When to comment on the Grimsby Telegraph
Delving into the Grimsby Live comments is not, frankly, good for mental health. With some notable, and noble, exceptions, the commenters are some of the least likeable people you might come across. Each feeling the need to bring their unique slant of negativity to the site, ideally with a garnish of racism.
When you follow them, you begin to identify the little signs and tells. Some people, almost definitely, have multiple accounts, using different avatars as the mood suits them, sometimes backing themselves up, sometimes just continuing their points, perhaps forgetting they have switched accounts.
But they all share a fairly consistent worldview. And it means that when you see a headline, you can guess what’s going to follow. There are some groups that they just love to pile in on.
If someone has a name that isn’t traditionally English, or a skin colour that goes beyond a good tan, they are fair game. They usually should go home, and if they have ended up in court for something, it’s a guarantee that the sentence is not stiff enough (and they should be deported afterwards, as well).
Actually, anyone who’s not from round here
As one tourist who had the temerity to complain would find if he read the article’s comments, Cleethorpes is a resort that really would rather people from outside didn’t visit. Why on earth the town should have to tolerate these people coming and spending money in the local economy, creating jobs, is beyond the typical GT commenter.
The paradox of poverty in Grimsby and Cleethorpes is that poor people are rolling in it. They have generous benefits, expensive phone contracts, smoke and drink, go everywhere in taxis, are overweight because they have such excessive diets, watch things on their enormous TVs and then jet off on luxury holidays.
If someone has a problem, the immediate reaction is to blame them. Poor people cannot be victims, if society has any responsibility it’s that it simply has not been hard enough on the poor.
Grimsby and Cleethorpes are red wall seats. With a Conservative Council and two Tory MPs (neither of whom would trouble any list of political talent), and twelve years into Tory Governments, any bad news will, somehow, be blamed on Labour. Indeed, stories of Labour failure from the 70s are still trotted out as if they have some relevance fifty years later.
Cyclists are bad, and drivers are good. When the site uses a police appeal for a bit of filler, there is no speculation, it would have been the cyclist’s fault. Indeed, cyclists are so obviously to blame that even when those appeals make no mention of a bike, they still get fingered for blame.
The commenters, who frequently have a poor grasp of the English language, reserve a particular ire for the paper’s journalists. They fail to realise that Reach no longer offer the type of training and development that one made the Grimsby Evening Telegraph a training ground for talented journalists. Instead, Reach operates on a clickbait model, churning out stories that drive advertising revenue, and their journalists have to pedal what is thrown their way without the support of sub-editing.
But, for the commenter, it’s the name in the byline that carries the blame for errors in the text, or the less than challenging subjects they have to tackle.
Like most towns, the area has a few people who have achieved varying degrees of celebrity. Of course, modern celebrity is a strange thing; it’s possible to have millions of fans around the world, but be unknown on your street.
The problem with people from Grimsby achieving celebrity, according to the Grimsby Telegraph commenters, is that they have no talent, they don’t deserve success, they are boring. Why on earth would you be pleased that someone is doing well for themselves, or even take a bit of pride that a local boy or girl has done good, when you can just criticise them?
It does make us sound snobby picking on this, but we cannot avoid it. Anything that smacks of ‘art’ and ‘culture’ is frowned upon. The area has a surprisingly large artistic and cultural offer, both from the public and private sectors. But these aren’t universally welcome.
Of course, nothing will be liked by everyone; we probably all know little about art, but know what we like, and that’s just fine. Sadly, the tone taken by commenters has an anti-intellectual edge, private galleries are mocked, while the only possible value of dance is to improve boxing footwork.
The commenter flow-chart
One of the little side projects we had been doing is a flow-chart of the commenter thought process, helping to get from story ‘x’ to comment ‘y’. We thought that one day we might post it.
What is interesting, though, are the stories that are largely ignored. And in the past few days, there have been two stories that highlight how these factors some into play, and these made us think about our flow-chart differently.
Dealing with an edge case
Yesterday the site published a story about a young boy, Jakub Szymanski from Manchester, 15 years’ old, who died while trying to protect his mother. There is no information given on the attacker, except that a man was arrested in Kent. The boy and his mother were both stabbed, with the boy dying later in hospital.
Both the boy and his mother have names that suggest Polish origin. But, of course, it’s hard to make negative comments about a tragedy that follows heroism, isn’t it?
Today the site also published a story about Shamima Begum, who was one of the ISIS brides who left the country, aged 15, in 2015 to marry a Daesh fighter in Syria. Stripped of her UK citizenship, she is now stateless in a refugee camp and, to be fair, is not showing as much remorse as one might like for her actions. However, there is some evidence that she was groomed and might now be showing signs of mental illness, including PTSD.
However, she definitely ticks those foreign name and skin colour boxes.
So, how does a commenter deal with these situations?
Well, in the case of the first, it’s easier to just ignore it. At the time of writing, the first story has been on the site a day and has attracted just three comments. All three highlight that Manchester, nearly 90 miles from Grimsby, is not local.
The boy might have been a hero, his death, tragic. But it’s just not a local story. The Grimsby Telegraph is a local paper for local news.
And for Shamima Begum? Well, she ran away from Bethnal Green (140 miles from Grimsby) and is now in Syria (2,300 miles from Grimsby). Quite definitely not a local story, so perhaps a smattering of comments highlighting that there is no Grimsby connection?
Well, racism trumps the ‘local connection’ rule. So in the six hours after the story was published it attracted 17 comments. Fifteen of them negative towards her. One of the exceptions agrees some punishment is necessary, but adds the mitigation of grooming and her age at the time. The 17th, rather bizarrely, discusses the weapons she was likely to use and their relative simplicity.
The other 15 comments all celebrate the possibility of her being executed, viewing the blame as entirely hers, and add in a few other facts, such as pure speculation on her involvement in Daesh’s crimes and praising Russia’s role in Syria.
It seems the Grimsby Telegraph commenter cannot reflect on the tragic death of Jakub Szymanski, but enjoys gloating over the potential death of Shamima Begum.
The simplified flow chart
We started the flow-chart thinking it might be funny. The sort of thing that might raise a smile as people work their way through it, while also being largely accurate.
But these two stories have made us realise that the commenters, and Reach’s model, did not need a complicated decision model. In fact, the flowchart could be boiled down to one question.
Does this story allow me to make a negative comment about someone I consider, by reasons of race, wealth, occupation, views and beliefs, or simply lifestyle, to be beneath me? If yes, then comment.
It’s a sad realisation, but we think Grimsby is better than that, and deserves better than Reach.