How Gary Lineker and Luciana Berger helped me take the fight to the trolls | Tracy Ann Oberman

After receiving antisemitic abuse online, I made a podcast celebrating brave, outspoken and diverse voices

I remember the day I joined Twitter. On the set of The Infidel in May 2009, I’d been telling Omid Djalili and the Davids – Baddiel and Schneider – that I didn’t have a Facebook account and all social media was a pointless waste of time. On the spot they signed me up to this newish site, saying: “You’ll love this, it’s fun.” And to be fair it was. With just 140 characters, you had to be pithy and bright. Here was a site that had all the enjoyment of being invited to the best party in town, full of the funniest, most well-informed people on the planet, from all walks of life. All this without having to leave the house. It was addictive.

I barely received a single negative tweet. If anything unsavoury did come my way – abuse or dick pics – I just pressed the block button.

That changed in September 2015. I started seeing Rothschild tropes, references to the “Zionist-controlled media” and “over-exaggeration [sic] of the Holocaust”. Worse was the misogyny and anti-Jewish abuse towards “Zio” Luciana Berger, at that point on Labour’s newly formed frontbench. I assumed it was coming from the far right but shockingly it appeared to be coming from Labour party members, too. My own party.

I looked for a grownup to stamp hard on it. There was nobody. Seeing Berger’s face grafted on to the body of a rat, a Star of David etched on to her head with the words #FilthyJewBitch, pushed me to stick my head above the parapet and call it out publicly. In doing so I became a target for trolling myself.

‘Al Murray describes how the trolls turned him into a stealth Tory.’
‘Al Murray describes how the trolls turned him into a stealth Tory.’ Photograph: Mark Johnson/ITV

Suddenly a tsunami of tweets told me that I, too, was the filthy Jew bitch. The Zio shill, the paid Mossad operative, the Jewish tax evader, child bully and grooming paedophile. One wordsmith spat: “You wouldn’t know antisemitism if it crawled out of your saggy middle-aged arse.” My arse was beginning to get the idea. The aim was to silence, to run me off the site and if I wouldn’t go, then to discredit me.

These days, any time someone has an opinion on Twitter, they are putting themselves in the firing line. The world’s No 1 Twitter troll is the president of the US. It’s not going to get better any time soon.

What to do in the face of such negativity? I refuse to be silenced. So I try to squeeze some positive creativity from this quagmire. I’ve got a new podcast coming out about Twitter trolling, how people stand up to the bullying. I asked around and was overwhelmed with support.

Within two days I had a guest list to die for – Gary Lineker and Berger talk together in the first episode. Berger had just resigned from Labour. She has a stoic take on finding a way through the mire and madness. Lineker is a Zen master of not rising to the bait of bullies, even after getting attacked on a train by an old lady accusing him of being a terrorist sympathiser. Later in the series, the comedian and presenter Al Murray describes how the trolls turned him into a stealth Tory who is “closely related” to David Cameron. David Baddiel reports how having his photo taken with a young literary fan and posting it on Twitter resulted in thousands of trolls accusing him of being a paedophile.

I hope to have others from the left on, too – the Guardian’s own columnist Owen Jones gets a huge amount of abuse from the far right, both in person and online – these are problems shared by those with a variety of politics.

Hearing these stories might put people off engaging on social media. But not me. I have to do this. The Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and the Christchurch mosque attack have laid bear the link between radicalisation on social media and acts of horrific violence. The more diverse voices that are heard the better. Challenging the echo chambers where we now reside is essential. Trolled will be a podcast that celebrates the brave, the loud, the strong and the outspoken. I hope it encourages people to stand up and not to be scared or bullied into silence. We must all feel comfortable with sharing our views, with conviction and humour. It is only by learning to listen to each other and not shout others down that we can make society a better place to live.

• Tracy Ann Oberman is an actor and writer


Tracy-Ann Oberman

The GuardianTramp

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