SOPHIE MACKINTOSH: If you haven’t heard of Samantha Brick, you must have been doing something much more important than glancing at any newspaper for the last week (my guess is selecting underwear models for Men’s Health). Samantha Brick – the woman whose article in the Daily Mail sparked outrage. Stepping around the content of the article itself, which has already been dissected over and over (in ways sometimes disturbing in their ferocity), what compelled the newspaper to publish an article that was always going to rub people the wrong way?
The answer is because they knew exactly what they were doing, and the numbers speak for themselves: 1.5 million hits, leading to over 5,000 people posting comments. In one day, it’s rumoured that the Daily Mail made over £30,000, and any publicity is good publicity, after all. Her name – and theirs – was on everybody’s lips, leading to a Guardian parody and even a quiz on the Huffington Post inviting readers to guess “who said what” – Samantha Brick, or self-obsessed fictional model Derek from the film Zoolander? (It was surprisingly difficult.) Brick also appeared on This Morning last week where she defended her article and maintained the controversy surrounding it only proved her point.
It’s not like the Daily Mail haven’t done this before, setting a precedent with their ever-more-outrageous Liz Jones stories. These are not ‘risky’ articles, because what is risky about running an article guaranteed to get thousands, millions of clicks? While presented as controversial, but legitimate, articles, what they are in reality are stunts. And we are all guilty for falling for them, instead of stopping to think about the motivation for a newspaper publishing such articles – ones plainly designed not to raise intelligent debate, but to get people worked up.
There’s even a name for this kind of thing, now – trolling, a term born from murky internet forums. It is the act of being inflammatory, purposely seeking a reaction, and delighting in it, which describes the motivation behind the Samantha Brick article perfectly. The negative reaction to the article would not have been a cause for concern for the newspapers, but no reaction would have been. Our thresholds have been raised to the point where it takes an article about stealing sperm, or generalisations about how all women hate beautiful women, to get our backs up. On April Fool’s Day a friend posted a link to what they thought was a joke on a different news website – it was actually a new piece of government legislation on surveillance, and entirely true. It just shows that sometimes it’s difficult to know now what is genuine, or what is a conscious effort to manipulate a reaction.
Either way, two kinds of ugliness have come out of this situation. Commissioning a story cynically designed to get this kind of reaction, therefore exposing the writer to so much hate – some of the cruel comments coming her way were shocking to read, even if she was prepared for the level of it. But uglier still is the existence of the vitriol poured on Samantha Brick at all. At best she was manipulated, and at worst she was arrogant. Stunts only work if people react to them, and until audiences stop ‘feeding the trolls’ this kind of cheap attention-seeking for clicks will continue; because this incident has proved that it works like a charm.
Feature image: http://techcrunch.com/