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Gods, you're so persuasive. Are you a salesman?

Sunday Times 20 June 2021

Nothing could prepare me for the online war: Christina Lamb on being attacked by the trolls​


One sentence was all it took. After social media took objection to her dispatch from the royal funeral, the foreign correspondent and her family have suffered a campaign of abuse, bullying and death threats​

Christina Lamb in Aleppo, Syria, in 2016

Christina Lamb in Aleppo, Syria, in 2016
DMITRI BELIAKOV FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Christina Lamb

Saturday June 19 2021, 6.00pm, The Sunday Times
Nothing could prepare me for the online war: Christina Lamb on being attacked by the trolls
Last week I was filling in a form for a hostile environment course, something I have to attend every three years for my job as a war correspondent.

“Have you experienced any particularly stress-related incidents?” it asked.

“Kidnaps, ambush, bombs …” I wrote.

“You left out being shot at,” my husband laughed.

“And something else,” I replied. Neither of us laughed.

For two months I have rarely slept more than three hours a night. I check all the locks when I go to bed and worry if I don’t hear from my student son each day. I cut short a romantic dinner with my husband because I thought a woman on the next table was staring at me.

None of this is because of traumatic experiences in wars but the consequence of a trip to Windsor on a sunny Saturday to cover the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.


This is what online abuse does. We’ve all heard about it and maybe like me you dismissed it as “just words”.
Perhaps you read the essay posted online last week by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it she explained how two young female writers she had encouraged whipped up a social-media storm after a 2017 Channel 4 interview in which Adichie said she believed “transwomen are transwomen”.

Her protégées had responded by going online to call her a murderer, tell Adichie that her parents’ deaths were “punishment for her transphobia” and accuse her of sabotaging their careers
“In this age of social media, where a story travels the world in minutes, silence sometimes means that other people can hijack your story and soon, their false version becomes the defining story about you,” she wrote. “The assumption of good faith is dead. What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another.” Like her, I wonder what is happening to our society that people think it’s OK to post death threats and vitriol to a person and their family in response to words written as a deadline approached.
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The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was attacked online by two former protégés
FRANCOIS DURAND/GETTY IMAGES FOR DIOR

The worst week of my professional life started with a text from my editor asking me to cover the duke’s funeral. She was persuasive, it seemed a moment in our history and I knew my mum would be impressed, so I agreed.

Everything went wrong that day. I’d booked a room at a guesthouse in Windsor thinking it would make my life easier, only for the fire alarm to go off halfway through the funeral. By the time it was sorted out I’d missed half the ceremony and had only an hour to write 1,500 words. Finally I sat down at my desk and started writing, opening with the moving image of the black-masked queen alone in the chapel. Wanting to contrast the duke as her great love to the old man who had become a figure of fun to many of us, I wrote the line that would cause all the problems: “To her subjects, Prince Philip was the longest-serving royal consort in British history — an often crotchety figure, offending people with gaffes about slitty eyes, even if secretly we rather enjoyed them.”

With deadline approaching, I filed my copy, which would appear on the front page after going through a series of editors — all of whom read the line how I intended it to be read, or didn’t notice.
The next day, I had arranged to take my mum for lunch out, a rare break from caring for my disabled father.

On the way, I noticed some activity on Twitter, accusing me of being racist. I was confused. I have always felt it better not to engage as it just fuels the mob, so I tried to ignore it. Only later, after I had dropped Mum back home, did I realise how many had read the sentence in a different way to what I intended. I had meant to say that we laughed at the duke’s lack of diplomacy, not his racist comments. Indeed I had described his remarks as “offending”. However I could see their point. I was mortified.

As a female journalist I am sadly used to online abuse, from jihadists who hate western women, or Pakistani hardliners because of my association with the activist Malala Yousafzai, whose autobiography I worked on. This was different. People apparently thought it was a perfectly reasonable response to abuse me, my husband and son. The jihadists were polite in comparison.

My most recent tweet had been a photo of two glasses on a balcony overlooking the Thames. We were celebrating the pubs reopening on my husband’s birthday. That was seized on over and over by people accusing me of getting drunk by the river in Windsor while the funeral was on and “raising a glass to Phil the Greek at the Racist Arms”. That the post was from London three days earlier was apparently irrelevant. To them, as they told me, I was a “f***ing big-nosed racist wine-drinking c***”.
Then there were the death threats: “Don’t walk around if I see you or your family I’ll knock you out and so ur family,” said dubstepbystep on my Instagram. Telling me I should be killed was the least of it.
“I feel sorry for your children. You f***ing racist old hag, washed up trowel-faced old bitch,” wrote Maddie Rainer.

Howard Wong, who runs an ice-cream company called Little Moons, thought it perfectly acceptable to track down my husband’s account and post abuse about his “racist wife”.

My Wikipedia page was repeatedly hacked, changing my description from bestselling author to “racist bigot”. One man on social media offered tips on how to start a concerted campaign against me.
Many of my abusers had only a handful of followers or were clearly bots. Disturbingly many were women. Instagram was even worse than Twitter.

Some people were lovely, tweeting in support (which I will never forget) but being rewarded by abuse themselves. Many, including Asians, sent me supportive messages. Others were silent, including young colleagues I have helped and writers claiming to stand for free speech, presumably scared that they would be tarred with the racism brush. One of my oldest friends asked me: “Why would you write such a thing?” as if I had done it deliberately.

I stopped looking at the messages. My husband went through them, reporting threats to Twitter, some of which were taken off, blocking other senders to try to protect me. He was left shaking.

Over my 33-year career I have taken on despots and dictators; now my nemesis was a fashion blogger called Susie Bubble, who runs a bubble-tea café in Stoke Newington, north London.
She launched a petition demanding an apology from me and The Sunday Times — even though the paper published an apology as soon as it could and I had apologised to anyone who wrote to me directly. There was no excuse for what I had written, I told people over and over again. At a speaking event the Tuesday after the funeral, I apologised at length. I posted the apology on my public Facebook page.

Bubbles’ organisation, the ESEA (East and Southeast Asia) Sisters, published all my social media handles. They contacted every organisation I have ever worked with — charities I am on the board of, publishers of my books, awards I am up for or have won, American think tanks I am affiliated with, places where I was due to speak. They posted malicious reviews on Amazon. They even contacted my college at Oxford demanding I be stripped of my honorary fellowship.

The actress Gemma Chan, whose film Crazy Rich Asians I had enjoyed, demanded that people sign the petition. This took it across the Atlantic where many of her followers seemed to think that it was me who coined the term “slitty eyes”.

The New York Public Library, where I was shortlisted for the Bernstein award for excellence in journalism, decided not to award the prize. Their letter to my publisher ended: “The award honours the noble profession of journalism, and is a reflection on The New York Public Library and its values. As such, we need to hold the candidates to the highest possible standards.”

The Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation, which now has a whole online media abuse department because of so many attacks, warned me to watch for identity theft and alert my bank. I was paranoid when, a few days later, a credit card stopped working.

For three weeks it took over our lives. Police came to question us and are keen to prosecute for malicious communication. We have to decide whether we want to go to court and stir this all up.
Every day I hear of professors, female politicians, lawyers, comedians and writers being abused or cancelled, or feeling they can no longer express opinions for fear of such a response. Many contacted me but did not want to speak out for fear of provoking more abuse.

I had read about cases such as that of the long-time New York Times health editor Donald McNeil, 67, forced out of his job this spring for repeating — not using out of malice — the n-word at a dinner for students on a holiday in Peru two years ago. He was part of a team that won the Pulitzer for coverage of the pandemic.
Adam Habib, 56, director of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, was attacked and suspended for using the same word in response to a question after years of work promoting racial equality in his home country, South Africa. He has now been reinstated.

Neil Thin, 60, an anthropology lecturer at Edinburgh University, was attacked online for racism, misogyny and transphobia after he criticised a move last year to change the philosophy building’s name from David Hume Tower, named after the 18th-century philosopher who is now accused of links to slavery.
Thin had also raised concerns about a 2019 campus event called Resisting Whiteness, featuring an area exclusively for people of colour, which he branded “segregation”. Not only was he accused of being a “rape apologist”, but students circulated a letter saying they did not feel safe in his classes.
“They have destroyed my reputation, damaged my health and put a huge toll on my family,” he says. “I should be able to brush it off but the power of social media is to make you doubt what matters ... I’ve been beaten up badly three times in my life but this hurt an awful lot more.”

Thin faced a two-month investigation that exonerated him. His accusers faced nothing. Thin says he cannot go back into teaching until those who tried to destroy his reputation are investigated.
“The message the university is sending out is that the students can do exactly what they like and we are too scared to challenge them,” he said. “That’s a terrible way of educating students.”
The husband of one of two women who accused the former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond of sex abuse spoke to the Daily Record of the trolling she faced. “It felt like watching my wife self-harm when she was glued to a screen reading abusive comments,” he said.

When Newsnight reporter Nick Watt was chased and abused by lockdown protesters last week, there was widespread condemnation, even from the prime minister. When you are getting online death threats, there is silence. By the fifth day, I was on the verge of resigning. I was getting abuse from all over the world. “It feels like everything I worked for counts for nothing,” I told my husband.

It was some of the women I have written about who changed my mind. “Be strong,” said one woman in Afghanistan (yes, it had even reached there). “Don’t abandon us and cave in to a mob.”
She was right. If you are going to go after me for racism, fine: I am sorry and will say that loud and clear as often as you want. But then please go after the people who think it’s OK to spill vitriol online.

My detractors will say I am trying to present myself as a victim. But I have spent my career highlighting abuse and just because I am a target, it would be pathetic to stop now. I have a platform and believe it’s right to speak out.

I am a woman in her mid-fifties with lots of support from family, friends and employers, and a well-established career. But what about teenage girls, perhaps just starting out in a new job, insecure about themselves? No wonder some are driven to self-harm or suicide.

Yes, I am sorry for what I wrote, I have learnt from this and will read my copy more closely in future. But if I get something wrong, does it mean I am a racist?

As Adichie said in a conversation last week with Mary Beard, another woman who has also experienced online abuse: “Am I not allowed to just have a bad day?”
=====================================================================
I hope you're bloody grateful.

Sorry. Too much information to process!
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
Can anyone verify this one ??

Early 70's Exercise Flying Fcukup, Sigs Relay det anxious to get 'Endex' message out from 1(BR) Corps HQ decide to wind up the wick on the corps main link C50 radio using high power (which for non-scalies means operational use only), enough to melt the frost on nearby trees. Allegedly they only used it for about half an hour but that was enough for the German CAA and Bundespost to start DF'ing them. Apparently the antenna was pointing in the same direction as the ILS transmitter for Hamburg/Dusseldorf/Dortmund (delete as applicable) airport and had caused several landings to be aborted.
I realise this is resurrected 16 year old post. I'm risking having possibly replied to it myself already. I wasn't a Scaley, but what you've described matches pretty much exactly what we were told about the 50W setting on VRC353.

Pretty sure I have told before about in 1982 having to physically hold the Squadron Leader off the 353 during an ex in the Harz, underneath the Brocken listening post while (I think) 33 Armd Bde HQ and Signals Squadron (the erstwhile Task Force Echo HQ and Signals Troop) were jamming us as part of the exercise. Not least because the 353 was connected to a mast with a 20W amplifier on the top, that we'd been taught he'd burn out.

I'd already asked to borrow the SSM's Ferret to rebroadcast an alternative frequency one way to try and fool the jammers into thinking they were winning, while all we did was sound like we were struggling.

It was what I'd been paid Control Signaller pay to do, but they just refused to listen. I'd already decided to transfer out. Fúck 'em.
 
I heard that story in 1976, a MK-D11 of 1stADSR out station on exercise, fired up on high power and reportedly grounded all air traffic for about an hour, screwed up the police net, local taxi firms, the emergency services,.... take your pick. ;)
I do specifically remember a young subby called Scott xxxxxxx, who shall remain nameless, siting a Radio Relay Relay just off Cologne airport, while trying to get a link across to somewhere near Koenigswinter from 1 BE Corps HQ in the city. When the report came in, he was asked about it and told CP4 that he had sited them next to a lake. "The big blue blob on the map at grid xxxxxxxx." "Oh, you mean the big blue blob that signifies an airport?" Oops! That was early 1981.

(Edited to remove his name as he is now a bigwig in the IT industry, which anyone who worked with him in those days would find very difficult to believe.)
 
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:twisted: When the brits were getting honest john,there was a big fire power demo!The septics blustered around like they were the best thing since sliced bread.All our top brass and thiers were in attendance,after a while the show was ready to begin ,they fired the missile it was supposedely a magnificent sight......an honest john missile careering down the range intimately followed by the launcher ! :lol: :lol: some dumb fcuk had forgotten to to remove one of the securing straps...... ho hum. :oops: Obviously before my time, but the myth also says that the yank det commander promptly blew his brains out followed shortly thereafter by his sgt!. :roll:

One that i know to be true though,involved a 2nd lt newly posted in, who was tasked with looking after the co`s staff car. His orders were "to keep every body away from the car( that was parked in the middle of the parade square)because the boot was full of radioactive paint! :twisted:i don`t recall for how long he was there...most of the day though! :D those were the days
The Honest John down the range strapped to the launcher is true. Larkhill on Families day. The bit about the Det Comd and Sgt is not true
 
The Honest John down the range strapped to the launcher is true. Larkhill on Families day. The bit about the Det Comd and Sgt is not true
I'm not familiar with the specs of Honest John but I thought it was a longish range missile, were they really fired on Larkhill.
 

Cutaway

LE
Kit Reviewer
Something of a rebellion is taking place on the Times/Sunday Times website, as the censors there are wielding their scythes with far too much woke enthusiasm; the algorithm they use deals with every comment first, and any word or phrase which tickles its balls means instant Disappearance. The list of verboten words alone is half of the OED, while any hint of disdain/disrespect for anyone's opinion, or phrase which is on the List (cross-referenced; it's a computer) does the same after the spotty social-studies graduate spies it and breaks into a weeping fit.

So many genuine, legitimate comments are lost to the process that it becomes chilling for anyone who doesn't merely post anodyne, dull acceptance of the Community Consensus (which it isn't). The fact that a columnist can and will submit published material which is far more 'offensive' and which would not be entertained for a second beneath the line seems beyond the Community Standards 'team' (See Rod Liddle on any Sunday, or Christina Lamb on Sun 20 June.

Apologies for Deviation; I'll post this elsewhere in case a Moderator (definitely a verboten word) spies it and Disappears me.
Not a revolution, the comments section will simply "prove" that the mood of the country overwhelmingly supports the "woke" agenda.
 

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
having done two tours with said regiment (albeit a bit later ) I can quite believe it might be true. @Glad_its_all_over may be able to shed some more light on the story....?
I've heard it said, but can neither confirm nor deny, any more than I can speculate on why an entire skyfull of expensive radio controlled civilian club model aircraft fell out of that sky and plunged to destruction at an airfield in the UK when 14 were on a KAPE tour and a nasty Sergeant made the team do a plug up on Sunday morning after some poor behaviour on the Saturday night.
 
I've heard it said, but can neither confirm nor deny, any more than I can speculate on why an entire skyfull of expensive radio controlled civilian club model aircraft fell out of that sky and plunged to destruction at an airfield in the UK when 14 were on a KAPE tour and a nasty Sergeant made the team do a plug up on Sunday morning after some poor behaviour on the Saturday night.
Apocryphal story:- 10 sigs radio troop KAPE team, on show at a county fair somewhere in the midlands, they fire up their K9-D11, and in an adjoining field, all the modal airplanes nose dive into the turf. This was before i joined the troop in 1973. Troop Sgt Mell Gowling RIP ( His name is on the wall in staffordshire)
 
Apocryphal story:- 10 sigs radio troop KAPE team, on show at a county fair somewhere in the midlands, they fire up their K9-D11, and in an adjoining field, all the modal airplanes nose dive into the turf. This was before i joined the troop in 1973. Troop Sgt Mell Gowling RIP ( His name is on the wall in staffordshire)
I believe that the Royal Sigs used a frequency generator operationally in N.I that was designed to do just that in as far as it swept the R.C frequencies for radio controlled I.E.D'S.
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
And the French plant trees alongside their roads to give the German Army shelter when marching ;)
This joke always reminds me of my second honeymoon. Me and the new, improved Mrs TMW were strolling up the Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triomphe, when she turned to me and said "This is lovely but it just doesn't look the same as I thought it would". When I asked why and she said "There's no Germans marching up it", I knew I'd finally married the right woman.
 
You may well be correct, as i was a mere lowly genny mong i cannot comment. greenbaggyskin will know. ;)

You may well be correct, as i was a mere lowly genny mong i cannot comment. greenbaggyskin will know. ;)
These days I tend to use "I believe" when "I know" would be appropriate. It was all more than 45 years ago now.
That 20 year old is long gone and memory is a variable feast.

I believe it only worked once much to the consternation of the pilot flying the operator.
(In this instance I believe is not being used in lieu of I know!!!)
 
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CharleyBourne

Old-Salt
Emphatically no. During WW2, SOE types wore their issue wings above their left breast pocket and which in turn crept into the SAS squadrons It was one of those dress affectations which was tolerated.

The 'operational descent(s)' syndrome didn't quite go away post war. B Sqn. SAS parachuted into the sea, as it was to be, towards the end of Op. Corporate and enquired if they could relocate their para 'wings' to the left breast pocket. It was a tongue -in-cheek request, but kept the troops schimfing for a while.
The Regt. had already undertaken two free-fall insertions - 'Op.Snow Goose' a twelve man group, from three helicopters into a wadi in the Radfan campaign and a sixteen man group from an Andover, again into a wadi on 'Op Intradon' both in the late '60's and respectively 1971.

The "wings on chest" syndrome was raised following the EOD team descent into the Atlantic for the QE2 affair. That in turn received a thumbs down response, though two (?) of the EOD lads received honorary wings following their single descent and quite rightly so.
I know the EOD officer who jumped into the Alantic. He comes into the caff/restaurant where I work at least once a week with his two yappy Chihuahuas who stare out every dog bigger than them. Hilarious. It was only recently when we re-opened yet again after Lockdown that I realised who he was. I said to a colleague that it was nice to see him in again and she said that he was a hero and had been in a documentary about the QE2.

I got a chance to speak to him last week and he said that he had jumped with three others, 2 SF who had gone with the equipment at 800 feet and then he had jumped at 1200 feet with someone else (I think SF as well). He had 45 minutes ground training before setting off having only done sports parachuting before. He said that he wore his wings thereafter as he qualified (quite rightly) as having done an operational jump.

He went on to tell me about punching a soldier in his EOD team in NI who when unloading his Browning, cocked it (mag on), pointed it at his stomach and said "What do I do now Sir?". R. conceded it was not the guy's fault as he had received little or no training on the pistol. (Obviously basic weapon handling drills apart.)

I have a fairly noticeable disability/condition (not military related) and before he left he came up to the bar and told me very subtlety about SSAFA for which he is a volunteer and how if I needed any support etc they would be able to help. Lovely guy, very modest and self-effacing, polite and considerate to all the staff (unlike many of our customers) and as a result always gets a good table.
 
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CharleyBourne

Old-Salt
I know the EOD officer who jumped into the Alantic. He comes into the caff/restaurant where I work at least once a week with his two yappy Chihuahuas who stare out every dog bigger than them. Hilarious. It was only recently when we re-opened yet again after Lockdown that I realised who he was. I said to a colleague that it was nice to see him in again and she said that he was a hero and had been in a documentary about the QE2.

I got a chance to speak to him last week and he said that he had jumped with three others, 2 SF who had gone with the equipment at 800 feet and then he had jumped at 1200 feet with someone else (I think SF as well). He had 45 minutes ground training before setting off having only done sports parachuting before. He said that he wore his wings thereafter as he qualified (quite rightly) as having done an operational jump.

He went on to tell me me about punching a soldier in his EOD team in NI who when unloading his Browning, cocked it (mag on), pointed it at his stomach and said "What do I do now Sir?". R. conceded it was not the guy's fault as he had received little or no training on the pistol.

I have a fairly noticeable disability/condition (not military related) and before he left he came up to the bar and told me very subtlety about SSAFA for which he is a volunteer and how if I needed any support etc they would be able to help. Lovely guy, very modest and self-effacing, polite and considerate to all the staff (unlike many of our customers) and as a result always gets a good table.
Further to that I mentioned to him about how 20 odd years ago I was working as civvy comms staff in a police control room (having been binned as a PC for said medical condition) and got sent down to Longmoor for the day to play civpop for the EOD refresher/requalify course. He said he had been instrumental in setting the original course up. Top bloke. Look forward to speaking to him more next time he's in.
 
I believe that the Royal Sigs used a frequency generator operationally in N.I that was designed to do just that in as far as it swept the R.C frequencies for radio controlled I.E.D'S.
This is true, we had a load of spare A41 radio cases that we inherited when we took over from 1 RAR which we gave to the development team. The devices were mounted inside the cases and (as far as I know) strapped underneath choppers and flown around likely rural areas.
 
Something of a rebellion is taking place on the Times/Sunday Times website, as the censors there are wielding their scythes with far too much woke enthusiasm; the algorithm they use deals with every comment first, and any word or phrase which tickles its balls means instant Disappearance. The list of verboten words alone is half of the OED, while any hint of disdain/disrespect for anyone's opinion, or phrase which is on the List (cross-referenced; it's a computer) does the same after the spotty social-studies graduate spies it and breaks into a weeping fit.

So many genuine, legitimate comments are lost to the process that it becomes chilling for anyone who doesn't merely post anodyne, dull acceptance of the Community Consensus (which it isn't). The fact that a columnist can and will submit published material which is far more 'offensive' and which would not be entertained for a second beneath the line seems beyond the Community Standards 'team' (See Rod Liddle on any Sunday, or Christina Lamb on Sun 20 June.

Apologies for Deviation; I'll post this elsewhere in case a Moderator (definitely a verboten word) spies it and Disappears me.
I had 'pussy cat' blacklisted by said Times censor and I still cannot work out why (Blacklists matter!).
 

Cutaway

LE
Kit Reviewer
Further to that I mentioned to him about how 20 odd years ago I was working as civvy comms staff in a police control room (having been binned as a PC for said medical condition) and got sent down to Longmoor for the day to play civpop for the EOD refresher/requalify course. He said he had been instrumental in setting the original course up. Top bloke. Look forward to speaking to him more next time he's in.
Ask him if he recognises Mike Tierney.
 
This is true, we had a load of spare A41 radio cases that we inherited when we took over from 1 RAR which we gave to the development team. The devices were mounted inside the cases and (as far as I know) strapped underneath choppers and flown around likely rural areas.
What timeframe was this? It's not something I've come across during my years there, but other, more advanced and highly classified, equipment was regularly deployed.
 

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