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Climate Camp 2010: Twitter Backfires… or does it?

This year the Camp for Climate Action received a grilling from the Guardian Environment Blog on the basis of a few trolls who found our hashtag feed. This is my version of what happened.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Climate Camp 2010-media
Our best 3G signal for getting onto the internet was found at the top of the rise. All photography by Amelia Gregory.

Since I’ve returned from Climate Camp in Edinburgh the media backlash against us has began. Perhaps we have grown complacent about our cosy relationship with the mainstream media over the past few years? Thwarted in their desire for juicy riot porn the Guardian instead turned to the trouble I had been experiencing on twitter since the start of camp, when one troll turned into two, which then turned into a whole host of the little critters. Because trolls always have friends and they know how to find each other. And once they do they like to have a feeding frenzy.

Climate Camp 2010-mediateam
The media team: small but very hard working.

So how did this all start? Well, unfortunately I feel very much to blame and I’ve learnt my lesson. At the start of this year I went on an anti EDL march in London, and whilst there I picked up a follower of the EDL sympathising persuasion. Now, I’ve never followed him, but we did engage in conversation every now and again on twitter. He’s a very persistent sort of chap, and I thought “ow, bless, he’s sadly misguided but essentially a sweet man despite his extreme right wing nationalistic views – maybe he’ll learn something if he follows me.” He even offered to help out with my website. Well, that was my biggest mistake: EDL sympathisers are not for the turning. So, he knew about the #climatecamp hashtag from me, and he made it his personal business to stalk me on it throughout Climate Camp – describing me as his #twittercrush and Climate Camp Vamp on @replies to my personal twitter feed, loitering on the perimeter of the campsite and offering me lifts home from Edinburgh in his “gun metal Aston” when I tweeted about waiting for the bus… and posting offensive tweets to all and sundry through the #climatecamp hashtag which only served to attract even more horrible little trolls from far and wide. Anthropogenic global warming denialists, fascists, homophobes, racists, sexists – you name it, they all came running.

Climate Camp 2010-all ages
People of all ages come to Climate Camp.

I managed to ignore these trolls – because what else can you do? Like a greedy little pug, if you feed them they just keep coming back for more. It looked like things might die down as the camp started to wind up. And then. James Randerson on the Guardian environment blog saw fit to publish an article featuring some tweets from these trolls – “Twitter Backfires” screeched the headline. As if a few trolls would stop interested people and Climate Camp supporters from going straight to the Climate Camp twitter feed (wow, what a novel idea!) or reading through to the interesting and relevant tweets in the #climatecamp stream rather than fatuous fake retweets reinforcing every known stereotype of “hippy activist”. We are all posh, anarchist, crybaby, smelly, student, lentil chomping, yurt dwelling, marxists. Wow! I’d really love to meet someone who embodies all of those things in one person!

Climate Camp 2010-child
Climate Camp 2010-girl
Just some of the very happy well-adjusted children on Climate Camp.

The outcome of the Guardian blog? It fed the trolls a huge amount of publicity and unwittingly condoned their actions… and by default their opinions. This on the environment blog of a left leaning newspaper – which supposedly supports our actions. And here it was saying our protest was a failure purely because we didn’t “own” the twittersphere. Sour grapes because we didn’t provide them with the exciting coverage the mainstream media demands of us? Seems like it to me. And utter bullshit. Because at the end of the day most people on Climate Camp don’t use twitter – and have no idea of this storm on a Tweetdeck. They couldn’t care less – they were on camp, taking direct action together, on the site of the HQ, in an RBS branch in Edinburgh, handing out leaflets about tarsands, marching with locals on the proposed site of a huge new open cast coal mine or teaching subversive lyrics at an impromptu performance on a Fringe stage. There are so many other ways to reach people, and twitter is but one tool in the outreach box.

Climate Camp 2010-compost loos change
Changing the straw bales in the loos.

Suddenly the trolls were back in business. And so I’ve spent the past few days doing my best blocking irrelevant trolls and aborting the #climatecamp hashtag amongst supportive followers. It’s been a swift learning curve. But one big thing I’ve realised is this: you can’t change some people. I should have blocked my troll the minute he started following me. I still think he’s a sad misguided individual – one with an awful lot of lonely time on his hands to spend a whole week trolling on the #climatecamp hashtag – but he’s also a massive arse to take such pleasure out of petty nastiness. The fact that he claims to care about the environment “I plant trees” – big woop-de-doo – makes his actions particularly noxious. What’s more he’s a passive aggressive EDL sympathiser with far right leanings who rather scarily knows an awful lot about me and The Guardian has given him and his ilk a legitimacy that is far from worthy. But to equate a problem on twitter with a wholesale failure of the camp is just ridiculous; whilst this whole episode may personally have made my life quite unpleasant, none of this will affect those who are committed to taking direct action as part of Climate Camp. So in the end a big old #fail for the trolls. I’d like to believe they are even now scuttling back into their little troll homes… but I doubt they will be able to stop their fingers from itching towards the keyboard.

Climate Camp 2010-set up boards
Now, where do these go?
Climate Camp 2010-wheelchair
Climate Camp is accessible to all.

Trolls: a few words. This blog is moderated and you aren’t welcome on here. I wholly reserve the right to delete you. You’ve been warned.

You can read about all the actions we took on Climate Camp at the RBS HQ in Edinburgh on my blog here.


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11 Responses to “Climate Camp 2010: Twitter Backfires… or does it?”

  1. tim says:

    Great article amelia. Don’t get down. You did great. Climate camp would be in a far worse place without you

  2. Lee Delta says:

    “Because trolls always have friends and they know how to find each other”

    Interestingly, if you do bother to look at these trolls you might notice that actually quite often the noisiest ones have very few friends, if their count of ‘followers’ on Twitter is anything to go by.

  3. Amelia says:

    Hi Lee thanks for your comment: I am well aware that most of them aren’t that popular when it comes to followers, but they’re able to flock together very readily. And I can assure you that I do my research very thoroughly compared with some bastions of the media, mentioning no names.

  4. Amelia says:

    Thanks Tim, much appreciated!

  5. Sam says:

    As one of the people commenting on the hashtag for parts of Sunday and Monday, there’s one thing missing from the coverage.

    It was far more even than the Guardian suggest. Throughout the day, there were people interjecting facts and references to the hashtag, as well as comment on both sides.

    What those supporters of @climatecamp weren’t able to do, was come up with the witty fact-free one liners, that OldHoborn and WeAreTheBritish managed to do so well.

    In many ways, it’s the @SarahPalinUSA equivalent – tossing out some comment which is utterly deranged, and repeating it enough until the media pick it up 3 days later. At which point, what was actually said and discussed during the action – when any media attention was being made – doesn’t matter any more. Had the twitter article been written on Monday evening, the Guardian article should have been very different – but that doesn’t make as good a story (still on the guardian eco front page 3 days later). As it was, published when most people were finishing tat-down or travelling home, or had been home for a day and were spending time on other things, the only people around were the hecklers who didn’t do anything at all and so can just repeat previous tweets.

    On monday, various tweeters at Camp in Edinburgh did tweet a bit; but was their time really best spent tweeting, or helping out with the action. As pithy as the ClimateCamp name is, the actual name is the Camp for Climate Action. The last bit is, in many ways, the important part.

    It’s far easier for two people – principal ongoing heckling only came from @WeAreTheBritish and @OldHoborn, with @BillyBlofeld showing up later – but their ability to tweet fact-free faster, and simply retweet anything mildly critical – than anyone helped them. There’s only a small number of times that the many wider friends of @climatecamp could keep repeating the same facts before we got bored of the game and went to do something productive.

    Some of @OldHoborn’s jokes were funny; but that’s when he’s taken as a joke. One of the issues ClimateCamp seems to show, once again, is that soundbites win over facts in the short term. @ClimateCamp may be only armed with peer-reviewed science; but it’s up against passionate hecklers armed only with non-peer-reviewed jokes and an active disdain for science, fact or reason.

    One thing this has proved, yet again, is that Lies can get an article in The Guardian before Truth can google for a fact.

    But James Randerson is right about one thing:

  6. M says:

    Well put and i thought as i was on line through a good secure network idd counter the fools just for a moment mind, but hay feed them they come back and this has been proven by the media and there actions.

    You know that i never trust the media, having friends who was former workers for said newspaper and others, some years in direct action i know never to trust them and we all learn lessons some times the hard way.

    You know this i love respect you as a human and was well happy at the choice of RBS (THERE SCUM) at last Climate Camp was moving.

    Just a note the said scum was feeding Indymedia the twitter feed (articles now hidden) it was non news, this said you had to reply and the right thing to have done to show we have no fear of such people, ha so there was some Middle Class giving a shit makes a change if you ask me, shame the self proclaimed vanguard of The Working Class are not doing the same..

    If only it was not for double glazed windows i feel this would be a whole lot different.

    Love Rage Anarchy


  7. jamesh says:

    i don’t think you should be concerned about attracting the trolls – they need no encouragement, and personally i believe that their sheer ubiquity tends to lead people to ignore them – does anyone read the comments on Comment is Free anymore?

    but i’m most disappointed by the guardian – no need to get out there and do journalism when you can make second hand comment about how we chose to ignore rather than feed idiotic, puerile ranting from the comfort of your warm office.

  8. D says:

    Sam gives a very good account of how the hashtag panned out over several days. I weighed in on Monday (rather infrequently) and RT’d some of the good points I saw made, but it’s fair to say that it only took a small number of people tweeting every 5 minutes, or even every 2, and retweeting each other’s nonsense, to flood the feed with negative comments. Most of which were essentially content-free and extremely repetitive.

    It’s a pretty powerful feedback loop, particularly if more than one person is able to commit several full days(!!!!!) to it. Anyone who both cared enough about climate camp and had the free days would have been there.

    jamesh is totally right, you can ignore the trolls but you have to be disappointed with The Guardian interpreting this as a story.

    It’s also incredibly creepy if you post a comment and 3 people immediately both flame you and start to follow you simultaneously, yuck.

  9. [...] Climate Camp 2010: Twitter Backfires… or does it? [...]

  10. [...] the response from Climate Camp to the Guardian articles here, here and here. This entry was posted in Climate Change, Police, Protests, UK Politics, freedom of [...]

  11. nova says:

    Hi the things with trolls is that they do tend to speak so much crap, but unfortunatly if their comments go unchallenged then people tend to beleive them, sad as it is no matter where or what medium we use trolls will be part of it. Hence why i like to keep a close eye on my trolls, as you never know what they are up to. Its true they don’t need followers they just need hash string

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