Her hair is full of secrets: why I’m now pro-comments and anti the Mean Girls media


There are quite a few jobs that aren’t suitable for someone who still feels the effects of childhood bullying. Become a diplomat and you’re likely to end up fighting in the War Room by the end of day one. Take a job as a traffic warden and all your passive aggressive tendencies will ensure your pen will be out of ink by mid-morning. Similarly, dentistry is too much of an opportunity to indulge revenge fantasies.

Still, I chose one of the worst jobs of all if you’re still bruised from school: writing for a living…on the internet. Now you might think this is going to slip slide into one of the oh-so-common media whines about trolls, trolling and all that yawnsome stuff that kept us going through the slow period this summer. It’s not.

People who send me emails with elaborate fantasies about how they want to disembowel me are generally in need of a new hobby. I recommend Sim City. Similarly people who criticise me in the Telegraph comments section are, often, in possession of good points. There’s a prevalent opinion among journalists that we should just ignore BTL – below the line – and take a high-handed view that we are literally above it. I don’t think that. I did for a time. I even wrote a long post for Telegraph Blogs condemning comments as the “radioactive waste” of the web.

My view has changed. I still think we have a problem with abuse online and that too often people write horrendous things that they would not stand behind in person. I still believe there’s a huge problem with misogyny and all kinds of other hatred. But I’ve started to really value comments. I don’t want to live in a bubble of opinions that make me feel good about myself. I want to be challenged.

The beauty of the internet is that you can write something and put it out to a massive audience. Sometimes it will like what you say and toss treats in your direction through the entirely money-free means of retweets, likes and comments. Sometimes it will decide that you are the worst writer ever to put his half-witted head to penning an article. Obviously I love the former and get irritated by the latter. I’m a human being, not just a Jamie Oliver-faced avatar on the internet.

No, the real problem is this: just as women can be the most hateful to other women, writers and journalists are the most unpleasant, the most vitriolic to each other. Now, I’ve got form for criticising other journalists – see my posts on the Twitter silence – but more often for what they’ve actually said than for their faces, haircuts, personal hygiene or perceived political opinions.

Meanwhile I’ve managed to collect a healthy gang of writers from other publications who seem to believe I’m the worst man since Stalin snuffed it. Working in the modern, instant-response media is like being an extra in Mean Girls. I don’t even get to be Lindsay Lohan character but instead some passing prat who gets kicked in the shins by lead Mean Girl, Regina George, as she makes her way to another class.

It is often those writers who speak out loudly about bullying and cruelty that engage in it themselves through sneaky digs and back channel bitching. In the end, I’m lucky to have a platform to write for a living so I have to suck it up. But don’t let the seemingly saintly ones fool you, they’re just as cruel. In fact, this Mean Girls’ quote is rather appropriate: “That’s why her hair is so big. It’s full of secrets.”