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Regional journalist slams ‘keyboard warriors’ after being threatened online

A regional journalist has slammed “keyboard warriors” after being threatened by a social media commenter.

Cornwall Live’s Lee Trewhela has hit out at online trolls, who he claims have made the site’s Facebook page “infamous” for negativity.

Lee has written an opinion piece on his recent experience with commenters after one described him as “the most hated man in Cornwall” in a Facebook post just before Christmas.

The same person went on to threaten Lee, advising him to stop being a reporter if he “wanted to continue living in Cornwall”.

Lee Trewhela surveys comments on the Cornwall Live Facebook page

Lee Trewhela surveys comments on the Cornwall Live Facebook page

In his piece for Cornwall Live, Lee wrote: “Even at the dawn of the internet I was being called a c-word for writing critical reviews of nu-metal bands. You should have seen what emo fans called me…

“Things have got far worse in recent times. Even some ‘feelgood’ stories are now greeted with instant negativity by keyboard warriors who will look to badmouth the subject of a story’s life, actions or choices. There’s criticism and there’s pure nastiness.”

“Only this week I tweeted a feature I’d written about someone’s good fortune. Did you ask them about a certain incident in their past, came a reply. Why? If true, it had nothing to do with this current story. Why look for negativity all the time?

“Our Facebook page has become infamous for it. While it’s full of people being positive and sharing our stories, it’s also often awash with such vehemence you have to question what has happened to the human race.

“I welcome constructive criticism – believe me, I’m even critical of our site myself sometimes – but some of the comments are so full of invective I’ve chosen not to read them anymore. It’s certainly helped me sleep at night.”

“I suspect a lot of people think they’re being funny but, you know, just take a minute to think before you post. That comment could be hurtful and insulting at best, bullying and libellous at worst. It has a direct effect on someone’s mental health. Never forget that.”

Lee went on to criticise “social media giants” for not being quick enough to act on “damaging posts”, and added he would have started 2019 “iPhone-free” if social media was not “intrinsic” to his job.

His comments come six months after the Bradford Telegraph & Argus announced it was removing the ability for readers to comment on stories on its website, with the newspaper claiming extremists were using them to “sow the seeds of division”.

Speaking to HTFP about the reaction he had received to his piece, Lee said: “I’ve had some very positive feedback since the article appeared – including one that was so glowing I might have it written on my gravestone – however, it’s ironic that a story calling out the trolls has been trolled itself.

“It’s inevitable I suppose and not as ironic as it should be. It’s the nasty personal digs that get under your skin; a skin that needs to be as thick as a rhino’s if you work as a journalist in this day and age.”

7 comments

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  • January 11, 2019 at 10:30 am
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    In my experience, senior editors and digital desk jockeys encouraged reporters to hang themselves out to dry and therefore become a target of social media trolls as described by the chap above. Most of the time they’ll ask you to write a nonsense story because they’ve decided it will be hilarious after discussing it in their post-morning huddle. Not once do I recall one of these people ever weighing up the affect the social media backlash to a non-story/clickbaiter would have on the mental health of the reporter against the PV count. It’s a shame reporters are not more involved in deciding how a story should be presented. They have a much better understanding of the actual audience as humans (as opposed to numbers) than a lot of the deskies who rarely have to put their name to some of the bilge they ask for. All based on my experience of one newsroom, can’t speak across the industry as a whole.

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  • January 11, 2019 at 11:18 am
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    In the words of the great Sir Tom Jones “It’s Not Unusual!
    Social media is a heaven sent opportunity for inadequate people who never before had a platform for their bile. They like to call to call it free speech of course. But those red-neck commentators and “journalists” who set out to provoke in the hope of a few extra clicks put fuel on the fire for these trolls (though not it appears in this case).

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  • January 11, 2019 at 1:17 pm
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    paperboy, it’s a horrible business model but it unfortunately appears to work! Just look at the viewing figures for Good Morning Britain since the arrival of Piers Morgan. He knows exactly how to provoke each and every debate. So much so, his opinion now frequently makes the headlines.

    He probably doesn’t believe half of what he says but he knows it’ll get viewers and Reach bosses know that trolls help to do exactly the same for them. As long as any threats don’t escalate further than the keyboard, I doubt they would want to do anything about it.

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  • January 11, 2019 at 1:21 pm
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    To avoid trolls I’d suggest removing their platform.
    Remove comments sections. Remember the “Good old days” when folks had to write a letter to the paper? That took effort. It showed a certain degree of determination and thought.
    Comments sections have little to no value to the news or story telling process.
    (I also appreciate the irony of commenting here.)

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  • January 11, 2019 at 2:08 pm
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    With you Oliver. It is the way the world is going, loathe it or not.

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  • January 11, 2019 at 5:46 pm
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    Makes you look back almost fondly to the days of green/purple felt tip written letters in block caps…

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  • January 15, 2019 at 11:27 am
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    Great piece Lee and I feel your pain, but I would hesitate to call these people keyboard ‘warriors’. They are cowards, plain and simple.

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