Mail Online Amplifies Abusive Tweet

When is a “vile troll” not a “vile troll”? The Daily Mail website (which also incorporates the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online) yields around 2,000 Google search results for the phrase (singular and plural); there are also many more related stories on the site that don’t use the exact expression. Examples of trolling deemed worthy of condemnatory news coverage range from taunting messages that wish individuals harm or express glee over some personal tragedy, through to more mundane kinds of hurtful abuse.

Yet “vile trolls” have their uses, one of which is to editorialise by proxy. In such cases, trolls are actually the authentic pox populi, merely expressing strong opinions about members of elite who need to be taken down a peg or two. A recent example of this appears in a MailOnline piece, under the headline

British viewers call on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to lose Duke and Duchess rank for being ‘disrespectful’ to the Queen during bombshell Oprah interview – but Americans praise couple’s ‘honesty and bravery’

The article takes the form of a social media round-up, and is heavy with screenshots. Like all such articles, the material chosen for display is selective, and this exhibit in particular from Twitter caught my eye:

What a bitch. Hope her and Harry lose their Duke and Duchess titles. She’s got no class and doesn’t deserve to be associated with our Royal family. Meghan’s half sister was right in her pre-wedding interviews.

The word “bitch” is blanked out by the Mail, but the reading is obvious. Despite this, though, the designation “troll” does not appear anywhere – he’s apparently just a “British viewer”.

Why amplify such an individual? The account concerned is anonymous; it has 500 followers, and most of its previous Tweets and RTs consist of lewd comments about female celebrities (including one about the Duchess of Cambridge). It cannot seriously be claimed that such a gratuitous comment needed to be included for reasons of even-handedness.

The Oprah interview included a voiceover segment where Winfrey referred to “constant criticism, blatant sexist and racist remarks by British tabloids and internet trolls”; presumably this is what prompted Ian Murray of the Society of Editors to complain that

It is… unreasonable for the Duke and Duchess to conflate the legitimate coverage provided by the edited and regulated UK media with the wild west of social media.

Yet the “edited and regulated UK media” appears to be very comfortable using “wild west of social media” as a polemical resource.

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