Crowdfunded Journalism

Beyond Bullying: Some Unanswered Questions about the Outing of Abby #Milifandom

Peter Jukes photo
Peter JukesLondon
Beyond Bullying: Some Unanswered Questions about the Outing of Abby #Milifandom
The tussle between a 17-year-old political activist and a Sun columnist is distracting us from a bigger issue - how the paper tracked her family down

I'm not going to rehearse the sorry history of Sun on Sunday columnist and former Conservative MP who has spent the last two weeks attacking the 17 year old behind the #Milifandom phenomenon. The young student has had enough grief as it is, and Louise Mensch's words speak for themselves.

I also ought to point out that - had a young Cameron supporter been trolled by a senior Labour commentator - I would also be calling this out (as many conscientious Conservatives have done in this case). 

It has gone beyond party politics to a much more important issue.

All of the recent articles in the Guardian, Independent, HuffPo and Express miss out a crucial part of the story. 

Indeed, Louise Mensch reminded me of this when, with perhaps unconscious projection, she accused Abby of outing the personal details of a Sun journalist who'd posted a business card when her family, including her 72 year old grandmother, was doorstepped during the election campaign.

Personal Privacy and Outing Anonymous Accounts

Mensch's allegations arise from the brief moment when, back in early May, Abby posted a Sun journalist's business card on Twitter to verify it was a real journo. 

That this was a business card, with News UK mobile, posted through a letter box, which hardly makes this 'doxxing' in any real sense.

No personal information was sought. Business information was proffered. Turning this whole saga into a 17 year old's privacy intrusion on a Sun journalist requires an irony klaxon beyond health and safety decibel limits.

But it raises a much bigger question about how the Sun newspaper obtained Abby's real name and therefore her address and those of her relatives. Her real ID bears no relation to her Twitter handle. She did a radio interview, but still anonymously. One of the Sun journalists involved later explained to Abby how they came by her address. 

But Abby is only 17, and it's now been confirmed she was not on the electoral roll. Perhaps the Sun got her real name from the radio station, but that would be in breach of data protection. Perhaps, as they might claim, a friend 'outed' her and sold her ID to the paper. Of course, they can never reveal their sources... 

"Turning this whole saga into a 17 year old's privacy intrusion on a Sun journalist requires an irony klaxon beyond health and safety decibel limits."

Unfortunately, having sat through a series of trials (many caused when News UK handed over the sources en masse to the Met to avoid prosecution in the US) this 'sources tell us' line has also often been used a smokescreen to hide illegal story gathering and the dark arts. 

It happened extensively throughout the phone hacking trial over stories which are now proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, to have actually come from voice mail interception. 

Over 20 public officials, mainly police and prison officers, have been found guilty of misconduct for tipping off the Sun personal details and salacious stories.

Given the Bribery Act has now made paying public officials for stories clearly illegal since it came into force in 2013, it's very unlikely Abby's identity would have been outed using these means. 

"This 'sources tell us' line has also often been used a smokescreen to hide illegal story gathering and the dark arts."

The Leveson Inquiry also revealed how a Times journalist had used computer hacking to out the identity of a brilliant anonymous police blogger, Nightjack, so that's very unlikely too. (Though sometimes you've got to wonder whether some journos saw the Leveson Inquiry less as a warning than an instruction manual how not to get caught.) 

Which leaves a variety of means of identifying an anonymous Twitter user from social engineering, blagging, false Facebook friending or other means. 

None of these are illegal, but they could be deemed highly unethical, especially given Abby's age.

Which brings me to the central problem.

Press Ethics and IPSO

Much press abuse causes civil not criminal harm, which is hard to litigate if you're not rich. Even more is just unethical. 

"Sometimes you've got to wonder whether some journos saw the Leveson Inquiry less as a warning than an instruction manual how not to get caught"

IPSO is the new self appointed press regulator set up by the big Fleet Street publishers. It is supposed to enforce an ethical Editor's Code, and prevent unethical press intrusion. 

Its predecessor, the PCC, was dissolved after the phone hacking scandal because of its abject failure to stop press abuses. Indeed, the PCC went out of its way to criticise Nick Davies and the Guardian in 2009 for exposing phone hacking.

It took the revelation that teenage murder victim had been hacked for the PCC to be exposed. 

Will IPSO now make a stand and fully investigate the outing and potential harassment of a teenage political activist?

Only we the public can hold them fully to account... 

Because no one else will. 


#Sun, #Sun on Sunday, #Louise Mensch, #Milifandom, #Dark Arts, #Hacking, #Bribes, #Blagging, #Social Media, #Nightjack, #IPSO, #PCC



5 years ago

If a reporter gives their card - which they do, frequently - it will have the office number and invariably the works mobile number on it. Those aren't state secrets, they're handed out like freebie flyers. Posting a picture of a business card isn't doxxing. But then, if Louise was a real reporter, she'd know that.


5 years ago

Unfortunately I don't believe Ms Mensch has any practical sense of knowing when she's stepping way over the line. Ms Mensch has a habit of behaving like this when on a topic she is wrong about, and is like a dog with a bone. If the woman showed any humility, I suspect she'd be more popular but I think she's trying too hard to be the political Katie Hopkins. As I've stated before, what Ms Mensch is doing is quite possibly skirting incredibly close to US Cyberharrassment laws (as Ms Mensch is based in the US), and if I were her lawyer I'd be advising her to drop it. For the sake of everyone, Louise, and especially for the sake of TWCuddleston, drop it. Drop it and run away from it, back to your comfortable life in the US. Harrassing a 17 year old is NOT okay, and I'm shocked that you can't see how your behaviour is harrassing.


5 years ago

You really are amazing Louise, you demand answers yet ignore the questions asked to you. You don't deal with the fact her gran was doorstepped do you? Why not? Maybe because there is simply no answer to that. The fact you continue shows you have no ability to admit you are wrong and worst still continue to work for an organisation that stops you from ever having the higher moral ground.

Peter Jukes

5 years ago

Louise I now see you somehow think this blog is written by John Cooper QC - hence the questions at the end - a confusion that suggests you're getting frayed and out of your depth. I note that you have now dropped your accusations that Abby fraudulently hijacked a hashtag, or doxxed a Sun journalist. I'm not sure what the new accusation is but please, I appeal to you once again as a parent: imagine your daughter being subject to persistent battery of questions, all looking for a 'gotcha' and negative impact, for two weeks., from the biggest newspaper in the UK and one of its columnists. The power imbalance alone is intolerable. You have nothing to gain by pursuing this, except further taint to your reputation. I'll happily block you again and have no more to do with you or this if only you'd cease and desist.

Peter Jukes

5 years ago

Any reasonable person would consrue this continued obsession with a 17 year old bullying in my opinion. All you're proving with these speculations is some bizarre desire to justify the bad decisions you have already made. There is still no explanation of how the Sun came by her name which is nowhere visible in her online acitvity. Your attempt to make it 'The Mirror is just as bad' only reveals your complete conflict of interest here as columnist for the Sun. The fact you've broken your promise to leave her alone and have written another blog to disturb and distract her during exans is just adding insult to injury.

Louise Mensch

5 years ago

(sorry your comment box is very weird and tiny) 1. In what sense do you claim TW was outed by reporters knocking on her door and asking for an interview? 2. In recording, as I will, the replies of many journalists to TW who supported her, on May 2nd, telling her how easy it is to find a person and what a bog-standard practice it is, I came across her own justification for treating the Mirror and Sun journalists differently. It was that 'the Mirror knocked days later when part of my location had been revealed'. I asked her, and Peter Jukes her supporter, what was meant by this. "Part of my location" does not sound like a name or an address. That same night. Ms TW was making many tweets about how she had kept her information secret, which it was to that day (May 2nd). Thus, by her own explanation, the Mirror journalists would not have her address or name and would have to find it in the same way, one presumes, the Sun did (bog-standard google and her parents' names on the electoral roll were suggested to TW by journalists of all stripes). Can you explain the double standards, or explain why the Mirror had her address? Secondly, in criticizing the Sun reporter, TW posted a photo of a text from her father asking why reporters were at the house. That text was dated 22 April. That is the same day that both the Labour party took over her media affairs, and the same day she posted her tweet about 'studying and no interviews'. Thus, is it not entirely possible reporters had been sent to ask for an i/v and hadn't even seen her same day tweet? And further, doesn't the fact she says the Mirror knocked "days later", when her "no interviews please I am studying" tweet was long established, make their door knock "worse" by her standards? I will e grateful to hear any explanation you may have. Thanks.

Louise Mensch

5 years ago

Hello. I haven't bullied Ms. Cuddleston, and look forward to publishing my piece on this tomorrow. But I do have several questions for you.