP managed to successfully convince the BBC’s flagship news team on the Today Programme that Smurthwaite’s tale was an appropriate case study to introduce a campaign against online abuse and misogyny.
Immediate evidence that Cooper may not have entirely done her homework can be seen at exactly 9 minutes 50 seconds into the televised debate that ‘triggered’ the incident.
It may seem like a trivial point in the grand scheme of things but the ‘men’s rights activist that called her “darling” in a TV debate‘ isn’t a men’s rights activist and he didn’t call her darling.
More importantly, based on Smurthwaite’s twitter timeline there is very little evidence of the 2,000 abusive tweets Copper is convinced she received.
Again, it may seem like a trivial point but Smurthwaite’s own account of the matter stops slightly shorter at a very exact 1,700 abusive tweets.
And even that number is extremely difficult to substantiate if your inspect the feed…
One of the people who took the time to complete this relatively straightforward exercise was the
men’s right’s activist Senior Editor at the Brietbart News Network who incurred Smurthwaite’s wrath so completely by not having complete patience with her complete intransigence and ability to take offence at the most flippant of comments.
This after Smurthwaite accused Yiannopolous of being responsible for a large amount of the ‘abuse’ she was receiving.
Smurthwaite discussed her twitter abuse experience at some length in an article for the New Internationalist. In it she claimed to have compiled a document of abusive comments so large that printing it would require a new printer cartridge.
Among the messages are of course a fair few that wish me dead or raped. They call me ‘bitch’ and ‘retarded’ and ‘harpy’ and ‘asshole’. Kate Smurthwaite
After reviewing her feed EYEdid find plenty of evidence of both critical and supportive comments but, with one exception, was unable to find evidence to substantiate her specific claims about abusive comments.
The exception being the tweet Smurtwaite highlighted in her own article where the user expressed a desire to see her come to terms with ‘an oxygen free environment‘. Which I guess counts as wishing her dead.
In addition she highlighted a tweet from Yiannopoulos and the unflattering response it received:
The most offensive use of language and name calling I could find was also highlighted in her article:
For the third time, it may seem like a trivial point to make but Smurthwaite actually sourced this example from the You Tube comments section for a video of her set at the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s (CEMB) 6th anniversary lunch in 2013.
So in the interest of fairness this prompted me to also take a look at the comments under the the clip of BBC Big Questions debate which provoked the backlash. It’s been watched over 300,000 times and there are a significant number of comments, enough in fact to probably get close to that 1,700 number when added to the ‘tweets’ on Kate’s twitter feed for the relevant period.
Which is not to say that the very vast majority of them could reasonably be considered to be abusive.
What is fair to note is that this data set does include a significantly higher number of comments with gendered swear words, including the C word and several instances where the words bitch or bitches were used.
It is possible that EYEmay have missed them but again no examples of the words ‘retarded’ and ‘harpy’ or ‘asshole’ were found, nor did I find anyone wishing rape or death upon her.
Harpy: a grasping, unpleasant woman.
In addition most of the comments using the identified gendered expletives were directed at all feminist participants in the debate and EYEwas only able to find one such comment that was specifically directed at Smurthwaite.
Again this distinction may seem trivial so I have accepted that all you tube comments using gendered swear words aimed ‘collectively’ might reasonably be included in the total number of the ‘abusive tweets received.’
Combined with the identified tweets, two additional comments EYEidentified and include below (and the C word comment circa 2013), I estimate the most apparent examples of ‘abusive tweets’ to be less than 15. This is based on a reasonably generous interpretation and accept that not everyone will agree that all of the comments can reasonably be considered to be abusive.
Context and Criticism
As already stated there was plenty of evidence of critical comments in Smurthwaites twitter feed. If you’re wondering what led to this criticism then before reading a selection of this criticism which I have included at the end of this article, I suggest you watch her contribution to the BBC’s Big Questions discussion on the subject ‘has Britain become hostile to Blokes?’.
Cash for Questions
Kate Smurthwaite defines herself as a left-wing, feminist, atheist comedian and activist. According to her wikipedia page she broke onto the scene as a finalist in the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year 2008 competition and one of her most high profile acts of activism has involved protesting at the funeral of the bohemian artist and writer Sebastian Horsley because he was famous for employing the service of prostitutes.
At the risk of warranting an addition to her already bulging abuse file, my main observation about Smurthwaite is that if a talented female comedy actor in the vein of Sacha Barren Cohen is ever seeking inspiration for a character based on the worst excesses and contradictions of radical feminism then Kate might be an obvious place to start.
She started out blazing a trail for every self respecting fourth wave feminist with an Oxbridge degree in a STEM subject and a promising career in investment banking only to gave it all up for comedy.
If you want to judge one of Kate’s comedy sets there are a few on you tube. The most diplomatic thing EYEcan say about it is that it’s not for me.
Famously Kate has struggled to give tickets away for her stand up set to Goldsmith’s feminist society two years in a row. This is possibly one reason why for quite some time now she’s been supplementing her earning power as a comedian by appearing as an opinion for hire on various subjects including atheism, abortion, feminism, freedom of speech and (more recently) online harassment.
And whatever you think of Kate’s right to have the opportunity to raise her personal profile by voicing her political opinions there is evidence to show that she’s not always an especially ‘expert witness’ when it comes to representing feminists. By way of example check out her cringe inducing interview on BBC radio where not only does she insist that the glass cliff phenomenon is actually called ‘the glass waterfall’ but then cry’s sexism when a male equality champion dares to correct her basic error.
Interestingly the former investment banker did share one particularly personal perspective about online abuse in her essay for the New Internationalist. Specifically she voiced her concern that all the criticism being posted about her performances on various BBC current affairs programmes might hit her bottom line when it comes to getting bookings as a comedian.
More problematic are the hundreds of messages disparaging my work. Quite understandably in the 21st century, the first thing a comedy promoter does when recommended an act is bang their name into Google. There’s no way of distinguishing between a punter who has seen my show and not enjoyed it and a troll scrambling for new ways to ruin my afternoon. So my career is undoubtedly being detrimentally affected. Nasty comments have also appeared under basically every video of me online. Kate Smuthwaite
Which might be fair enough if she’d stuck to the comedy but under the circumstances her claims of misrepresentation seem a tad (ahem) problematic…
Life’s too short to conduct a full audit but here are examples of top comments under three of her ‘comedy’ videos….
Why does this matter?
The reason why EYEhas taken the time to conduct this analysis is that Smurfwaite’s claims have been presented as one of the most prominent examples of ‘internet abuse’ by Yvette Cooper’s Reclaim the Internet campaign which is calling for new laws to address online abuse.
Online bullying, stalking and sexism is clearly a genuine issue to be addressed but many argue that there are already laws in place to address such genuinely illegal behaviour.
EYEis not an expert on such matters but even if a review of existing legislation would help to protect vulnerable children and adults online, exaggerating the extent of the problem certainly doesn’t help.
The fact that someone who recently stood as a candidate to lead the Labour Party is prepared to accept such dramatic claims so easily either says something about her own judgement or possible political bias and intent.
Sadly ‘political correctness’ can weaponized in an effort to impose a political agenda on others by shutting down dissent or debate. The examples championed by Cooper most obviously show evidence of undermining legitimate criticism of radical feminist ideologies but no doubt there are other opportunities for dissent or debate that Big
Brother Sister Government would be happy to shut down given half a chance.
Her solution would be to set up a special police unit and give them specialist training in two areas, firstly training on how to track down trolls and pressure internet providers to take action. Crucially the second thing they need is ‘some really careful training about when to act and when not to act‘.
In my humble subjective opinion, the most frightening thing about Kate’s experience of ‘online abuse’ is the fact that she has been allowed into schools to talk about it.
She strikes me as someone who is so obsessed and dissatisfied with her own circumstances that she feels it is entirely acceptable to trample over the basic rights of others to achieve her own sense of justice. God help us all if people like her are are allowed to determine who’s door the police should or shouldn’t be knocking on.
When she was invited back on to the BBC to talk about her abuse experience she called for one man in particular to be ‘locked up’ for his dangerous views and abusive behaviour.
Once again this man was journalist and co-debater Milo Yiannopolus who she went on to accuse him of being largely responsible for the ‘165 pages of twitter abuse, including about twenty rape and death threats‘. Not just by retweeting some of them and egging on his followers but also by sending her abusive comments himself.
Despite various prompts from the presenter she couldn’t even pronounce his name correctly but was happy to support the entirely random and baseless allegation that he had called for someone’s assassination on twitter and then accused him of being ‘absolutely outrageous’ for suggesting that social media reveals women’s hatred of men when only seconds later she had said a remarkable similar thing, albeit with the gender’s reversed.
Whatever you think of Milo, his comparatively polite assessment of Smuthwaite strikes me as entirely on the money.
Which is that she is a professional provocateur who turns round and plays the victim when she gets criticized for saying outrageous things….