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The BBC’s first disinformation correspondent has said “it’s normal to hate me” as she revealed that more than 80 per cent of abuse directed at the corporation’s journalists is targeted at her.
Marianna Spring, 27, began working at the BBC in 2019 and a year later was appointed its disinformation and social media correspondent. Since then, she has been subject to extreme trolling online, and has even had an incident of harassment – which took place offline – referred to the police.
Marianna Spring, the BBC’s first disinformation journalist.Credit: RTS
The corporation has a system for monitoring the online abuse that its journalists are subjected to, with software detecting correspondence containing cyberbullying, physical threats, violent language and doxxing (revealing personal information online), and then flags these cases for escalation.
Between January 1 this year and late June there were 14,488 escalations. Of these, 11,771 – more than 80 per cent – were directed at Spring.
“When I found that out, I was quite relieved,” she said in an interview with The Sunday Times Magazine. “To have someone be, like, ‘Oh, actually, you do receive this phenomenal level of abuse,’ it makes you think, ‘Oh yeah, OK, I’m not going mad.’”
Among the trolling and slurs directed at her include: “filthy dirty propagandist”; “liar”; “communist b—h”; “leftist disgusting ugly dog”; and “you’re a mindless slug of greed that I hope publicly gets thrown under a moving bus. Literally or figuratively.”
BBC headquarters in London.Credit: AP
Earlier this year, one incident of harassment, which Spring said she cannot reveal further details of, spilled over from the online social media world to the real world, and has since been referred to the police.
Asked how she copes with being constantly trolled, she said: “I’ve a brilliant support system around me and they love what I do. I think part of my positive approach is that I really don’t want them to be worried about me at all.”
However, she concluded that for some people, and many online trolls: “It’s really normal to really hate me.”
The issues Spring has investigated include anti-vaxxers and people who believe in state-sponsored conspiracy theories, including those who believe that the US government was responsible for 9/11 or that the Manchester Arena suicide bombing by Islamic terrorist suicide bomber Salman Abedi, which left 22 people dead, did not happen.
The BBC journalist grew up with her parents and younger sister in the suburbs of south London. She attended a private school and took part in a scheme for young reporters run by the publisher Newsquest before being awarded a place to study French and Russian at the University of Oxford.
As an undergraduate, she wrote for one of the university’s student newspapers and tried and failed to win a place on the BBC’s graduate scheme.
She was on work experience at The Guardian in 2019 when one of its reporters said that she should contact BBC journalists whom she looked up to.
“I emailed the stars I loved, like Emily Maitlis, Fiona Bruce, Mishal Husain, and Emily replied to me. I sent some links to some reporting I’d done, and she said, ‘Why don’t you come in and meet our deputy editor? We sometimes have shifts going at Newsnight.’ And that’s how I started at the BBC.”
“The conspiracy theorists love to say that [the BBC] created my role because they knew COVID was coming,” when she was awarded her current role in 2020.
The BBC was contacted for comment.
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