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Editor slams ‘vile’ reader comments about man on motorway bridge

PAtrick PhelvinAn editor has hit out at “vile” comments left by readers on an online story about a man threatening to jump from a motorway bridge.

Devon Live editor Patrick Phelvin, left, has criticised the response by some readers to the incident, which led to the M5 being closed as police helped get the man off the bridge before passing him over to mental health professionals for help.

Patrick took particular exception to a comment left on Devon Live’s Facebook page, in which one reader said they hoped the man was “thrown in a nut house and charged by the police” and also described him as a “selfish t***”.

While Patrick hid the comment from the page after it was posted, he took aim at the reader, who he chose to identify only as ‘Natalie’, in an editorial.

He wrote: “Natalie, if you don’t empathise with this poor man then perhaps you’ll be one of the lucky people who never experience mental health issues in your lifetime.  The bad news for you is that you’re extremely unlikely to go through life unscathed by this hideous set of diseases and conditions.”

“I can understand it’s frustrating but instead of getting on with your evening you chose to take to social media and post a vile comment. Unfortunately you weren’t the only one.

“Natalie, I’ve not published your surname here because it seems unfair, (although I’m not sure why, you published it on social media for everyone to see) and the comment is hidden so people can’t see it. This comment and others’ show that as a society we’ve got a long way to go to understand and deal with this problem.

“From your Facebook picture you look young. Perhaps you haven’t had your almost inevitable brush with mental illness yet. Perhaps when you do you’ll become like the dozens who posted messages of support for this poor man?”

In his piece, Patrick speculated that the man’s actions may have been “a cry for help and he never meant to jump”.

Recently, Devon Live’s owner Trinity Mirror launched a campaign with charity Mind to raise awareness of mental health issues.

Patrick told HTFP: “Some of the stories we uncovered touched a nerve with me and the overwhelming response from our readers was incredibly positive.

“When appalling comments started to surface on our Facebook feed in response to this police incident a number of readers got in touch to say we should delete them. As a rule we don’t edit our Facebook comments but I felt I could challenge some of their worst assertions.

“This particular comment struck a nerve with me and I wrote a quick response to the woman who authored it. I’m always telling our staff that if they have a genuinely held opinion on something then it will have a home on Devon Live. If it comes from the heart and is interesting then generally there’s an audience for it.

“I have been touched by some of the positive messages I’ve received since it went online, although slightly surprised by the reaction – essentially all I was saying was ‘let’s stop and think a bit about why this man might have reacted this way.'”

9 comments

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  • December 13, 2017 at 8:47 am
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    Sadly social media gives a platform for the bile of social misfits who need their moment in the spotlight. Before the internet we never heard from these trolls, they stayed under the rocks from which they now crawl with monotonous regularity.

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  • December 13, 2017 at 9:16 am
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    Well said Patrick. Ignore the flak – it comes with the territory.

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  • December 13, 2017 at 10:33 am
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    And there’s me thinking it was just post, post, post, get it on line, on line, on line to grab the punters’ engagement ASAP via the social meejah monster.
    Sadly, the lunatics have taken over unregulated social media (and lofty echelons of regional media). To misquote Bomber Harris: “the wind has been sown, now reap the whirlwind”

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  • December 13, 2017 at 11:03 am
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    It’s about time we started calling it anti-social media.

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  • December 13, 2017 at 12:39 pm
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    Erm… why was the comments thread live on a story like this?

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  • December 13, 2017 at 3:38 pm
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    @Antiquarian – that’s the real point. I can recall getting comments halted on a court case in which someone libelled the entire staff of a radio station. It would have cost a fortune had any of the said staff seen it.

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  • December 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm
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    @Antiquarian Because the Trinity Mirror ‘Live’ series just LOVE audience engagement – no matter how they get it. And this was too good to miss. All those additional links to the main website to polish those digital ABC figures. 😉

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  • December 13, 2017 at 4:42 pm
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    @antiquarian and one time sub, comments probably were turned off – this is about the comments on a post on their Facebook page.

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  • December 14, 2017 at 10:19 am
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    ElectricPics – thank you for that. In my view, whatever the platform, the issue still comes down to responsible control. In my experience, comments threads are usually detract far more than they add, often rapidly getting infected by trolls. And before anyone says it: no, the irony of having this debate on a comments thread isn’t lost on me…

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