Last night I received numerous tweets and articles accusing me of ‘bullying’ the 17 year old appropriator of the #Milifandom hashtag, TWCuddleston* on Twitter. It would indeed be a serious thing had anybody bullied Ms. Cuddleston – bullying is always a scourge, and always wrong. I was planning to wait to write this piece, but even saying that I planned to wait encouraged a round of left-wing pieces such as HuffPo’s amusing “Louise Mensch Suspends ‘Bullying’ Campaign So Milifandom Founder Can Sit Her Exams.”
These accusations of bullying of TW- by me and several others – however, deserve a response, and it’s clear that if I don’t give one, left-wing websites will say that I ‘backed down’ and ‘admit my bullying’ or words to that effect. Therefore, I will put up this reply and thereafter ignore her and those tweeting about her. I blocked her account itself yesterday morning, my time, and therefore cannot see what she is writing.
Ms. Cuddleston was not bullied by me nor, as far as I can see, anybody else from the right, in any way. She – and her supporters – have, however, claimed truly extraordinary levels of harassment. So in this piece, I examine what this alleged ‘bullying’ consists of.
I wrote about Ms. Cuddleston positively in my Sun column last month, where I examined the different response to her clever campaign and the abuse heaped on a student accused as posing of a schoolgirl to set up the ‘Cameronettes’ account (he didn’t).
SOCIAL media may persuade a few to vote but I doubt it will have much of an impact.
Yet the #Milifandom moment was clever social campaigning from young activists.
A 17-year-old student called Abby started the meme as an attempt to counter the media being mean to Ed. Then student Charlie Evans suggested a #Cameronettes hashtag — and a 13-year-old girl took it up with a Twitter account.
Lefties were soon accusing Evans of being a pervert, pretending to be 13 — and no matter how often he said “no”, they didn’t stop.
At the time, that was what I believed about Ms. Cuddleston. Like most, I noticed the #milifandom hysteria after the hashtag started on April 18 and was trending for a couple of days; Ms. Cuddleston had taken the credit and it was taking off. Shortly after that Labour Party Press Office announced that they had taken over Milifandom’s media affairs. This seemed pretty odd to me and several others – wasn’t MF a spontaneous teenage love-in with Ed Miliband?
I was asked ‘u mad bro’ because the @cameronettes copycat account was said to be fake. I replied, reasonably enough I hope, ‘Let’s see if the kid is real and milifandom is run by Labour press.’ ‘Not it’s not,’ replied @MissLauraMarcus, and another Labour supporter, they and copied in the @TWCuddleston account whom they said was the founder. I’d never heard of, nor sought out Cuddleston; her name was copied in to me.
So I asked a question, and as a reply to a tweet that included TW, her handle was automatically cc’ed in. Was Labour helping? I got two replies. The first was ‘Of course they are, they are trying to win an election.’ The second (from @MissLauraMarcus) was “Have you really sunk so low you are trying to smear a teenager?”
(At this point you can picture me making confused “Hm’roo?” Scooby-Doo noise). You what? Smear a teenager? How? Since that day Labour Press said they were taking over the account, I actually didn’t think Ms. Cuddleston would even be reading her own twitter. This seemed to me a totally legit question. Nobody was being accused of anything – well, other than the male student falsely accused of impersonating a thirteen year old girl and founding @cameronettes, being a pervert etc.
To this, my first question of MF and Labour handling it, I got responses that would become par for the course where Ms. Cuddleston was concerned over the next few weeks: “She’s a young girl doing some of the most important exams of her life!” “Thank you for proving how scared the Tories are of a 17 year old! Get a life, Louise!”.
Note the immediate accusations of bullying, ruining exams etc. @MissLauraMarcus continued to answer the question on behalf of Cuddleston and Labour and in almost every reply accused me of bullying for answering it. No amount of reasoned debate, or even praise for milifandom, could sway her.
“It’s a great, well-executed, fun political meme,” I said. “The question is did the party co-ordinate it. If yes, admit.”
(I can certainly see how this brutal grilling and attack-dog style tweeting is a disgrace to feminists everywhere :) ) When Laura replied yet again with more “bullying” attacks, I said “Laura, all I hear is you talking for her and Labour Press who are handling her thing.”
At this point it was already getting wearisome of being accused of bullying for asking this legitimate question, and Laura’s claims of bullying were attracting others. “I’m an elderly lady older and wiser than you,” said one Labour supporter. “What would you call me for joining the #Milifandom?”
“A hot babe with a sense of humour?” I replied. “No problems with any in #milifandom – only if Labour co-ordinated it and lied. And even then, the problem is not with the originator but with Labour using her.”
I confess that even upon rereading these tweets, they do not come across to me as inhuman pressure on a politically engaged young woman, or as attacks on the hashtag and its pictures: quite the opposite.
On this day, April 22, when I had accused Ms. Cuddleston of precisely nothing, and indeed praised the MF campaign as a ‘well executed fun political meme’, I got a ton of tweets accusing me of “bullying” her: just a few examples here, here, here, here and here. (My favourite might be “Mensch interrogation again? Wonder how long til the waterboarding #classy”)
However, at this point Ms. Cuddleston did reply to me and it was perfectly friendly.
“They [Labour] didn’t, I can promise you,” she said.
“Thank you. Excellent bit of social media campaigning,” I said. ‘Feel like I should now make you a Milifandom-meets-Hiddleston fandom but not good at meme gen :)”
So far, so reasonable on both sides, you might say. But no. This mild response was met with more accusations of being “contemptible” and demanding I set the record straight, which I promised to do:
“I’m going to write about the campaign, praising her work, this Sunday in the Sun,” I said, and did so, as excerpted above.
I then forgot about Ms. Cuddleston, as far as I was able to. I was bombarded still with utterly false accusations that I had ‘bullied’ her by asking if Labour press, having taken over her campaign, had assisted it, but I tried not to @ her name in reply. Bullying is a very nasty thing to do, a horrible accusation to have to counter, and clearly, I had not bullied Cuddleston. But I tried to tell myself that she, herself, was not responsible for all these shrieking lefties comparing my question to “water boarding” and crying about “bullying” a young political activist by, er, asking her a question.
During the election campaign I was no longer thinking about Ms, Cuddleston. All of my energies were focused on investigating George Galloway and Respect’s apparent violations of S106 of the Representation of the People Act in Bradford West, and as a columnist, I was particularly interested in Nigel Farage and Thanet South, as well as all the other issues that arose in the campaign from a feminist point of view, like the gender segregated rally in Birmingham organised by Labour.
Milifanmageddon arrived back on my TL when I replied to a tweet by (again) @MissLauraMarcus. It should be said that prior to the milimoment, Laura and I were tweeps, often agreeing on anti-semitism issues, so I frequently notice what she writes, and she had specifically addressed her tweet to me.
Laura asked me if I thought it was unethical that a reporter had knocked on Cuddleston’s door. ‘No it isn’t,’ I said. ‘She isn’t a child.‘ I would ask readers to note that this reply had no period in front of it; it was sent directly to Laura; nobody who didn’t follow both of us would even have read it. ‘Did you fulfill your promise and write about her in the Sun?’ Laura asked, accusing the reporter of ‘going after’ Cuddleston. ‘Yes, last week,’ I replied. There followed a discussion between the two of us and one other tweeter as whether a 17 year old is or is not a child and whether or not they can be asked for an interview. My position was that the press code of conduct wasn’t broken and that Ms. Cuddleston was a minor, not a child. ‘Legally can wed and serve in the Army,’ I pointed out. ‘Perfectly fine.’ Laura wasn’t having it: ‘What would your reaction be if it was a teenage Tory activist doorstepped by the Mirror?‘ she asked, ironically, as it would turn out. We debated the issue between ourselves. I did not @ TWCuddleston’s account at any point, nor was I even publicly tweeting about her; I was having a one-to-one conversation with Laura, visible only to our mutual followers. By this time, I found Cuddleston’s actions very distasteful. She was falsely complaining of harassment by reporters – a very serious charge, enough to get a reporter fired post Leveson, or to blacken their names for simply doing their jobs.
Yet TW’s prior timeline consisted of a massive string of self-glorifying tweets in which she directed her followers to RT her press, or exulted about another opportunity she was getting or mention that she had received. Media – handpicked media – was everywhere. She was first featured in a Buzzfeed interview on the 21st and posted a succession of shrieking tweets of joy about it in ALL CAPS, which she has now deleted
SO I WAS INTERVIEWED BY BUZZFEED FOR AN ARTICLE ABOUT THE #milifandom (Link to piece)
This was followed by “please RT” and “OMG I’m dying” as she exulted with her friends that Buzzfeed had made her famous. It was also followed by a Guardian interview which TW gave after her tweet saying “No interviews please, I am doing my AS Levels” on the same day
Given also that Labour press had said they controlled her, it was quite possible that requests given in were being ‘curated’ and would not reach her. I saw no problem with a reporter knocking on the family’s doors, requesting an interview and leaving a business card – provided that when and if they got a ‘no’ they left. I had not been there that day, so I can’t say for sure what happened, but on May 2nd and 3rd when Laura asked my opinion on the incident (as publicly described on Twitter), that was it.
However, I was pretty surprised to find that my one to one conversation with Laura had resulted in a seemingly endless stream of stop-bullying-Cuddleston tweets directed at me, when I wasn’t speaking publicly, or even naming or @-ing her. It was probably because Laura added the #milifandom hashtag to this tweet to me:
Bit of advice love… I REALLY wouldn’t go after a very popular 17-year-old. Makes you look mean, nasty & bitter
Well, I thought Cuddleston’s wrong claims against a woman doing her job were disgraceful, and said so to Laura; but I was not tweeting my public TL, mentioning the girl’s name, or @-ing her into the conversation (and Laura had asked me my opinion of the incident). Again, this was apparently “going after” Cuddleston, as by now anything other than fawning praise was deemed to do.
On May 3rd, I was utterly bombarded by hundreds of “Don’t bully the milifandom founder” tweets; they were by now beyond tiresome. But I was also perplexed as to where they had come from. Were I and Laura Marcus so interesting as all that? I saw it as a left-wing attempt to stop me tweeting all day long on #EdStone, which was the story of that day and (joy!) proved even more successful as a vote-influencing meme than #Milifandom.
Not til the end of the day on May 3, therefore, did I check out Cuddleston’s timeline: Mystery solved:
Just an open message to Louise Mensch. I don’t care what you think. Thanks.
This had got 300 RTs, and presumably explained the tsunami of “stop-bullying-TW” tweets. As Ms. Cuddleston had not @-ed me, I had no idea she was talking about me, as I have never followed her on Twitter. A bit late therefore I replied to her:
just an open message to you. We have something in common. I don’t care what you think, either.
But Ms. Cuddleston was not done. She was deconstructing my conversation with Laura Marcus (remember, I’d been asked for my opinion on the reporter by Laura) for her followers on the left:
This distinction is also in the IPSO press code, which treats those under 16 differently from those over 16 (the age of consent). TW herself argued she should have the vote at 16. So, not a child then. A young person.
Apart from my reply to Cuddleston, however, I still took care not to @ her directly. From the first non-threatening question, literally everything thrown her way had been called bullying. The difference for me pre May 2nd, was that I tried not to ascribe that false accusation to Cuddleston herself. After May 2nd I was pretty disgusted to see her making what based on public description of the incident was not at all harassment into harassment. Having sat on the hacking inquiry on the Select Committee, I know what a severe and solid charge it would be had a newspaper bullied, threatened or otherwise harassed a young woman doing her exams; and the reporter in question would be a pariah. It was a serious thing indeed Cuddleston said this woman had done to her. And therefore at this point I started actually looking at the activist’s TL to see what had really happened versus the persecution that she claimed happened – and as somebody wholly falsely accused of being a “bully” to Cuddleston, I was now reading her claims with a skeptical eye.
And woah, did TW make some claims. She hysterically demanded ‘answers’ from Rupert Murdoch as to why reporters had turned up at her door and tracked her down. She praised herself for standing up to Murdoch. She tweeted at former AG Emily Thornberry of white van fame who also tweeted in all caps “Rupert Murdoch call off your dogs.” And this was May 2nd! A long time after TW had tweeted ‘no interviews’ before giving one to the Guardian! Have these people no respect…?
But of course, Ms. Cuddleston was not interested in that – she wished to claim major persecution (but only from the disliked media group).
“Please Retweet! Shame on you @rupertmurdoch. Call off your dogs & leave @twcuddleston,17 yr old creator of #milifandom & her family alone!
This description of a reporter who knocked on TW’s door, was polite and friendly (by TW’s own account), left her card, and left – as a “dog” – finally brought a few protesting journalists into the open. “Slight overreaction?” asked Isabel Oakshott mildly. “Sounds like legitimate pursuit of a story, unless there’s something I’m missing.” She was one of many to suggest that electoral roll look up of the parents and googling could have brought up the address. With immense hypocrisy, @MsJenniferJames, who we see above telling TW ‘nobody is out to get you’ on the identical issue, now , tells Oakshott “Either through stupidity or malice you’re attempting to provoke a child. Do one.” “Zzzz,” Oakshott responded (hooray). By this time, TW had twice posted the Sun reporter’s phone number in two separate tweets (both now deleted). In the first picture, she uses the Sun reporter’s details to obscure the name of a Mirror card. In the second, she removes the Mirror card altogether, clearly displaying the reporter’s number yet again. Advice to remove a phone number is, once more, ‘harassment.’ A lawyer who points out to her that under the law she is not a child, and that she supports votes for 16 year olds whilst calling herself a child, is accused of not only harassment, but sexual perversion.
Meanwhile that night, a mentally disturbed woman going by the handle @SherbetLemon1 – her profile said she had PTSD – was telling TW she could be “sued”. Everybody around her, including Peter Jukes, was assuring her what utter nonsense that was:
https://twitter.com/peterjukes/status/594663964258238464 Murdoch never sues.
Yet the next night, as I argued with him – again, not with Cuddleston directly – Jukes was trying to claim mysterious and non-existent “legal threats”, as if they had come from a journalist, or somebody connected to the paper that asked Cuddleston for an interview. Jukes knew full well that literally nobody other than the poor mentally ill woman, whom TW’s fans ironically bullied off Twitter altogether, had ever suggested she would be sued or attacked.
So, there we have it. Nobody ‘harassed’ TW Cuddleston. Some reporters disagreed with her, and were characterized as a “baying pack of tabloid hounds” when they were lefties working at the Oxford Mail, for example, by Jukes. Cuddleston displayed extraordinary hypocrisy as she twice doxxed a reporter, then ranted for days against non-existent “bullying” by the Murdoch empire. Cuddleston excerpted a one-to-one tweet conversation I’d had with her supporter and broadcast it to her followers, to feed a victim complex when she wasn’t even being named, @’ed, or publicly addressed. Cuddleston claimed that the Mirror were somehow less guilty than the Sun because “part of my location” had been revealed even when her address had not. Cuddleston stated that her tweet saying ‘no interviews’ mattered, then totally contradicted herself as her May 2-3rd rant about a polite interview request showed a text from her Dad (posted by her) dated April 22 – the same day as her tweet, and the same day that despite it she was talking to the Guardian. In all likelihood then, the Sun reporter could have left to knock on Cuddleston’s door as or before that tweet was made – she would have been traveling and unlikely to see it – whereas the “days later” Mirror reporter must, by definition, have known full well she had “requested” no interviews.
Not only myself, but any person disagreeing with Cuddleston was falsely accused of harassment or trolling of a young woman who is not a child under either IPSO or the Children and Young Person’s Act, and who can already vote in some UK elections, like the Scottish referendum, had she lived there.
And Cuddleston had sunk to the level of tens of hysterical tweets against a woman who – by her own account – did her job politely, in a friendly way, and simply left a card – whilst casting herself as the scourge of the evil empire – and yet not @ -ing even one single tweet to the Mirror group, who had committed the identical “offence” only days after her ‘no interviews’ tweet was made, not on the same day.
Harassment IS serious. Bullying IS serious. The reporter did not do it to Cuddleston, nor did I, nor did anyone else. The lawyer who pointed out her status as a ‘young person’ not a child said he received “hundreds” of abusive tweets from her fans… “worse than UKIP,” was his amusing verdict.
In the same conversation in which a left-wing journalist fan of TW’s was accusing Isabel Oakshott of “stupidity or malice, attempting to provoke a child”, the journalist Katie Glass also dared to venture an opinion, and I think it’s a good one on which to end:
No. They can’t. Absolutely nobody has harassed Ms TW Cuddleston. I think she has an enormous future ahead of her in the Labour party. I do not mean that as a compliment.
* Yes, I realise this is not her real name. As she has said that my engaging with her ‘makes her cry’ I will simply use her Twitter handle for this piece. I do not care who she is or what her real name is; it isn’t relevant to the principle of whether or not a 17 year old can be debated by an adult. Also in order not to ‘make her cry’, I will close comments on the blog, and will not respond to her nor to any of her surrogates on Twitter. Although she has not been a child since she was 14, if she wishes to be treated like one, I can accommodate her.