Forum involved in Beard-abuse shuts

First published in January 2013

Mary Beard

NEWS-BITE | Media | Forums: Don’t Start Me Off, a website set up so members of the public could vent anonymously against public figures and institutions, has taken itself offline after it fell under the spotlight as a hub for some of the online hate being dished out towards Cambridge academic Mary Beard after she appeared on a recent edition of the BBC’s ‘Question Time’.

Beard faced a barrage of online abuse after getting into a heated debate over immigration on the BBC show. The professor subsequently wrote about her experiences in a blog for the Times Literary Supplement, pointing out that much of the online abuse she’d faced was simply misogynistic slurs and unnecessarily offensive remarks, rather than informed (other even uninformed) debate over the issues she’d discussed on ‘QT’.

Beard particularly focused on comments made on the Don’t Start Me Off site, arguing that the nature of the blatantly sexist abuse she was now receiving could put other opinionated women off participating in high profile debates, at a time that network’s like the BBC are under pressure to include more female pundits in their current affairs output.

Don’t Start Me Off called itself the “home of the annoyed” and encouraged users to “be funny … original … and inventive and to swear (but not too much)”. But despite its rebellious ambitions, it seems the site’s operators didn’t feel completely comfortable being the host of the sort of abuse aimed at Beard, or at least didn’t appreciate being in the spotlight over such content.

Shutting down the site this week, its founders wrote: “After much thought we have decided to close the site. It’s been great fun but our job is now done. We wish to thank everyone who we’ve had the privilege to know and to banter with. We wish you all the best for the future”.

Speaking on Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour, Beard welcomed the move, saying: “In the end the guys – and I assume they are guys that are running it – did the sensible thing and said look we are not going to go on with this”. Stressing that she had thought long and hard before challenging the comments on Don’t Get Me Started, the prof said that what bothered her about the forum was partly the sexist nature of the abuse and partly the way such comments are delivered in an anonymous forum.

Beard: “If I heard that in a bar I would go up and say excuse me guys can you shut up or go outside. In a way it’s trying to claim that normal manners and courtesy of social interaction for online as well as for face-to-face conversation”.