Meet the anonymous trolls of AdNews

For the seven people who are intensely interested in the activities of Australia’s marketing trade press, this one is just for you.

You may have noticed that there’s been something of a furore over anonymous comments this week.

As I wrote on Monday, we became aware in July that the Communications Council was talking about the issue. On August 18, the chairman and CEO of the organisation both dropped by our office to discuss the topic. I agreed I’d be happy to sit down with the other editors to explore whether there was any common ground.

On August 30, AdNews headed for the moral high ground and unilaterally launched its “I ain’t afraid of no trolls” campaign.

(As an aside, it is curious for them to be claiming, as they did yesterday, that: “AdNews published a set of community guidelines in August, which led to a debate within The Communications Council and a move to launch a cross-industry initiative.” Led to a debate, in the sense that it followed the debate. Or perhaps, among its many other achievements, the Comms Council has also mastered time travel.)

adnews_test_commentThen there’s the actual initiative that AdNews has been making a huge fuss about. A casual reader would think that they’ve outlawed anonymous comments.

Not quite. They’re asking for an email address. Not a real one, mind you. You don’t have to register to comment. If you want to stay anonymous, you just have to make up an email address.

dnews_moderated_commentJust to check, I tried it earlier today by posting a comment on an opinion piece by Colin Jowell. I’m Senator Joseph McCarthy. The email address does not exist.

But the main issue is this. If you’re fighting a campaign against anonymous comment trolls, then perhaps you shouldn’t be anonymously trolling websites yourself.

Here are some troll-like comments we’ve received during 2011 from the same IP address…

When we wrote about an agency declining to pitch because they didn’t want to ruin their staff Christmas, the view from “Interested Observer” was:

“Lazy Aussies.”

A tad troll-y, a tad provocative, perhaps? But still relatively mild.

But then things began to step up after we wrote about a spoof news website in New Zealand.

The next comment, from “Not Lynchy” was a crack at the owner of Campaign Brief:

“The NZ Notworth News weather girl is like the Michael Lynch of the trade journalism world.”

Next in line for attack was Mumbrella after we reported that Ten had fired CEO Grant Blackley that day. According to “Pamela”:

“AdNews reported this week’s ago and they’ve got the inside story. Keep up chaps”

Funnily enough, we used to hear from a “Pamela” back in 2010. At the time she seemed a tad racist about non-Aussies. And sometimes she was called ‘Tired of Mumbo”. And she didn’t seem to like me very much either:

“Hey Mumbo Dumbo, this is very interesting…thank you. Wow, great to see AdNews delivering the online goods….that is the best industry website by a country mile. The video style and no nonsense approach gets you involved, as everyone has limited time. (I’m afraid the Mumbo one is far too long and sleepy.)

“Don’t think your bottom feeding journalist tactics are a good look and to be honest, Harto was right …. can you also rid yourself of that sickly pommy pathetic sarcasm in your tone…this is Australia old dog, get with it or get out…..

“I sense you are worried sick about AdNews fire online….you can tell.”

As it was from a different IP address to the other comments I talk about here, you’ll have to form your own view on whether it’s the same “Pamela”.

But back to 2011. Then came a comment about a legal case from “Lillywhite”. It was signed off COYS. Anyone know if there’s a Tottenham Hotspur supporter over at AdNews? Come On You Spurs.

And from then on, the pro-AdNews comments started to come thick and fast. Always in the third person, which rather gives the misleading impression of coming from a disinterested source.

Commenting on a piece written about online anonymity, “DL” provided a link to the AdNews piece along with the message:

“Adnews got it right with the lead they took last month:”

The next day “DL” was back again, on the same issue after we uploaded our video interview with the chairman of the Australian Press Council who also talked about anonymous comment. Again there was a link to the AdNews anti-troll campaign:

“adnews got it right with their stand last month”

Next came a comment from “Catch up” after a copy of GQ, with a playable audio message, arrived in our office and we shot a piece of video of it:

“Very old news”

The next comment was bordering on libellous regarding Mumbrella. We wrote about how a media agency had been lifting another agency’s content for its blog. According to “Pot calling the kettle black”:

“They’ve clearly been stealing their source gathering methods from Mumbrella”

And two days ago, we heard from “Batman”, who stubbornly wants the outside world to believe that AdNews launched its campaign before the Comms Council was talking about it, rather than at least a month later. Providing a link to editor Darren Davidson’s explanation for why he was refusing to talk to the Communications Council about the issue of anonymous comments, “Batman” said:

“The real story (This was not a comms council initiative):”

By now, you may be ahead of me. Have you guessed what the IP address is yet?

Here’s the information an IP address lookup gives us:

You may be aware that the publisher of AdNews is Yaffa Publishing.

And while I’m at it, casting a bit further back, this was a comment from 2010 from a troll calling themself  “Can’t Standya” who doesn’t seem to like my accent:

“I have just recently discovered Dr. Mumbo. I have to say, it is comparable to pulling teeth sitting and listening to your voice!”

That came from a slightly different IP… but not that different.

Clearly I guessed some time ago that the sledging was coming from the AdNews direction – and there’s absolutely no evidence that the comments are the work of a single individual. Mostly, I found it harmless and amusing.

Particularly when I worked in Dubai (where media freedom is a joke despite claims to the contrary by the government) I used to regularly comment anonymously. Although I can’t think of an example, I bet I’ve done it here too (although my ego usually demands I put my name to my comments). But there’s nothing immoral about being an anonymous commenter per se.

But – it seems to me – where it becomes hypocritical is to anonymously comment in a troll-y way on somebody else’s site in order to promote your campaign against anonymous trolls. If that’s not trolling, I don’t know what is.

Tim Burrowes



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