Yesterday the local BBC radio held a discussion on the very worthy subject of safe internet use.
This comes at a time when there has been a national news story about some of the horrendous abuse people have received on Twitter, particularly women who have committed the unthinkable crime of having an opinion and not being the right gender.
There have been threats of murder, rape and all sorts of other nasty things. This is a really serious issue, because huge numbers of people are able to get away with making such disgusting and cowardly threats that make innocent people fear for their safety. And worse than this, there have also been several stories in the news about young people who have been driven to suicide because of bullying online by "trolls".
So any dialogue on the subject is certainly worth having.
Jersey is not isolated from this and there are people in Jersey who make it their business to try and make other people as miserable as possible over the internet. In particular, there is at least one person we know of, who is doing his best to abuse what the internet gives us, to try and demoralise, defame and demotivate anyone who stands up for something in Jersey, be that for democracy, for social democratic politics or (and this is the most sinister part) for the victims of historic child abuse in Jersey.
I engaged with a discussion with some BBC employees over Facebook because of the topic they were choosing to discuss and the hypocrisy I saw behind it and now I feel compelled to tell the story that needs to be on public record.
But first, let me get this out of the way - I love the BBC. I think the quality programming it creates, the upcoming artists it helps support and the impartial national news coverage it provides is first class and something that Britain should be incredibly proud of. All you have to do is watch 5 minutes of American news coverage (Fox News especially) to realise how lucky we are to have such an excellent broadcaster.
Not only that, but I regularly deal with people on all levels of the local media (that's the JEP, CTV, the BBC and 103), and have pretty much never found a journalist or other media worker who has not been incredibly helpful and friendly. I am not exaggerating when I say that.
You can often best judge an individual or institution by how they handle their complaints. A couple of summers ago I was organising the Jersey Dead concert that I do every year (held this year at the Watersplash on the 30th and 31st August, be there!) and felt quite aggrieved at being snubbed by the BBC in favour of Jersey Live. I thought it was unfair that coverage in the BBC Introducing program was focusing purely on Jersey Live (which was mainly UK bands and could afford to pay for advertising) to the exclusion of a not-for-profit small event with only local bands and needed help advertising. When Ryan Morrison (the presenter of the show) asked me to be put on the guest list for Jersey Dead so he could cover it after the event (when really we needed coverage before it), I complained to him about how he had run the Introducing program and various other things. His reaction to my complaint was absolutely superb. We engaged in a proper dialogue, he apologised for some things, fairly justified other things and I saw a noticeable improvement in the program from then on.
That is how you deal with a complaint.
So what I have to say now is nothing against the BBC in general, especially not the decent people who work there. But here goes...
There is a rather sad individual out there that most of us know of. His name is James.... or is it Julie? Or Sue? Or Alan? Well, he has lots of names.
The main name he uses is James Le Gallais. He runs a pretty pathetic blog (which I don't intend on giving publicity to) under this name. The blog focuses on this individuals rather creepy obsession with Deputies Shona and Trevor Pitman. I have even made a guest appearance on it, along with some pretty petulant remark about my gender being ambiguous because I have long hair (that is the level of intellectual analysis you'll find on that blog). His speciality at the moment is defending a man who recently presided over a court case in which he had a conflict that should have made him withdraw, and who most, in private, will say that he shouldn't even be a Jurat because of his terrible judgement and refusal to consider evidence (something that is sort of important for a Jurat) during the Jervis-Dykes affair. You can come to your own conclusions about what motivates someone like this.
I could go on further about this blog and individual, but don't want to entertain him. He is basically,a thoroughly unpleasant and sinister character.
You could just ignore him and it would never bother anyone and he might even eventually give up. But here is the problem - the local BBC refuses to ignore him and even actively engages with him.
He runs two other fake Facebook accounts called "Julie Hanning" and "Sue Young" (another one called "Alan Gower" used to exist but is now gone for some reason). Both are so blatantly fakes. One was created on the same day as James Le Gallais, and the other was created on the day that the Leah McGrath Goodman interview on YouTube went viral (so was obviously created just to get stuck in to the hysteria online and fan the flames).
They all contribute to any thread they can on the BBC page that is vaguely able to be linked up to his pet hates, and interject with mostly insulting nonsense and hijacking the threads. The BBC regularly read out comments on the air, including some by these fake accounts.
The BBC have been complained to several times for the fact that they let these fake accounts spoil their Facebook page. Their page should be a place for discussion from all sides on the topics they put forward, not an excuse for some faceless troll to spread their poison.
But despite complaint after complaint, the BBC have consistently refused to do anything about it. It is only since I have managed to speak to Ryan Morrison (the journalist I mentioned before) that he has officially gotten the regional BBC to look at it (who knows what that will culminate in, if anything).
The BBC should have no part whatsoever in giving a platform to malicious and bogus accounts, using fake identities to malign other people and if they are not trying to tackle it, they are failing the licence fee payers.
Where things get really bad is here -
On the 5th of March this year, Jon Gripton, the head of BBC Jersey, posted this on Twitter -
For those that don't know, "ShonaThickman" was a Twitter account set up (I am almost certain by the same person in charge of the other accounts I've identified) to bully Deputy Shona Pitman. It was not a parody account (parodies are meant to be funny), it was there purely to insult her and to belittle her for things that no human being, regardless of their politics, deserves to be belittled for. I don't really want to go into why some of the comments were particularly offensive about Shona, because they are to do with her private life, but they were pretty horrendous. I have met Shona maybe 4 or 5 times and she has always been absolutely lovely, and so certainly doesn't deserve the sheer viciousness she was subjected to by this person.
But here were have the head of the local BBC actually endorsing and promoting a bully.
Naturally this upset a few people and he was faced immediately with a backlash of complaints, some from myself. Very quickly, his Twitter account disappeared without a trace. We presumed that he had realised he had messed up and was withdrawing for a while.
Had Gripton simply Tweeted something "Yeah, you're right, sorry I didn't realise it was a hate-site. I'll try and be more careful in future" then nothing more would ever have come from this and that would have been the end of that. But instead it gets worse.
He returned to Twitter a month and a half later with a new account. He left no explanation as to why he was ever gone, and took the astounding step of pre-emptively blocking all of those that had complained against him previously. Despite the fact the complaints were entirely legitimate (and clearly well grounded, given that he left Twitter over them), his first step was to make sure he blocked everyone who had shown that they were willing to hold him to account if he messed up. Now, I don't care if I am blocked by someone, I won't lose sleep over it. But I am bugged by someone who is essentially a public servant taking steps to actively ensure that they are less accountable.
That alone should be a cause for concern.
So the first thing I did was complain to the national BBC. Here is what I said -
"The Editor of the BBC in Jersey, Jon Gripton, left Twitter several months ago. No explanation was left, though it coincided with a series of complaints that I and several others made at the time after he had endorsed on Twitter a renown troll and bully, describing it as "amusing". I and many others were sickened to see a BBC Editor promote an account set up to bully and mock a female politician in Jersey. I have complained to Gripton several times about the local BBC engaging with an internet troll and he has never dealt with my complaints satisfactorily. Though nothing was said, I had presumed that he had left Twitter for reasons connected to the backlash he faced for his disgraceful behaviour on Twitter. I was one of those that complained directly to him over Twitter and to the BBC. However recently he has returned to Twitter using a new account. I have gone to "follow" it so I can keep up to date with local BBC goings on and also to keep an eye on his behaviour, however he has personally blocked me from following him. I find this outrageous as my only crime has been to report him when he has acted disgracefully. He is evidently just trying to cover his back by pre-emptively blocking those who have the backbone to stand up to him when he is out of order. I have never insulted him nor threatened him. I can't imagine for a moment this is in line with BBC policies on openness and being accountable to the public."
Their reply was as follows -
"Thanks for contacting us regarding Jon Gripton. We note you are unhappy Mr Gripton has blocked you from following him on Twitter. We have raised your concerns with the relevant editorial staff at the BBC. They advised that they have alerted Mr Gripton to your complaint, but as the Twitter account is a personal account, he is free to block whom he likes. With regard to Mr Gripton’s previous Twitter activity, he strongly disagrees with any suggestion that he has endorsed bullying, whether it be physical, mental or online and takes such allegations very seriously. Thanks for the bringing the matter to our attention."I dispute that it is his personal account. It may say on it that it is personal account, but virtually everything he posts on it is connected to BBC business. But as you can see, he totally dodged making a real point on his endorsement of a bully. It was never alleged that he endorsed "bullying" but that he endorsed "a bully". The two are not the same thing and he obviously chose his words carefully to get around that accusation. Instead he could have simply said "Yeah, you're right, sorry I didn't realise it was a hate-site. I'll try and be more careful in future" but he just can't accept that he messed up and refuses to allow any plebs to hold him to account.
It is yesterdays discussion that has convinced me that this story needed to be told.
Bullying is a horrible thing. I'm lucky in that I was never bullied to any worrying extent (I went to Grainville where everyone got a punch at least once a week and a name called every few hours, but nothing that ever got me down), but it affects some worse than others and evidently can drive some to suicide.
There is no room for bullying in society whatsoever. It has to be tackled, not tolerated and certainly not covered up.
The BBC was engaging in a discussion in which they were being totally hypocritical because they could not address the bullying going on on their own page, which could so easily be sorted simply by blocking the accounts and by the head of the BBC engaging his brain a bit before endorsing a bully on Twitter.
I don't blame the ordinary staff and journalists at the BBC. It is evidently a problem with the leadership who aren't treating this seriously. Frankly, the BBC refusing to allow itself to be held to account has led to some pretty nasty revelations that we have heard over the past year and if lessons are not learnt, there is nothing to stop it happening again.
Bullies must be stood up to, not engaged with, so when you see the BBC or any other media outlet engaging with these people (or "this person" I should say), stand up to them and let them be known that online bullying is totally unacceptable.
I know that for writing this blog I will no doubt be the subject of a real slander attempt by the troll who will cook up all sorts of lies against me to try and distract from this persons own sick antics. He already spent part of the referendum campaign lying trying to say I had a financial interest in Option A winning (good thing I didn't!), he has also posted comments on other blogs alleging I am being mentored by current Deputies on how to break the postal vote law and other nonsense.
Should I be flattered that he considers me worth dedicating his time to, or should I be very worried that some stranger has this obsession with me?
Also, I say to any potential commenters - be aware of the touchy nature of this subject and do try and be careful when posting comments about other individuals here. As usual I want to publish all comments, but we must make sure we aren't slanderous.