Every rightwing suspicion was confirmed with suspicious ease

Recently a student at Edinburgh, Robbie Travers, made a lot of headlines over his claim that EU was investigating him for mocking ISIS. I saw several friends of mine pressing him on this claim on Facebook, and I saw him blowing smoke rather than answering.

Now Nick Cohen has found out what really happened.

On 12 May, Robbie Travers sent Esme Allman, a fellow student at Edinburgh University, a Facebook message.

“Hey Esme, just to let you know multiple news agencies have been delivered [sic] your comments on calling black men trash. You might want to think about saying that in future, some have been linked it [sic] to neo-Nazism.”

The ill-crafted words were at best half-truths and at worst outright lies. But there was a nugget of fact beneath them, which Travers could melt and remould. Allman had indeed said “trash”. But the context, which Travers did not mention, could not have been further from neo-Nazism. Allman was in a Facebook group for black and ethnic minority students at Edinburgh. Its members talked about the abuse Serena Williams receivedwhen she announced she had fallen in love with a white man. Black men who insulted a black woman for marrying the love of her life were “trash”, Allman declared. Harsh words, but understandable in the circumstances.

Nick says Travers seems to have been monitoring Allman like a secret cop, and that he told his thousands of Facebook followers he would be “unveiling” Allman as a racist.

In view of what was to happen next, it is worth noting that Travers was the prig. He was trying to punish Allman for her words and thoughts, not the other way round. Allman thought he was harassing her and reported him to Edinburgh University for allegedly breaking its code of conduct (he was eventually cleared of this charge).

But, Nick asks, why should we care? Because so many newspapers did, is the answer.

The Mail, the Sun, Trump’s propaganda network Fox News, Putin’s propaganda network Russia Today, the Express, the Times, which broke the “story”, and the far-right US sites Infowars and Breitbart assured their gullible readers that Travers was the victim of the latest politically correct insanity. It wasn’t just the rightwing press. The Independent, the Mirror, and papers across Europe loved the story.

They repeated every word of Travers’ new allegation that Allman had accused him of Islamophobia for “mocking Islamic State on Facebook”. There was no mention of Serena Williams. Travers was no longer the creepy censor trying to make others suffer. He was now the victim of political correctness gone, well, mad.

Somewhat similar things do happen, as we know – Maryam Namazie for instance is regularly accused of “Islamophobia” because she defends universal human rights as opposed to particularist rights tied to religions. Travers was hitching a ride on that train.

Imagine. Even Isis can’t be criticised now. A black student and a “self-proclaimed feminist” to boot was supporting barbarism and trying to turn its critics into hate criminals. Every rightwing suspicion was confirmed with suspicious ease. In a revealing interview recorded for the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle told Travers: “If it wasn’t for insanities like this, I wouldn’t have a job, so thank you.”

Just so. And it’s not only rightwing journalists who are grateful. With headcounts hacked back and finances in free fall, many news organisations don’t have the resources to check a story. When it so neatly tells their readers what they want to hear, the seductive question arises: do we want to check at all?

Allman told me she never mentioned Isis and the transcript of her complaint bears this out. The university covered its back by saying it wouldn’t “consider bringing charges of misconduct against any student for mocking Isis”. But it left Allman in the lurch.

It told her not to talk to journalists, while refusing to correct the record itself.

Allman has broken her silence now, and given an interview to Edinburgh’s student newspaper. JK Rowling performed a public service by tweeting a link. But it remains the case that for the rest of her life any employer Googling Allman’s name will see dozens of news organisations suggesting that she was a fellow traveller with Isis. They will have to search very hard to find her side of the story.

We can hope Nick’s story will show up at the top of the Google results.

The dozens of news sites that spread the fake news about him could not have been expected to know Travers’ reputation. But any journalist making the most cursory of checks would have noticed that his website bears the vainglorious title: The Office of Robbie Travers. As well as saying he is an authority on global politics, the law and just about everything else, Travers claims to be the media manager for the Human Security Centre, an influential foreign policy thinktank. As no one else had bothered to phone, I gave it a call.

“We let him go many months ago,” a senior figure told me. “He was a complete liability. He was never the media manager. He was just junior comms staff, who ran our Twitter account very badly. He’s one of the most bizarre people I’ve ever encountered. Strange so many otherwise smart people still support him.”

The senior figure was probably Julie Lenarz, who went very public on Twitter a couple of hours ago.

I hope all that can do Esme Allman some good.

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