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Website confronts hate-filled Facebook users who ‘laughed’ at asylum tragedy

IanCarterEditorialDirectorKM (1)A news website has confronted ‘hate-filled’ Facebook users who used laughing emojis to respond to its report on the deaths of 27 asylum seekers in the English Channel.

KentOnline has a policy of turning off comments on stories about asylum both on its own website and on Facebook because of the response they generate from some readers.

However it can’t stop Facebook users posting their reactions in the form of emojis – with 96 choosing to post laughing emojis on the worst asylum-related Channel tragedy so far.

As a result the website and its parent company the KM Group decided to confront some of the people who posted such reactions, in a piece which has been widely praised across the industry.

KentOnline news editor Ed McConnell managed to engage some of what he termed the “small group pumped full of hate” in conversation despite being told to “jog on” and “f*** off” by several of them.

They included Ashford mechanic Ronni Pickering who told him that asylum-seekers are “rapists murders (sic) nonces terrorists and they are robbing our country left right and centre cos they come from **** all and got no morals.”

Wrote Ed: “It’s an appalling explosion of hate and not backed up by any statistics whatsoever.

“I ask him to show me any evidence for his claims. He can’t but still tells me to ‘go away and do my homework’.”

Another reader, Steve from Chatham, tells Ed: “They should stay at home and stop ******* coming over here. Or do it through the right procedures the scum bags.”

“Because of all the ***** my daughter can’t get doctors appointments because there is too many of them here now causing a strain on our NHS. There is veteran’s on the streets when there being put up in hotels (sic).”

Wrote Ed:  “Debating the topic of immigration, and in particular the current system, is hugely important but any hope a reasoned conversation could be had with people who found drowned children funny was in hindsight misguided.

“But there is hope among the hatred. For the 96 who clicked the laughing emoji more than 400 responded with outrage.”

The piece was widely praised across the industry with several editors and leading journalists tweeting their approval.

Helen Dalby, senior editor at Reach plcs’s Newcastle titles, wrote: “This is excellent journalism. It also makes for terrifying reading. The responses of some of those who laughed are chillingly empty of humanity. What have people hiding behind keyboards become?”

Gareth Davies of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism said: “The comments on local media Facebook pages are often full of bile and hatred. Well done Ed McConnell and KentOnline for publicly confronting some of these people. More should do the same.”

And Northern Echo editor Karl Holbrook said: “This is a great piece of work. ”

Editorial director Ian Carter, pictured, told HTFP: “We have had a policy of simply turning comments off, both on our own website and Facebook, on stories relating to asylum because we know the response they will generate.

“What we can’t do is stop people posting reactions in the form of ‘laughing’ emojis – and that is what happened with last week’s story of the tragedy in the Channel.

“I’ve never been comfortable with stifling debate as it’s an important, complex issue and particularly so in Kent. It’s absolutely not our job to tell people what opinions they should hold, but it is important we cut through the noise on social media and present them with the facts.

“That was the thinking behind the decision to confront some of those who had laughed at the loss of life – we wanted to understand how they had got to a point where they felt comfortable taking pleasure from tragedy.

“KentOnline news editor Ed McConnell did an excellent job of engaging some of them in conversation, although perhaps inevitably they all doubled down on their views.

“The response to the story today though has been heartening and a reminder that there is still far more good than bad.”