MailOnline is “the benchmark of anonymous bullying, abuse and grammatically incorrect barbs”.
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“Your family are losers and your children are adopted”: what it’s like to write for MailOnline

Grant Feller thought he knew what he was getting into when he wrote about his new life as a stay-at-home dad for MailOnline – but the vileness of the response surpassed his wildest expectations.

My family, it appears, are a “bunch of ugly, sad losers”. My wife is so “desperate” to leave me that she will “**** the next man she has a drink with”. My beautiful children are, variously, “pathetic…spoilt…probably adopted” because I am “unable to get it up…a waste of space…a miserable, untalented tosser”. Worst of all though, my kitchen is “hideous”.

So this is what being trolled feels like. Not just any old online bullying but the best money doesn’t have to buy. MailOnline, a website – a brilliant, addictive, masterfully designed website without a doubt – that is the benchmark of anonymous bullying, abuse and grammatically incorrect barbs.

This week I wrote what I felt was a thought-provoking, if slightly tongue-in-cheek, confessional about my enforced 12-month sabbatical as a stay-at-home dad trying to set up a new business after sudden redundancy. I thought I’d love the experience and the children would treasure my new domesticity but, instead, it hasn’t quite worked out like that. They miss Mr Executive, I miss the stress and, bizarrely, the workaholic guilt that once inspired my nightly and weekend paternal duties.

The piece was accompanied by some pretty cheesy photos and a woefully inaccurate headline about me being in despair and my children losing all respect for me, sentiments I expressly asked not to be used in the headline. But I’m big and ugly enough to know how things work – I was, after all, once the ruthless journalist on that side of the fence. There’s no point in being bland, you need attitude to inspire a reaction.

And what a reaction. Obviously I am entirely at fault and knew what I was getting into. But it was the severity of the abuse that stunned me. I just thought people would think I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself and that I looked ridiculous with my marigolds on.

But it made me understand better how the anonymity of the web has allowed hate and anger to be the festering, defining emotions of our age. There are many reasons to account for the rise in Ukip, for instance, and this is one of the most important.

It seems everyone has the capacity, if not the need, to be a bully. I suspect many of those who were appalled by both my attitude and taste in interior design will be quite the loveliest people in the office. They will be the smiley girl on the checkout, the benevolent boss of a small business making fluffy toys for babies, or the yummy mummy known for her charitable heart. I wish my tormenters were tattooed Nazis and arrogantly evil bankers but thoughtless hatred and bullying aren’t their preserve.

We are casually sleep-clicking through a Ballardian dystopia in which it has become almost obligatory to heap abuse upon each other, as if it’s a badge of honour for each side. When the comments hit 400, one friend congratulated me on the fact that I was now officially more loathed than a recent feckless dad of 28 children who spent his life drowned in Special Brew.

I’m sure the journalists who commissioned, edited, printed and paid me handsomely for my article were thrilled by the attention it got. Sadly, so was I. But I just wish that the trolls had actually read the piece.

They attacked me for not working, when it clearly says I have my own fledgling business. They told me I was an irresponsible father, which seems odd considering I’m talking about suddenly becoming a more responsible father. They poured scorn on my self-loathing, despite not reading the bit where I said I hated housework not myself. They even mocked my double-chin when in fact it was a mere trick of the light.

So it’s not just anonymous abuse that is being given free rein online, it’s that abusers no longer need to understand what they’re reading – or indeed actually read anything - before expunging their emotions, like an eager teenager with one eye on a pornographic website and the other on his jiggling hand.

As our attention spans have become shorter, our capacity for vileness has vastly increased. People unable, unwilling or embarrassed to cogently express their opinions – the vast majority, I would suggest – now have an outlet for the loathing they once felt obliged to hide.

It is the emotion all of us possess, more so even than love. But it thrives most effectively online because the digital world rewards ignorant stupidity – the more loudly expressed, the better.

How prescient that Monty Python “Argument” sketch now looks. Soon, we will have websites devoted not to informing, connecting and engaging but abusing. They won’t be disguised as community forums but will be expressly designed to encourage people to torment each other verbally, with or without punctuation. And somebody smarter than all of us will make a fortune out of it.

I’m too busy to do it myself, I’m making brownies.

Getty Images.
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Even before Brexit, immigrants are shunning the UK

The 49,000 fall in net migration will come at a cost.

Article 50 may not have been triggered yet but immigrants are already shunning the UK. The number of newcomers fell by 23,000 to 596,000 in the year to last September, with a sharp drop in migrants from the EU8 states (such as Poland and the Czech Republic). Some current residents are trying their luck elsewhere: emigration rose by 26,000 to 323,000. Consequently, net migration has fallen by 49,000 to 273,000, far above the government's target of "tens of thousands" but the lowest level since June 2014.

The causes of the UK's reduced attractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents (though numbers from Romania and Bulgaria remain healthy). Ministers have publicly welcomed the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net contribution of £7bn a year. An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent.

Earlier this week, David Davis revealed the government's economic anxieties when he told a press conference in Estonia: "In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time. It will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs. Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut - it won’t."

But Theresa May, whose efforts to meet the net migration target as Home Secretary were obstructed by the Treasury, is determined to achieve a lasting reduction in immigration. George Osborne, her erstwhile adversary, recently remarked: "The government has chosen – and I respect this decision – not to make the economy the priority." But in her subsequent interview with the New Statesman, May argued: "It is possible to achieve an outcome which is both a good result for the economy and is a good result for people who want us to control immigration – to be able to set our own rules on the immigration of people coming from the European Union. It is perfectly possible to find an arrangement and a partnership with the EU which does that."

Much depends on how "good" is defined. The British economy is resilient enough to endure a small reduction in immigration but a dramatic fall would severely affect growth. Not since 1997 has "net migration" been in the "tens of thousands". As Davis acknowledged, the UK has since become dependent on high immigration. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.