I often think of twitter as a big noisy pub. Your mates are all in there, but so are loads of people you don’t know. You’ve got really interesting, passionate and important conversations going on in some corners, people snogging in others, people playing music or showing off what they had for tea, arguing over who would win in a fight between The Hulk and Mr Hyde. It’s a big pub, I’ll give you that, and it can be rough at times, despite the champagne guzzlers in the corner, trying to seem “authentic” and down with the crowd, but I’ve always felt very much at home there.
This weekend I learned that, much like in the pub, there are times when a snatch of conversation can be overheard, misinterpreted, and spread through Chinese whispers until it is totally divorced from any of its original meaning. Unlike the pub, where it can all be sorted with some yelling, a bit of shoving, an admission that I love you really and a kebab on the way home, twitter can quickly spill over into real life, and cause real and lasting damage.
By now anyone who is reading this has probably heard about the event in East Kilbride, that had an all male panel. They got a lot of flak for it, perhaps, to be fair, disproportionately so, given they had featured an all female panel not too long before. During the backlash though, the people running the EKsaysYES twitter account, who were running/promoting the event, decided to give a masterclass in how not to respond to critics, becoming increasingly irate and aggressive with women asking why they weren’t represented.
As anyone who runs a business or community group account knows, the best way to deal with any criticism – even if you personally disagree with it – is to thank your complainant for their input, take it on board, and say you’ll do better. It stops things running out of hand. But I digress.
My involvement in the furore was periphery at best, but the blowback was staggering, and is still ongoing. A dear friend, valued colleague and comrade was involved in the conversation, mentioning that she hadn’t seen a call by EK Yes for female speakers – that she was surprised by that since she is in many Indy groups and women’s groups online, as well as a follower of the group itself’s page. She said if she had seen the call, she would have rallied her friends and acquaintances and gotten them some female speakers.
Instead of replying with “Thanks for the offer, we’d love your help for next time” they – rather condescendingly, in my opinion — responded “But what groups or parties would they represent? Remember we are looking for independent media specialists.”
This is where I came in. No knowledge of the background or what’s going on at all, I’m responding purely to that tweet. I ask if they mean to imply there are no female independent media specialists? Because in my experience, they are the creative driving force behind the alt-media industry.
Someone else responded with “And you’d know this by virtue of the fact you’re a woman?” and the EKsaysYES account liked the response, which shocked me. It seemed unnecessarily aggressive, and an odd tweet for a professional to endorse. But I responded that no, my knowledge was based on being a woman in the independent media industry, and being lucky enough to work with hundreds of amazing women as a result. I went off to make a cuppa, thinking my part in it was done.
When I returned to my keyboard 2 minutes later, I had 4 responses from EKsaysYes, each more aggressive in tone than the last, all demanding I go and speak for them in February.
I’m a professional writer, and I was utterly shocked at being approached in such an unprofessional manner. Not only was I being yelled at in a thread with over 15 other people tagged in, the person demanding I speak for them had clearly not even looked at my profile first. You see, I’m English, I live in South East England, I’ve never set foot in Scotland in my life. There were dozens of Scottish women – who have put far more hours into Independence than I have– literally in EK’s mentions saying they’d like to be heard, but instead they chose to demand that I speak, to a Scottish group about Scottish Independence, a round trip of over 600miles away. My professional information is not at all hidden, just googling my name would bring all of this info up instantly. I was staggered.
So I replied in a way that I thought was blatantly obviously sarcasm with “DM me and I’ll send you my fee list.”
From the reaction, you’d think I stripped off naked in the high street and started skinning puppies in the name of Nuggan.
EK responded along the lines that they doubt I even know what I’m talking about (they were asked later, by someone else, if they thought that due to my gender, my nationality, or simply because they didn’t like my attitude, but they declined to respond) and their friend from earlier in the thread started to go through my blog, ridiculing me because I once wrote a single article about menstrual cups as an alternative to tampons and sanitary towels for people who didn’t want to give money to prolife organisations through the tampon tax – all the while demanding to know who I thought I was, and who I worked for.
I told them Google is their friend, because honestly why should I trouble myself to present my credentials to people who can’t be bothered to look me up for themselves? Had they scrolled back through my timeline just a tiny bit, they’d have seen that a few days before I tweeted how much I love working on the Pro-Independence podcast and alt-media org Ungagged, tagging in many of the people who also work there, as well as the Ungagged twitter account itself.
I was laughing at the time, because, had they clicked on the ‘about me’ section on the blog they were trashing, they’d have seen my bio, where I clearly state that I will write, speak, or give social media advice for food and that my rates go up the ruder you are.
The other link on my twitter bio leads to my Amazon page, which states “Victoria Pearson lives behind a keyboard in rural Bedfordshire.” This information is not hard to find, and, as someone who has had to gather speakers for events myself, I think it’s pretty basic to click links in someone’s bio information before inviting them to speak.
The fury unleashed by my very much tongue in cheek comment (believe me, if I charged a pound for every hour I put into Scottish Independence in my role as Web Producer for Ungagged, I wouldn’t be in the bottom 6% of uk earners[listen from 1 hr 7min mark]) has been completely disproportionate, and quite frightening.
Another person in the thread – who had been on the panel – took my words as a personal attack on him (I still don’t understand why, as I wasn’t criticising the panel or event at all) and became infuriated with me – scarily so. He berated me for hours over it, saying that he would never charge to speak for independence, that he had had to give up his time, time with his partner, etc to speak.
I’m guessing he wouldn’t have had to find childcare for 4 children or have his partner lose 2 days wages to travel a 620 mile, 18 hour round trip and spend around £800 to get there and back either, but that really is beside the point.
He eventually accused me of bullying him. Somewhat ironic given he was helping to fan the flames of a witchhunt against me, but I still immediately told him it definitely wasn’t my intention to be unkind, that I had no issue with him and if he could please show me where I had been rude, I’d gladly apologise. He stopped replying, because I hadn’t been rude, unkind, or displayed bullying behaviour once.
I then went to bed early, ready to take my four children out the next day. I assumed my part in this melodrama was done. I came home the next evening , tired but happy from taking my youngest to see Santa for the very first time, to find all hell had broken loose on my timeline in my absence.
EK had deleted tweets, breaking the thread so that casual readers couldn’t see the many tweets I followed my fee tweet up with, clarifying that had I wanted to speak – which I do not- at best I would’ve asked for a sandwich and help crowdfunding my train fare. They then screenshotted what was left, making it seem like they had asked me to speak and I demanded a fee without any other interaction. They were telling people that I had asked to speak and then demanded money.
I want it made crystal clear that I did not and would not ask to speak to a Scottish audience about Independence. I’ve repeatedly said for the last two years that I refuse, point blank, to Britsplain Independence to Scottish people. The very last thing anyone in Scotland needs or wants is yet another English voice telling them what to do. I’ve been a writer for 15 years, and I’ve written about independence once, for Ungagged, entirely from an outsiders point of view. I very much see my role in the fight for Independence as providing a boost and a platform for voices within the movement who don’t usually get a chance to be heard – whether that’s because of class, race, gender, disability or sexuality or any other barrier. I work very hard to do that. I do not speak for people, I pass them the microphone.
What should have been no more than a twitter spat that should have blown over in a day at most had turned into huge accounts sharing that screenshot with demands to find out where I live, and who I work for. Screenshots of my account posted with the caption “A liar.”
The threads spawning from them were vile and filled with paranoid fantasies that would be more at home on conspiracy websites than coming out of the mouths of supposedly serious commentators. I’m mi5, I’m a “media agent from the BBC”, a Russian bot, a Unionist, Momentum, RISE. I’m deliberately harming the Independence movement. I should’ve been grateful to be asked. I should pay them for the privilege of speaking. I’m a liar. I’m trying to build a cosy career for myself off the back of Independence.
An actual article appeared in The Herald, conflating several points and muddying the waters still further, underlining the idea that I’m profiteering even more. The hornets nest, just starting to calm, was kicked again, starting the cycle afresh, leading a certain writer with a twitter following of over 12 thousand people to spend an entire day making snide comments about me without using my name, and retweeting nasty comments about my supposed motivations.
This has led me to feeling very unsafe. My twitter account is public, my profile picture is my face, my handle my full name. My full name appears several times in my cover photo. The fact I have 4 children is in my bio.
Being so open on twitter is a doubled edged sword. On the one hand, it has made the veiled threats of doxing and the threat that implies very frightening, not just from a perspective of my own personal safety, but that of my husband and children, and my other relatives and friends who may be caught up in crossfire by association. After all, the people attacking me clearly don’t value getting all of the facts before jumping in feet first.
On the other hand, the best of the Indy movement, who know me well online, have come out in my defence, knowing as they do that the picture painted of me is inaccurate, unfair and damaging. The Yes movement I know – the inclusive, outward looking, socially aware movement that wants an independent country in order to make it better for everyone – have been amazing, setting the record straight where they can and urging others to do their research. Unfortunately this has led to blowback for a lot of them and for that I’m truly sorry. Their solidarity should not cost them in that way.
So what can we learn from this? I’m not sure. I am certain this behaviour is not representative of the East Kilbride Yes community group. I refuse to believe people working so hard for the good of others would condone the harassment, abuse and stalking behaviour incited by the person behind their twitter account. This kind of bullying is not only bad for their group, but the movement as a whole. If they’d like to apologise, delete their defamatory tweets and ask their followers to stop attacking me, I’ll gladly accept and move forward for the sake of the movement I believe strongly in.
I know the people calling for my blood are not representative of this wonderful movement in any way. But something does have to be done about the toxicity of the narrative here. This kind of behaviour is not ok. And for the very first time in my 8 years on twitter, I’m considering taking legal action.