Morning troll

Sarah Boseley at the Guardian today takes up the story of Mary Beard and the eruption of enraged goons.

She said the tone of the debate left her dispirited. “It feels very sad to me that we cannot have a reasonable discussion on such a topic as the cultural, ethnic composition of Roman Britain without resorting to unnecessary insult, abuse, misogyny and language of war, not debate.”

Beard, a classicist at Cambridge University, who is well known for her robust responses to Twitter trolls, was one of those who pointed to evidence that there was at least some ethnic diversity in Britain under Roman rule.

There followed, she said in her blog in the Times Literary Supplement, days of attacks on Twitter, which she described as “a torrent of aggressive insults, on everything from my historical competence and elitist ivory tower viewpoint to my age, shape and gender [batty old broad, obese, etc etc].”

It is dispiriting. We’ve probably gotten somewhat hardened to it over time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dispiriting; of course it is. It’s hugely dispiriting that we can’t use social media to talk about things like the demographics of Roman Britain without risking yet another dip into the sewer of abuse.

The abuse got worse, she wrote, when Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professor of risk analysis in the US and author of the best-selling book The Black Swan, joined her critics.

Beard told Taleb on Twitter that this kind of family in Roman Britain was unsurprising. He questioned her scholarship and accused her of “talking bullshit”.

And when Simon Singh and Nick Cohen defended Beard he called them names too. He considers himself a scholar but he carries on like any random Twitter troll.

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