EYEexamine the torrent of twitter misogyny that followed Cathy Newman’s heated interview with the (so called) alt-right’s poster boy. EYEalso notice something curious that two seasoned Channel 4 journalists appear to have completely missed.
Regulars to this blog will know that EYEhave previously examined a number of high profile sexist twitter abuse incidents. So it was intriguing to read about a misogynistic twitter backlash against respected Channel 4 journalist Cathy Newman after her lively interview with self styled ‘fabulous internet super-villain’ Milo Yiannopoulos.
EYEconsidered Cathy’s claim in the usual manner by examining the available open source evidence, primarily direct twitter comments and mentions for @cathynewman over the relevant period, along with comments using the #MiloYiannopoulos hashtag which began trending in the UK soon after the interview was broadcast.
EYEalso examined comments below Channel 4’s You Tube clip of the interview. If you haven’t already watched the exchange you should probably do so before reading further.
Your perception of who (if anyone) came out on top will probably depend on a number of factors, including your personal and political opinion, background knowledge of the issues and quotes discussed, sense of humour and views on journalistic standards of impartiality and accuracy.
Misogynistic: reflecting or exhibiting hatred, dislike, mistrust, or mistreatment of women.
Obviously perception is everything in such matters which is why EYEencourage you to review the links provided above and make your own mind up.
That said, in my humble subjective opinion, EYEdid observe language that many would reasonably consider to show evidence of misogynistic attitudes towards Ms Newman. EYEwould not describe these tweets as a ‘torrent’, especially when considered in the context of the number of tweets either praising the CH4 presenter and / or criticizing Mr Yiannopoulos over the same period.
Torrent: an overwhelming outpouring of (something, typically words).
The vast majority of comments focused on either criticizing or praising the performances and politics of Ms Newman or Mr Yiannopoulos respectively. Interestingly only a very small number of tweeters either criticized or complimented both parties.
EYEwill begin this analysis by considering the large number of positive comments directed towards Ms Newman.
The @cathynewman twitter account received a high volume of tweets in the aftermath of the November 17th interview. The majority were complimentary and supportive in tone however she did also receive a significant amount of criticism.
Establishing evidence of positive or negative comments is obviously not a mutually exclusive matter but it is certainly relevant to confirm that Ms Newman received a large volume of praise and support for her interview.
If the exchange were judged purely on a ratio of positive to negative tweets then Newman would be crowned outright winner by some significant margin.
EYEdid not do a specific count (so am happy to stand corrected) but estimate a ratio of at least four ‘positive’ tweets for every ‘critical’ one. This ratio is slightly lower for tweets with the #MiloYiannopoulos hashtag but again positive comments are clearly in the majority.
Mainstream media coverage was also extremely complimentary…
Ms Newman’s persistent questioning of Mr Yiannopoulos’ widely-criticised views on rape, feminism and race set social media alight with praise for her “outstanding journalism”. Chloe Chaplin Evening Standard
Interestingly comments left on Ch 4’s youtube posting of the interview were largely critical.
Which leads me to…
Newman highlighted one specific example of the misogyny she witnessed, however the offending tweet was subsequently deleted.
In cases of high profile social media ‘abuse’ the recipient will often highlight some of the most offensive or extreme examples so this tweet is significant. EYEtherefore contacted the person responsible who confirmed that they had suggested that the Channel 4 Presenter may have been menstruating during the interview. They also stated that the tweet was clearly intended as a joke and were surprised by what they viewed as a massive overreaction from some twitter users following Ms Newman’s retweet.
Newman also highlighted examples of gendered language used in tweets criticizing her interview. EYEfound at least one example of each of these words, along with (the arguably more overtly gendered words / insults) harpy, harridan, femnazi, bint, rabid men hater and two sexual insinuations.
EYEalso found approximately ten examples of the gendered swear words: cunt, bitch and whore.
Four of which came from one woman.
EYEalso identified a series of approximately twenty memes ridiculing Ms Newman. These were tweeted using the hashtag #cathynewmanmemes and some certainly employ language that many will consider misogynistic or sexist.
The gendered insults or swear words and some of the memes appear to be the most overtly ‘misogynistic’ tweets however Ms Newman also clearly considers the gendered language examples as indicative of criticism tainted by misogynistic attitudes toward women.
Taking the above into account a generous estimate would be around forty to fifty tweets that could be perceived as evidence of either low level or overtly misogynistic attitudes.
It is difficult to determine whether this is the extent of the perceived ‘torrent’ however.
Throughout the interview Newman describes Yiannopoulos’ journalism as ‘extreme’, ‘devise’, ‘ugly’ and ‘offensive’. She is clearly opposed to his politics and it is possible that she considers any support for his political perspective to be indicative of underlying misogynistic beliefs.
To a similar or lesser extent she may also be including personal criticism about her own professionalism and the way she ‘tackled‘ him in in her ultimate tweet tally.
In conclusion then, EYEfound some evidence of misogynistic or sexist language but it is less clear as to whether, or to what extent, Newman has conflated personal criticism or political opinion when concluding that she received an overwhelming outpouring of misogyny.
The Ugly Double Standard
It seems clear that the Ch4 team behind the interview perceive the ‘all round charmer‘ and ‘news blogger’ as the villain of the piece, and fair game in a way that most of their guests are probably not.
Ch4 News’ Head of Communication chose a noticeably unflattering screenshot to promote online footage of the interview, although interestingly she also decided to use gendered language to describe the exchange.
In this Kafkaesque troll war for America’s soul, Yiannopoulos believes that all offense is performed rather than truly felt. “I have never been offended. I don’t know what it means. It’s not that I disagree with it. I don’t understand it. I’ve never had that feeling,” he says. “I don’t let feelings control my life. I’m more disciplined than other people. I have a dark, ADD, Asp-y [Asperger’s syndrome] brain. I’m totally autistic or sociopathic. I guess I’m both.” Bloomberg Interview
Milo has spent a large part of 2016 touring America in a bus emblazoned with the logo ‘Dangerous Faggot’ and is clearly not one to take offence easily, nonetheless it is relevant to observe the level of vitriol directed towards him.
Indeed it is an interesting and valid thought experiment to consider how the media might have reacted if Cathy Newman had encountered the volume and type of reactions directed towards her interview guest.
During the exchange Yiannopoulos identified himself as an openly gay man and it is relevant to note that a significant number of Newman’s supporters projected her gendered language observation back onto her opponent.
Newman may have encountered some choice language but Yiannopoulos was the target of a significantly higher ratio of overtly gendered insults, including: prick, dick head, manbaby, wanker, jumped up scrotum, balding one trick pony and cock womble.
Newman’s supporters directed a significantly higher number of insults at Yiannopoulos in comparison to the language directed at her. Indeed the majority of tweeters using the gendered C*** word used it to insult him, not Newman.
Some criticism traveled into the realm of ‘body shaming’. Ironically the Huffington Post, who have a section of their website dedicated to this issue, took great pleasure in pointing out the number of tweeters who were discussing his apparently receding hairline.
Most disturbingly however was the amount of people who were happy to advocate violence or congratulate Newman on having the self restraint not to reach over the desk and simply start assaulting her subject.
Of course hopefully most or all of these people would say that they are ‘only joking’ or that they don’t mean this literally. But given the way that supposedly tolerant and responsible journalists have reported on some previous ‘twitter abuse’ incidents, it is likely that the reaction would have been very different if those sentiments had been directed at Newman.
Especially when you consider that one of her Ch4 News colleagues even suggested that a kneecapping would be in order…
And a sitting Member of Parliament was amoung the advocates of giving a British journalist a good punching…
Not just any Member of Parliament at that but the sponsor of the proposed Malicious Communications (Social Media) Bill and member of the deeply disingenuous Reclaim the Internet cross party coalition.
“The anonymity and physical detachment allows people to say things to others which they would not dream of saying to someone’s face.
Everyone, including those who work in public life, should be free to use the internet and social media without having to deal with a torrent of abuse or distressing threats. Anna Turley MP
Seemingly all public figures are equal but some are more equal than others…
Post Truth and Kneecappings
Remarkably within days of the interview Milo was stopped from speaking at his old school after an intervention from the Department for Education’s counter-extremism unit.
Even more remarkably, his school claimed that ‘the talk had been cancelled because of safety concerns and threats of demonstrations at the school by organised groups and members of the public’.
In this post fact era of fake news and malicious communications, is it entirely unfair to speculate that someone got wind of the possibility that the Channel 4 News Team might have whipped up a punch happy hate mob hoping to make good on that kneecapping suggestion?