The Antisocial Network BBC3, The Little Paris Kitchen:Cooking with Rachel Khoo, BBC2
Last night's viewing
When the broadcaster Richard Bacon acquired an abusive cyber-stalker he appears – judging from the conclusions of his own film on the problem – to have done pretty much everything wrong. He should have simply blocked the offending tweeter and moved on, but he didn't. He shouldn't have responded in any way at all, but he did, attempting to reason with his attacker. Even more recklessly, perhaps, his wife tried to get the abuser to stop as well, which meant that she got drawn into the hate-campaign too. They fed the troll, in other words, and you might argue that The Antisocial Network laid on an all-you-can-eat buffet for this as yet unidentified inadequate – a reasonably educated, 43-year-old man whose life's mission appears to be to make Bacon feel bad. On the other hand, Bacon did pretty much everything right in making the film. It didn't directly address the genuinely tricky issue of internet freedom – which turns out to be awkwardly entangled with the freedom to be vile to strangers – but it offered a cool, unhysterical look at how ugly some online behaviour is.
In one sense, it's merely a technological amplification of a perennial human vice. People have always written poison-pen letters and scrawled cruel insults on toilet walls. Now, though, the vicious message drops through a million letterboxes simultaneously and the toilet wall can be seen by the world. So we end up with commemorative Facebook sites to dead children being vandalised by strangers with tasteless jokes, celebrations of the death and even, as shown here, a video upload in which a masked troll sings, "I'm dancing on your grave" to a techno-beat. We also end up with nearly one-in-three girls between 11 and 17 reporting that they've been the subject of online bullying, an assault that can – as it had in one case here – lead to suicide.
It seems that a lot of internet trolls have been bullied, too, and though an hour-long programme was never going to be able to entirely unravel the mysterious satisfaction to be gained from tormenting the recently bereaved it did offer some clues. Colm Coss, who is one of the few people to have been jailed for sending "malicious communications" online, claimed in his police interview that he'd been provoked by what he saw as the false sympathy of more respectful commenters on RIP sites. He also said of his more disgusting remarks, "it's so over the top that anyone who takes it seriously must be quite a sensitive soul". Some scar tissue had left this man so numbed to human feeling that he had to hurt others to get a sensation. "It is addictive sometimes when you get people going crazy at you," explained another man, who claimed that he'd now stopped trolling. Social opprobrium doesn't make them question their behaviour, in other words, it's what the behaviour is designed to provoke. Bacon's attempt to track down and confront his own abuser wasn't finally successful (though his Twitter name no longer seems to be active). Even the honey-trap promise of compromising photographs failed to lure him out of his hole and Bacon finally decided to hand the matter over to the police, having been advised by two of the experts he'd consulted that the abusive tweets were edging from the ignorable to the alarming. One can't help but hope that the long arm of the law eventually gave him an admonitory meat-space poke.
In The Little Paris Kitchen, Rachel Khoo promises to take the "fear out of French cooking". I wasn't aware there was a lot of fear in there to begin with, but Khoo's selling point as a chef appears to be demystification and breezy enjoyment. And mottos. "Anything to save washing up – that's my motto," she said. And then later, "My motto is 'Butter makes everything better'." My motto is: "Too many cooks end up on telly."
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