The last person in the line had a gun

Carole Cadwalladr notes that Theresa May last week belatedly admitted that Russia had turned its fake news firehose on Britain too.

And then, just a few hours later, I clicked a link on Twitter. It was from Leave.EU’s official account – the Ukip-allied Brexit campaign headed by Nigel Farage. “WATCH @carolecadwalla takes a hit as the Russian conspiracy deepens.”

Leave.EU is now the subject of two Electoral Commission investigations into potentially illegal sources of funding, the first of which followed an article I wrote in March. They’ve been calling me crazy for months and I thought this would be more of the same. But it wasn’t. The video was a clip from the film Airplane!, in which a “hysterical” woman is told to calm down and then hit, repeatedly, around the head. The woman – my face photoshopped in – was me. And, as the Russian national anthem played, a line of people queued up to take their turn. The last person in the line had a gun.

So far, so weird. Here was a registered political organisation that had gained the support of millions of law-abiding, well-meaning people, promoting violence against women and threatening a journalist. It was a “joke”. A joke underpinned by violent menace. From an organisation that has also made no secret of its links to the Russian state. Leave.EU’s Twitter account retweets Russia Today and the Russian embassy as a matter of course.

Two weeks ago, the Russian ambassador to London – Alexander Yakovenko – a key figure named by the FBI as a liaison between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin – launched an attack on “unscrupulous” MPs and journalists peddling a “fake news agenda”.

Leave.EU created a meme of his words and tweeted that too. A week later, the press attache to the embassy wrote a letter to this paper, complaining I was a “bad journalist” whose “true colours” had been noted.

Sinister enough yet?

Russia simply outright murders journalists.

Jo Cox was murdered because she opposed Brexit.

Silencing “bad journalists” and political opponents in Russia isn’t a joke, of course. It’s becoming less of one here too. Facebook facilitates electoral fraud. And Brendan Cox – the widower of Jo Cox– was one of the first to call out the Daily Telegraph for its front page of “Brexit mutineers”. It creates “a context where violence is more likely”, he said, highlighting another Leave.EU tweet which called them a “cancer”.

That was deleted. But the video of me being beaten stayed up. Twitter – like Facebook – is not a public space. It looks like one and we treat it like one, but it’s a private, corporate entity.

Twitter doesn’t see videos inciting violence against women as a problem.

Most people thought Leave.EU’s video was vile. Hundreds of nice, kind, well-meaning strangers offered me messages of support. They reported it. Repeatedly. And still it stayed up.

It was clearly unacceptable. And yet it was accepted. It remained on a “public” forum – beyond the reach of any law enforcement agency, immune to public opprobrium – for 42 hours. And it did its job: Leave.EU launders extremist content. It tests the ground. It gets unpalatable ideas out into the mainstream – racism, islamophobia, homophobia, death threats to journalists – and it normalises them.

It did its job: it has coarsened public discourse another inch. It has opened the door for other journalists to be threatened on other stories. It has shown you can make fascistic bullyboy threats. And get away with it.

Maybe you should be less noisy, a well-meaning colleague suggested. As if I’d committed the journalistic equivalent of wearing a short skirt and asking to get raped. You risk looking biased, he said.

I’m not biased. I’m furious. I’m boiling with rage. The bullies are winning. Lies are winning. This assault on truth, justice, democracy is winning. And we can’t even see it. That video – created by a British political organisation, facilitated by a global technology platform – will have an impact on other women. On other journalists. It’s another line crossed.

Twitter stinks.

H/t Stewart

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