Cancelled, terrorised: the online war nothing could prepare me for

Cancelled, terrorised: the online war nothing could prepare me for. By Christina Lamb.

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. …

This is what online abuse does. We’ve all heard about it and maybe like me you dismissed it as “just words”. …

The “offense” was just an ambiguous remark that quoted someone mentioning a racial difference:

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. …

[I] had only an hour to write 1,500 words. … 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.

…The next day … I noticed … 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.

The punishment:

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.

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 people from Asia, 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 cafe 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. …

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. …

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. …

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. …

Am I not allowed to just have a bad day?

A world of hating leftists.