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.

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.