"That human beings can be this depraved is hard to believe."
The host of Australia's 60 Minutes could well have been talking about tabloid journalists who stray into ethically questionable terrain in search of ratings but that sort of self-awareness is not often a feature of prime time current affairs shows, and Sunday's item on Charlotte Dawson was not exceptional in that department.
The depraved humans in question were in fact the "trolls" - the moronic nobodies that infest Twitter and online message boards, the very "cowards" that "hounded" Dawson and drove her "to the very brink".
And make no mistake: She was on the receiving end of some truly awful comments.
Anonymous online bullying is a real problem, a problem that a current affairs show should no doubt deal with. To their credit, 60 Minutes spent a chunk of the item doing just that.
But don't you reckon the last thing a responsible organisation should do is to seek out someone who has been hospitalised because of abusive tweets, put them on national TV, and then ask them to read those abusive tweets aloud?
That seemed like a strange decision to me, one that was partly justified by vilifying the trolls and by pretending to turn the victim into a hero.
"She was still shaken when I spoke to her but somehow she found the strength to share her story."
Which is what she did. As you are probably aware, some people had written some pretty mean things, dreadful things, "kill yourself, "go hang yourself", "please put your face into a toaster" type of things in a bitter Twitter battle that erupted online. Although I'm guessing that someone who has failed to grasp the basic physical challenge of getting a human face inside a toaster should probably be ignored. Just as much of the advice on offer from less reasonable members of the online community, on YouTube, TradeMe, or even nzherald.co.nz, is also best avoided.
But ignoring the trolls is easier said than done, and this onslaught led to a near tragedy as Dawson took some pills and ended up in hospital. In fact it was reported that she left that hospital to do this interview, which first screened two weeks ago in Australia.
An expert was canvassed and reckoned that this was the worse case she'd seen and 90 per cent of the trolls wouldn't have cared if she had in fact died.
Strangely however, there was no mention of another recent Twitter feud in which Dawson was the author of her own abusive tweet: "Can someone please kill 'Bryan Boy', please, please, please" (sic).
At the time it was widely reported that fashion blogger Bryan Boy was so scared of the 'death threat' that he threatened to call the police. You'd be mad to think she was serious, she didn't really want someone to hunt him down and kill him, but how serious were the twerps who lashed out at Dawson? Did they really want her to kill herself, or treat her face like a slice of toast?
Somehow that wasn't deemed relevant to the proceedings. Instead, by way of balance, we were shown Dawson being mean to the constants on Australia's Next Top Model, which is to say, they showed her doing her job.
After prodding Dawson to read out the appalling troll droppings, the 60 Minutes reporter then delivered what I reckon was the true purpose of the interview, which was not to shed light, or warn, or to educate, but to put Dawson into a sort of televisual stockade, and gently toss some vegetables at her.
"Why do you keep reading these?" the interviewer said with an expression that probably represents what many at home were thinking, a sort of facial WTF?
At this point Dawson kept reading the offending tweets. Perhaps that's a trick of editing, but regardless of the point being made, she can't seem to stop herself.
After a while the interviewer asks again, "Charlotte, why do you keep reading it?" causing Dawson to finally stop, pause and say: "Because you asked me to. And because I have a terrible Twitter addiction."
Well, that's what I was hoping she would say. Instead it seemed as if she was somewhere else, which is probably where she should have been.
She contemplated the question, took off her glasses, looked up and said: "It just kept going, and going, and going, and going, and going."
It was clear for all to see that the last place she should have been was in a TV studio.
If it's an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. Or call Youthline 0800 376 633, Lifeline 0800 543 354, Depression Helpline 0800 111 757, What's Up 0800 942 8787 (noon-midnight).
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