Troll Like a Champion

#EduTwitter’s Nasty Party

We hear about trolling all the time now but usually such cases are about celebrities or other public figures. But by far the largest number of cases are against private individuals and families. These cases rarely make it into the public consciousness or the media, it is often impossible to gain the support of state law enforcement who will attempt to fob it off as a “civil law” issue because otherwise it has to go before the Crown Prosecution Service.

In 2010 my wife and I made a landmark victory in an international trolling and cyberstalking case that had persisted for 5 years against my family including our daughter who was just 3 years old at the time.

On the eve of filing a class action suit against Google, several online providers and litigating against the Crown Prosecution Service itself, only after we hosted an international conference and the mainstream media had picked up our story did the Police finally act.

A primetime documentary about our story was made by the Crime and Investigation Channel that has been syndicated to almost every nation and viewed on broadcast and online by millions of citizens. Our story provided the impetus and some of the legal framework that forms the basis of today’s anti-trolling and anti-stalking laws. It also gave me expertise, legal and technical, that remains somewhat ahead of the curve and provided me with income from advisory work with law enforcement agencies, governments and individuals.

credit: Crime and Investigation Channel

With the advent of social media where we can all be publishers, share opinions and trade insults the increase in trolling and cyberstalking has been significant and extremely hard to police given that it also requires society to take a stand, i.e. exercise their agency. It has also proven to be a fertile pasture for aggregating maniacs. As often happens when good-intentions and pots of money are involved there any many, mostly ineffectual, e-safety organisations operating in most countries. Interestingly many of these pots of gold come from the CSR departments of the organisations, from mobile operators to social media platform owners, responsible for the platforms that enable offence. So hardly a neutral space.

Needless to say that even after our troll published webpages suggesting that our 3 year daughter had HIV (untrue as it happens) and issued death and reputational threats these timid organisations just wrung their hands and offered us tea.

So here we are 6 years later and it strikes me as astonishing that I see so much trolling and the encouragement of such behaviour emerging from the people who are charged with the education of our children.

I’ve spent part of my weekend dealing with such a person who is surrounded by the usual suspects of Twitter attack dogs, avenging angels and the unhinged. Possibly worse for wear from a glass too many (it started in the morning here in London but it was night time there in Australia) I was treated to a series of ill-informed accusations and abuse from an English born immigrant who now teaches at a fee paying school in Australia no doubt inculcating British Values to the former colonies.

You can read it here in this Storify (which continues to update as the attack dogs have terrier DNA, let’s hope they have insurance too).

After spending a bit of time using tools that I created after my own families trolling incident I have been attempting to understand the basis of this gentleman’s immediate and rabid dislike of me as well as the network that he is connected with.

Greg Ashman used to blog and tweet some pretty rum stuff anonymously as “WebsOfSubstance” but was outted — but why be anonymous if you’ve got nothing to hide?

Funny how familiar faces keep showing up isn’t it? WebsOfSubstance may have gone off the air but the Internet Archive is your friend.

Greg is involved with the Australian Chapter of Tom Bennett’s ResearchED gang and I think it might have been a post of mine from the start of the year that upset him.

Other than the gang sulking in the playground corner my article received over 200,000 reads and a huge amount of cheer to everybody else who read it. The post was quickly followed up by an article describing a remarkable couple in the UK who have a strong and undemocratic influence on education policy in the UK.

Again widely cheered by the majority it was attacked by Tom’s gang as a conspiracy theory. The contents of my article eventually made it to the mainstream and were proved accurate. Even Private Eye magazine, essential reading for anyone interested in hypocrisy and politrix, covered it. (disclosure, I’ve written for Private Eye in the past).

Confusing these articles as “ad hominem” attacks to be avenged by the likes of Greg plus other foot soldiers and man groupies in the Tom Bennett army is quite simply bizarre. As a writer and commentator I am absolutely within my rights to question those who are public figures, engaged by government, receive public funds or influence public policy.

Conduct courtesy of David Dildau (LearningSpy)

I’ve never met Tom Bennett although I did reach out to him on many occasions to suggest that bringing alternative views into his ResearchED curation may avoid the confirmation bias that has emerged and will ultimately spoil his brand. I’d had some experience of convening large events with access to some very knowledgeable speakers via LWF.

On every occasion he ignored me. When he was appointed School Behaviour Tsar, I introduced him to my wife, a respected child & adolescent psychotherapist with over 8 years of university research, trained at the Anna Freud Centre and with hundreds, if not more, of clinical experience working in schools. He completely ignored me.

The other points which seem to be on constant loop in this gentleman’s noodle is that:

1) I am not a teacher of children & 
2) that I am “corporate shill” for a petromonarchy or Lego or that I earn money by working.

Let’s deal with these objections in reverse order shall we?

Yes, it’s true that I earn money to feed my family. I’ve lived between Deptford and Peckham for 15 years in a house that has a huge mortgage, high council tax and all the other challenges of living in one of the worlds most expensive cities. I have no employer as such and do not enjoy a school, university or any other salary. I receive no book royalties nor retainers. Any income I make is on my own merit. I monetise my experience and knowledge by public speaking engagements and consultation programmes with corporate clients that include those working in education. My job is to catalyse conversations, challenge entrenched thinking and establish strategies for positive change. I do a lot of pro-bono work. I pay my taxes.

The first canard that, “I am not a teacher therefore have no right to an opinion”, is quite frankly nonsense and the very last gasp of those who have lost the argument.

The fact is that I’ve spent more than 20 years of my career working closely with teachers not just in the UK but globally. I spent 15 years working in the digital industry across entertainment, publishing, feature film, music and video games. In my 35 year career I have accumulated numerous patents some of which are inside your smartphone. I’m confident from the written feedback from my public speaking work that the teachers and other adults in the audiences have felt that they have learned something from me. I frequently work with kids having collaborated with Goldsmiths College on a new form of collaborative assessment to assess competences rather than memory recall. More recently I worked with children in Lambeth and Tower Hamlets to design new ways of learning STEM by connecting it to their own urban circumstances. I also speak to large audiences of students with a recent one being to more than 2,500 11–16 year olds at a school in Dubai. Which was epic by the way and resulted in this post which caught the attention of Mr Ashman. It was titled “Learners Voice” and if Mr Ashman had read it he might have learned something himself.

My purpose in opening this up for thought and comment is that surely this kind of behaviour that the education community on Twitter seems prepared to accept must stop. It brings the teaching profession in to disrepute and prevents valuable discourse between those holding opposing or differing views.

After putting up with this nonsense, always from the same crowd, for more than a year I published this when I decided to take a short break from social media — “Mr Newton’s Had Enough”.

I didn’t intend to stay away from social media for a long period of time and sure enough I came back to play after a few months. Twitter can be a great place to share ideas and keep in touch with friends and colleagues that would otherwise drift. But from behind the safety of a keyboard in the belief that the digital world won’t blend with the physical world (spoiler, it will & I can’t wait) it seems that it brings out the worst in people.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that there are laws against this not just the misuse of the telecommunications act, libel and slander but also for those who like to join in, what is known as “Inchoate Offences”. There are instances where a substantive offence may not have been completed but nevertheless an offence of a different kind has been committed because of the actions or agreements in preparation for the substantive offence.

But if the educational community or #EduTwitter continue in this bully boy, playground behaviour we waste the great opportunity that platforms like Twitter allow us; to share ideas, engage with those who disagree and learn more.

Instead it’s like walking into a pub when a complete stranger punches you in the face because he can only look at the pictures and not read your words. But trust me, I’m with John Prescott on that kind of behaviour.

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An entertaining & thought provoking slayer of sacred cows, Graham Brown-Martin works globally with senior leadership teams to help organisations adapt in the face of rapid change & innovation. By challenging entrenched thinking he liberates teams to think in new ways to solve complex challenges. His book Learning {Re}imagined is published by Bloomsbury and he is represented for speaking engagements via Wendy Morris at the London Speakers Bureau.