Mary Beard slams Twitter trolls

Madeleine Bell - Deputy News Editor 24 January 2013

Cambridge University Classics Professor and television presenter Mary Beard has refused to back down after receiving a torrent of "truly vile" abuse online after appearing on Question Time.

One post, which has subsequently been removed, threatened Beard with rape, while others made crude and offensive comments about her physical appearance.

The abuse started after Beard doubted the impact of immigration on services in a Lincolnshire town, after it was raised by a viewer on the show.

The 58-year-old told Radio 4's Woman's Hour that the abuse was "a bit like someone giving you a punch" and that although "it was a difficult decision," she had decided to publicly address it after learning that lots of women who had been through similar experiences were told that "if you react, you'll bring it just the type of publicity it's looking for."

Beard, a Newnham College alumna is no stranger to misogyny having previously said that her years at university were "the first time I realised there was sexism in the world."

But she described the most recent abuse as "more than a few steps into sadism" and introducing her "to a side of internet trolling that I haven't experienced before."

The criticism over Beard's appearance comes as part of a long running debate over women's appearances on television.

BBC Newsreader Fiona Bruce once said that female television presenters would not get far if they looked "like the back end of a bus," and admitted last year that she dyed her hair because different rules apply for females and males in the television industry.

When asked about potential solutions for countering the Internet trolls, Beard suggested that sometimes one does have to answer back, "whether on twitter or on these more sort of aggressive websites." She also mentioned that on this particular occasion a number of people had got back to her to apologise, saying that they had been cross at the time of posting.

Beard also suggested that offensive tweets need to be withdrawn, and that the "online community should obey more of the rules of the face to face community."

Madeleine Bell – Deputy News Editor