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Dogpiling – becoming the target of coordinated online abuse

REVEALED: The Labour Party activists behind the “anti-semitism” smears

Greg Hadfield, The Medium
5th November 2017


It began with a single tweet. Almost by accident, I stumbled across the message from the self-styled online group “Labour Against Antisemitism” (LAAS, @LabourAgainstAS).

An article by Paul Waugh

The tweet was aimed at Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh), executive editor of Huffington Post UK and a journalist whom I have long admired. (A few days earlier, we had been in contact after he referred to me in passing in an interesting article.)

Without “mentioning” me — which, for non-Twitterati, means not using my “handle” @GregHadfield — the LAAS suggested the Labour Party needed to take tougher action against a number of suspended members, including Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, and Marc Wadsworth.

And me!

A bit of background: All the other people named are widely reported to have been suspended after (often-unspecified) allegations of anti-semitism by always-unnamed complainants.

As is also known, of those listed only Ken Livingstone has so far been afforded the opportunity of a hearing.

Tony Greenstein, the Jewish son of a rabbi who lives in my home city of Brighton and Hove, was suspended in March last year and has been told only in the last few days that his hearing is now scheduled for December 11. Mr Greenstein’s alleged offence was so heinous that he had to be suspended immediately. But it was not so serious, it seems, that it could be dealt with in less than 18 months.

In response to the LAAS tweet, I asked a single straightforward question of a group I had vaguely heard of only because its tweets are frequently re-tweeted by the most execrable of local Labour councillors in Brighton and Hove. (Note: The same councillor has @LabourAgainstAS, @euanphilipps, and @emmacpicken among the people she follows; I will have more to say about this intersection in a future blogpost.)

My only tweet, in response to @LabourAgainstAS, which triggered the marathon “dogpiling” attack

At 9.22pm on Friday, October 27, I asked LAAS: “Are you implying — or suggesting you think/know — I have been accused of anti-semitism? Can we chat about it?”

In truth, I did not expect a reply. And nor did I get one.

What I did get was a tsunami of abusive tweets — 344 in 48 hours (including re-tweets and “likes”) — from a total of 56 people. None of whom I knew or had even followed on Twitter; between them, their Twitter followers numbered nearly 90,000.

When we posted about this on JVL's twitter we were deluged with abusive tweets - calling us liars - this is a selection. Thus confirming Greg's analysis

When we posted about this on JVL’s twitter we were deluged with abusive tweets – calling us liars – this is a selection. Thus confirming Greg’s analysis

Without responding at all, I then spent the first two days analysing who — or which accounts, since almost all of them were anonymous or pseudonymous — were participating in what the cogniscenti refer to as “dogpiling”, defined as: “A number of people who join in directing critical or abusive comments at another person or group”.

I discovered that just 13 individual accounts — with an aggregate following of more than 20,000 — were the main protagonists in this network of hate, which quickly branded me (self-evidently and/or by association) as an anti-semite.

More worryingly, I also discovered that the most active and influential protagonists were Labour Party activists: Euan Philipps, chair of Tonbridge and Malling Constituency Labour Party (@EuanPhilipps), and Emma Picken (@emmacpicken), a Catford-based campaigner in Lewisham East for Heidi Alexander, the local Labour MP since 2010.

A network of hate

I will be making formal complaints to Mr Philipps’s and Ms Picken’s constituency parties as well as to Iain McNicol, the Labour Party’s general secretary.

Unfortunately, previous experience means I find it hard to believe any action will be taken.

Let me emphasise again that I made no response whatsoever to these haters for the first 48 hours — even though it quickly became clear they were trawling all my previous tweets, identifying people I follow (or follow me), and abusing a few unfortunate Labour Party colleagues who got caught in the crossfire and were similarly attacked (usually because of their public support for the Palestinian people).

Most commonly, though, my acquaintance with Mr Greenstein — a party colleague more than a friend — was sufficient grist to their vile mill.

For those interested in data-driven journalism and the “network effect” of social media, I have uploaded the raw data here.

In addition, I have given examples of some of the most abusive tweets from some of the other main culprits, several of whom seem to be based abroad (South Africa, The Netherlands, Croatia, and Denmark): @GnasherJew; @EmsyEdicorn; @JustinDraaideur; @cashstein; @JuliaRoberts649; @omgstater; @Karen_E_Leon; @Johnny_Simson; @ilovepiesme; @SparksofBrass.

I have also added @carolJhedges, mainly because her high profile as an author — rather than as a protagonist — means she has a high number of followers (11,700-plus).

It is on thousands of such people on the periphery — or even beyond their immediate networks — that dogpilers thrive; academics with expertise in social networks describe the phenomenon as “the power of weak links” — thus explaining, in a connected world, how we are all only “six handshakes” away from anyone else (Note: To discover how a television interviewer — who happens to be Jewish — got caught up in this after questioning me on screen, see Appendix 1 below.)

In this single and very limited example of dogpiling, it is noticeable that many of the core culprits have a relatively small number of followers, tweet relatively rarely, but have been responsible for tens of thousands of “likes” (including any tweets from other members of their network).

The @cashstein account is a good example. His/her (((Cashstein))) profile states: “Jewish • Liberal • Zionist • Campaigner against antisemitism • Arch Blairite • RT’s/Likes don’t equal endorsements”; S/he has 980 followers, has published 2,978 tweets, and has more than 27,000 “likes”.

Crucially, the main dogpilers all follow all the other people in their network and systematically re-tweet and/or “like” all their tweets. Thus, their hate seeps into the wider Twittersphere. Increasingly often, they insinuate their way into the mainstream media — because “Twitterstorms” make easy copy and fit longstanding cliché-ridden templates.

It is for this reason that the role of Mr Philipps is particularly cowardly — if, as I believe, he is the person behind @LabourAgainstAS who was responsible for the initial tweet.

He would appear to be a pivotal dogpiler at the centre of the hateful LAAS network, even though he reserves his personal account (@EuanPhilipps) largely for re-tweeting and/or liking the tweets of others in the network. If you can bear any more Twitterspeak, this is called a “sock-puppet” account, a self-serving way of appearing to have a bigger following than you really have.

So how did I become a target for their abuse? And why now?

Answers to such questions shed a fascinating light on the countless fabricated politically-inspired allegations of anti-semitism that have repeatedly surfaced and re-surfaced since Jeremy Corbyn replaced Ed Miliband as Labour leader.

The fact you are reading this blogpost suggests you may already know that I was suspended, after 11 years as a Labour member, on October 26 last year.

One of numerous “leaks” to Private Eye

According to numerous “leaks” to Private Eye — and based on questions asked during a preliminary interview with Sam Matthews, Labour’s head of discipline (in January!) — it seems my suspension follows unspecified allegations by an unnamed complainant about my “treatment” of Councillor Warren Morgan, the leader of the Labour Group on Brighton & Hove City Council (and Jack Spooner, his group’s paid organiser).

No allegation of anti-semitism has ever been made against me, not even by my worst enemies. (For a singularly curious — and easily-disproved — attempt to do so, see Appendix 2 below.)

You may, however, have heard of Cllr Morgan, for two reasons — both of which have brought the Labour Party into disrepute.

Warren Morgan brings the Labour Party into disrepute

Most recently — and perhaps most saliently, in the context of this blogpost — he provided Theresa May, The Sun, and the Daily Mail, with the sort of gift they dream of.

He deliberately made headlines by saying that the Labour Party conference would not be welcome again in Brighton and Hove because of the “anti-semitism being aired publicly in fringe meetings and on the floor of Conference”. (See Tim Wilkinson’s guest blogpost for a full analysis of Cllr Morgan’s smears, exploited twice by Mrs May: once in her speech to the Tory Party conference and once during Prime Minister’s Questions. For my views, see the recent Latest TV interview referred to above.)

Warren Morgan brings the Labour Party into disrepute

Last year, Cllr Morgan repeatedly lied about “spitting” and “abuse” — disproved by CCTV footage — at the all-member annual meeting of what was then Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party (BHDLP) in July last year. The meeting elected a new leadership team for Labour in what was a citywide party covering three constituencies; the team comprised only supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, including me as secretary — with 65% of the 600-plus votes.

Within four days of the annual meeting, Cllr Morgan’s lies resulted in an innocent young member being falsely accused, the election results being annulled, and BHDLP being suspended. The citywide party has since been forced to split into three delegate-based constituency parties.

Although supporters of Jeremy Corbyn again comprise the majority of the leadership teams in each constituency, the fight is now on to win a majority on the soon-to-be-launched Local Campaign Forum (LCF), an important body that oversees the selection process of Labour Party candidates to stand in the Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) elections in May 2019.

Cllr Morgan and most of his Labour Group acolytes are keen that the LCF is controlled by anti-Corbyn delegates. Does this explain, in part at least, his decision to trash the reputation of Labour Party conference delegates by regurgitating second-hand fabrications about alleged anti-semitism (the result, he later said, of complaints from just three individuals)?

Interestingly, Cllr Morgan did not go straight to Sussex Police to report these alleged hate crimes; instead, he went straight to the media — resulting in front-page headlines in the Daily Mail and a prominent article in The Sun. To mention only two.

Moreover, the council leader — acting in his role as leader of the council — publicly accused one of the citizens he seeks to serve (Mr Greenstein) of, in effect, being a Holocaust-denier who should be expelled from the Labour Party.

It would have been bad enough if he had done this as a Labour Party member, given that Mr Greenstein’s case has still not been heard and it is against party rules to comment on such cases in such circumstances.

A leading member of the Progress faction, Cllr Morgan has subsequently revealed — in correspondence with officers of the three constituency parties who urged him to stand down — that he was already in touch with supporters of Sussex Friends of Israel about their concerns about weekly pro-Palestinian stalls in Brighton city centre.

Quite what Cllr Morgan would propose to do about such peaceful and lawful activities is unclear.

Thankfully, the smears appear to have backfired, with several of Cllr Morgan’s Labour Group colleagues lining up to criticise him, both privately and publicly.

What they have achieved, though (carelessly rather than intentionally, I’m sure) is offered further encouragement to dogpilers who attack and abuse individuals — with no evidence, no facts, no knowledge — for alleged anti-semitism.

They have provided a patina of respectability for people who malevolently distract attention — sometimes for political ends — from genuine anti-semitism. Such people demean and diminish the suffering of Jewish people across the generations.

What other conclusions can we draw from this episode?

For someone like me, who has been suspended for more than a year — without charge and without a hearing — the last few days have been a painful and personal episode in what has already been an extended Kafka-esque experience.

After this is published, I am sure I will be a target all over again.

An important conclusion, however, is that justice delayed is justice denied.

Not just for the accused, but also for the complainant. And, when justice is delayed, it allows justice to be betrayed — for example, by dogpilers who (for warped and/or political reasons) fill the vacuum left by the Labour Party’s wilfully-woeful disciplinary procedures.

It is they — and people like them — who have polluted the well of political discourse for the rest of us.

And that original tweet to Paul Waugh from @LabourAgainstAS?

That was swiftly deleted, probably as soon as Euan Philipps realised he had made a mistake.

Sadly, it was too late to save me — and my reputation — from the likes of:

@ewanphilipps; @emmacpicken; @EmsyEdicorn; @GnasherJew; @JustinDraaideur; @cashstein; @JuliaRoberts649; @omgstater; @Karen_E_Leon; @Johnny_Simson; @ilovepiesme; @SparksofBrass.

Endnote: Since I began writing this blog, the number of abusive tweets has more than doubled. Aware that I was detailing the abuse, some of the culprits have blocked me. To get fuller flavour of what they are like, I have “liked” as many of their abusive tweets as possible.

I would, however, end with a warning: Do not engage with any of the accounts named, or you run the risk of them targeting you.

Appendix 1: To follow

Appendix 2: To follow

1 comment to Dogpiling – becoming the target of coordinated online abuse

  • Dr Joseph O' Neill

    Thank you JVL, for restoring my faith that the moderate Jews in the UK are finally gettiing their act together on human rights for Palestine.

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