I am vastly experienced in this field. Nearly every day on the train I see people reading the Daily Mail, and have picked up the culture from reading articles over people’s shoulders. I have also been writing bitchy, ill-informed polemics on this blog since last November, so I was already quite close to my new identity.
To prepare to take on my covert persona I spent a day studying Daily Mail journalists, and changed my appearance and manner accordingly. I sucked a lemon for a whole afternoon to make my mouth resemble a cat’s arsehole as closely as possible, and loosened the arms on my glasses so that I spent the day looking down my nose at the world. I wore conservative clothes, had my hair cut into a short back and sides and polished my shoes to give myself the appearance of respectability, but underneath my Marks and Spencers chinos I was wearing crotchless lace knickers and a buttplug, to get the scent of hypocrisy just right. When I was ready to begin my research I gave my foreign-looking neighbour a suspicious glare, put up some net curtains and triple-locked my front door – as any Mail journo will tell you, you just don’t know what’s out there these days.
I signed up to one of the major sites using a false name and photo, designed to make me come across as someone who’s read about the Internet but has never really engaged with it. As soon as I was logged on, the messages started to come. Most were too vile to repeat in a family blog this one, but an example is a man who sent me a picture of his genitals, and asked me if I thought they would cure cancer or cause it.
The experience left me shocked and traumatised. If I felt this way after only pretending to be a tabloid journalist, how must it feel for the genuine articles when they go online? The only solution that I can see is for the Daily Mail writing staff to be sent to an island where they have no access to the outside world. This is the only way to stop them from being offended by everything they see,
Although this post was inspired by the Daily Mail article ‘I posed as a girl of 14 online. What followed will sicken you‘, it’s mocking the tone and their general treatment of the Internet rather than the message of that particular piece. The conclusion the author reaches – that the police need the resources to be able to tackle online grooming in a coordinated, covert fashion – is correct and it needs driving home. It’s a real problem, and horrible life-scarring things are happening to innocent people. I mitigate my agreement with a Mail article with the fact that it wasn’t written by one of their staff writers.
Oh, and if you think that I’m exaggerating their ‘cancer cure or cause’ obsessions, how’s this for a headline?