Gossip: As Old As Time Itself. But is it time that we put an end to it and shut down gossip websites such as Tattle Life?
There’s been much debate this week about shutting down a website named Tattle Life. There is a petition on Change.org by a lady called Michelle Chapman because, as Michelle states, “This forum is supposedly a place for people to leave constructive criticism about people on social media and YouTube. This forum doesn’t give constructive criticism. It’s a forum full of bullying, harassment, discrimination and more. I’ve had nothing but relentless abuse… all because I make YouTube videos.”
I had a look at the Tattle Forum. There are threads on all sorts of conversation topics from YouTubers through to traditional media celebrities, current affairs issues, politics and even sex. Some are complaining. Some are raving. Some are thoughtful discussions. Others are just a diatribe against a person in the public eye. In short, it is a gossip forum about modern life. It is a private forum and although it will make comments about people, these comments can only be found if you search them out yourself. They are not sent directly to that person. Undoubtedly, some of it does get personal and on occasion, nasty. However, these posters do not consider themselves to be trolls or people intent on harassing someone. In their eyes, they are merely having a gossip about someone they like or dislike.
So, should we get rid of Tattle? It is clearly causing some people a lot of upset. Well, I’m not sure that we should, for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, gossip has been around since time immemorial and if they do manage to shut down this website, surely it will just resurface in another form? Gossip is as much a part of life and the human condition, as death and taxes, whatever we may choose to believe.
The origins of gossip go back centuries and have been studied by psychologists. The word gossip first appears in Shakespeare and comes from an Old English word, godsibb, from god and sibb, the term for the godparents of one’s child or the parents of one’s godchild, generally meaning very close friends.
According to the leading social anthropologist, Professor Robin Dunbar, gossip originated to help bond the groups that were constantly growing. To survive, individuals need alliances; but as these alliances grew, it was difficult if not impossible, to connect physically with everyone. Conversation and language were able to bridge this gap. Gossip became a social interaction that helped the group gain information about other individuals, without personally speaking to them.
Studies have found that gossip is an important way for people to relate to each other and to form relationships. A study in 2007 found that most social interactions were based on gossip. As a society we may think that gossiping is wrong, and we may deny that we do in fact gossip, but it is an intrinsic part of communication and relationship building.
My Grandma, Big Maz, was a great one for gossip. Every week, when I was little, she’d come for dinner and spend the entire time telling us the latest instalment in the lives of people we’d never met or even heard of. My dad would always listen, nod and agree with her, as though he knew who she was speaking about. He later admitted that he just did it to humour her. After all, she lived alone, and her way of sharing gossip was her means of communicating. She wasn’t educated. She didn’t have a family in her home anymore. The lives of these other people somehow enabled her to feel that she had something that she could contribute to our family discussions. I remember at my Grandma’s funeral; I was amazed to meet some of these people. I couldn’t believe that they were real. I just assumed that it was all made up nonsense.
My other Grandma, Kitty would talk over the garden fence to the lady next door, Mrs Innes. By the time that I was around, many neighbouring houses had been demolished and these gossips would form the basis of still trying to feel part of a community. In the Fifties and Sixties, there had been more people to gossip about; the lady who never washed her front step, the woman down the road who never cleaned her net curtains. Her by the bingo hall, who liked one too many drops of mother’s ruin. It was all worthless conversation. But it had a purpose; to unite and to enable people to feel less isolated.
My Dad grew up in the Forties and Fifties and he will tell me that in those days, everyone knew everyone on their street. There was an immense sense of community. Even when I grew up in the Seventies in an affluent area, there was still that sense of knowing your neighbours and seeing them as an extension of your family. These communities rarely exist nowadays. I know my neighbours to say hello to and to take their parcels in for them, but we rarely exchange anything other than minor pleasantries. The World has become much smaller and whereas in the past we would gossip with our neighbours, now we gossip with our virtual neighbours.
In the movie age when the cult of celebrity first began, there were leading Hollywood celebrity gossip columnists such as Heda Hopper. At the height of its popularity, Heda’s column was read by over thirty-five million people and she earned over a quarter of a million dollars. Clearly gossip was lucrative. For a time, the gossip column was not so popular, but this led to a resurgence in the 1980s with such diarists as Nigel Dempster
Today, many leading mainstream magazines and newspapers, who would once have considered the idea of hiring gossip columnists beneath them, have entire sections devoted to what they term as “Entertainment”. These mainstream gossip columns provide a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. At the other end of the journalism spectrum, there are entire publications that deal only in gossip, rumour, and innuendo about celebrities, such as the ‘red-top’ tabloids in the UK and celebrity ‘tell-all’ magazines.
One of the reasons that reality television is so popular is because it is based on gossip and human interaction. Some people may condemn Tattle, but most of them watch and comment on Love Island or other reality shows. Similarly, if you are going to take down Tattle for the reason that it impacts on an individual’s mental health, then surely other sites such as Instagram and YouTube should go, since they present an idealised view of life that few can live up to? Tattle may be causing these YouTubers harm, but have we ever stopped to think of the reverse scenario? How much harm is caused by these Vloggers with their perfect lives on Instagram, telling us that we are not a good mother unless we buy the latest must have pushchair or how we need to buy the latest expensive Boden jumper to improve our mental health? Have we ever considered how being filmed by your mother twenty-four hours a day will impact on the children of Mummy Vloggers when they are older?
Shutting down people’s ability to vent their concerns on a forum, becomes tantamount to censorship, ergo life in a dictatorship for me. In Russia, gossip was banned and considered an illegal offence for years and we really should be free to express our opinions in an environment that is not directly causing someone undue harm, unless they seek it out. Reading someone else’s opinion of someone does not mean that you must agree. I love Laura Jane Williams and recently she complained about a thread on Tattle about her. This thread did not change my opinion on her. I am an intelligent woman and I can formulate my own decisions . I have interacted with her on a personal level and I like her. These people were basing their views on her public persona on social media. That is not the same.
Many of the people who wish to shut Tattle down claim that it is trolling. I do not agree. I think that there is a world of difference between someone writing a comment on a forum about why they dislike a public persona of someone than someone who directly sends offensive messages. There is an equally vast difference between calling someone out for posting something offensive and then sending them death threats to their personal inbox. These YouTubers and Mummy Vloggers are public businesses that earn money. As such, they do need to be held accountable and I think that some do struggle with anyone who disagrees with them by a culture of blocking and deleting. Because so many have built their brands on their personal lives, then it becomes difficult to draw a line between the two. If you shut down someone’s ability to vent in a public forum then it follows that these same people might start venting their angst by putting comments on someone’s personal profile? In the past week I have heard about several incidents of the fans of these Vloggers sending vile personal messages to the social media profiles of people, who have posted comments on Tattle. It does concern me because this is becoming little more than tit for tat.
Personally, I don’t believe in wasting any energy on deliberately hating someone, because I feel that it just becomes a downward spiral of negativity. I believe that you get out of life what you put in and if you are going to be constantly pulling someone apart, then it’s not going to be good for your own sense of self-worth. Yet, there is no denying that many people do need to vent their opinions and discuss their dislikes. Terry Wogan once said, according to Ben Fogle, that for every person who loves you there will be an equal number of people who dislike you. You cannot please everyone. We all have someone that we dislike for no other reason than they annoy us. For my Dad it’s Joanna Lumley, for my husband it’s Jamie Oliver, and for me, it’s Mylene Klass. Perhaps if I met her in real life then I would think she was lovely? It’s not Mylene Klass, the private mother of two young children that annoys me. It’s Mylene Klass, the public persona, who I just feel seems to be everywhere! I’d never send her a message or tell her what I think. But if someone had a gossip thread about reasons why she was so annoying, then I might be tempted to read it.
No one could have predicted the many different questions concerning ethics and moral values that have arisen from social media, and I do think that we need to address these before the monster becomes too big. In looking for the answer to this debate, I was reminded of something that happened to me many years ago, when I was working in a very unpleasant environment, with an inherent culture of bullying. I had been successful in gaining a job that a man, who had been at the place for over thirty years, felt that he should have been given. The man hated me because I had the job that he coveted. Whatever I did, I was never going to change his opinion of me. Over my entire period at the place, he would regularly leave a list above my pigeon-hole, in which he wrote down everything that he believed was wrong with me. It was pure nastiness. This impacted greatly on me and my mental health. Imagine going into work everyday and finding a list of everything you were supposedly doing wrong, judged by someone who was full of hatred and bile? In the end, a close colleague decided to take matters into her own hands, and she would make a point everyday of going into the staff room before me and tearing up the list that had been left for me. I no longer saw it and thus my life became a lot easier.
I’m a teacher. I am sure that I have taught kids over the years who hate me. I know that they would talk amongst themselves and say horrible things about my hair, my weight and how I speak. I wouldn’t however, go up to them and ask them their opinions because the person I am as a teacher, is only one aspect of who I am. I would not like it if someone wrote a thread about me, however, I do not choose to put myself physically in the public eye. If they did do one on me, then I certainly wouldn’t go searching for it and read horrible comments about myself. I would sooner not know
You will always meet people in life that dislike you. People will gossip about you. As much as I do not support or tolerate bullying, trolling or discrimination in any form, I do agree with freedom of choice and being able to express an opinion in a polite and informed manner. When my children complain to me that someone has said something nasty about them, I always say it indicates more about the individual than my child. The trick in dealing with nasty or negative comments lies in learning how to handle them and learning to ignore them. I certainly won’t be writing any comments on Tattle in the future, but I equally don’t agree with shutting it down. And as my Dad always used to say to me, “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.”
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