Keep Calm and Beware the CityWire Trolls

I was recently contacted by Gill Cardy who outlined her surprise at a comment I had made on the New Model Adviser forum. I was equally staggered as the remark was fairly rude, but (more worryingly) made in my name without my knowledge.

Further investigations showed that more than 20 comments had been registered under “Fiona Sharp” over a 3 month period but not via my CityWire login. All were impolite and could border on offensive, depending on how broadminded you are.  All contained language I would not contemplate using.

This came as a shock to me.  I make sure, as we all do, that my online persona (and my offline one to be fair) is never anything other than polite. To discover that there is some unknown party out there prepared to damage my reputation was quite un-nerving. Who would seek to resort to such underhand tactics?

There is no other “Fiona Sharp” on the FCA register, and even other contributors genuinely thought the unprofessional comments were made by me and commented as such. I thought I was on my own, but Martin Bamford & Philip Wise have suffered similar trolling experiences. Today, an administrator at Almary Green also had his comments hacked on the NMA forum.

I phoned New Model Adviser. Martin Bamford emailed. We had responses from Daniel Grote & Lawrence Lever. To cut a long story short, all of my supposed comments have been deleted, but that’s as far as my protection goes.

I know all posts were made by a “user” who set up deliberate email accounts and linked my name to them. However, under data protection rules, New Model Adviser are currently unable/unwilling to disclose the impersonator’s identity. I have sought legal guidance and I could have grounds to apply for a Norwich Pharmacal Order which would force CityWire to produce evidence of who it was. I have not yet ruled that out as reputation means more than money. I have kept evidence of most of the posts and the police would be the next stage.

Am I over-reacting? I don’t think so. Some of the comments were bordering on libellous, and how long before I find myself unjustifiably on the wrong end of a writ?

NMA have blocked the account and written to the user stating that they must refrain from such behaviour in the future.  “They” have  apologised to NMA saying they had no idea that “Fiona Sharp” existed. “They” apologised for any offence caused, that the choice of name was random, and indicated no personal malice intended. So if that’s the case, I would receive an urgent and unreserved personal apology from the imposter, wouldn’t I?  Do they have the bottle? Well no, not so far.  A lacklustre slap on the wrist and they are on their way, ready to create havoc elsewhere. It’s also coincidence that another party at Almary Green should be targeted in the immediate aftermath of all of this. Random? Who knows.

This is a potentially serious issue for anyone who has a media presence of some sort. Ironically, I had been reducing mine for some time but someone has chosen to resurrect it for me in the worst way possible.

If any of this worries you, then sign Martin Bamford’s petition regarding anonymous and unmoderated comments  if you haven’t already.  The more the merrier.

Further advice would be

  • There is no point changing your NMA password as the hacker did not gain access via any personal logins- they created their own.
  •  Keep an eye out for abusive comments and continually report them.
  • If you don’t post often, then at least scan the comments columns from time to time. I did not pick up some of “my” posts for over 3 months, by which time quite a bit of reputational damage had already been done.

I would have hoped that NMA would publish an article highlighting all of this as an issue, but taking a positive spin, concentrating on what they are doing to improve matters. However, this is not newsworthy and is unlikely to happen.  They sent me flowers which was a lovely & appreciated  gesture, but it does not put things right

New Model Adviser state that they are tightening their terms and conditions, but monitoring all postings is difficult to police. I understand but it’s woefully insufficient.  How can they not wish to fight to protect the profession which keeps them in business?  I suggest that we all police NMA ourselves and vote with our feet if necessary.

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24 thoughts on “Keep Calm and Beware the CityWire Trolls

  • Without wanting to diminish Fiona’s issues, which should be explored, I do have some sympathy with Citywire and the trade press generally on this as having looked into it it is a more complex area than I had anticipated, due to potential liabilities as a publisher. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pursue a solution. Maybe Citywire or an editor could comment as they will know more, will happily have a stab at summarising some of the broader points as I understand them in an article next week if not.

    Reply
  • I know it’s tricky Phil. We live in a democracy & freedom of the press is important. NMA’s actions were swift. I also know they are held over a barrel to a degree, but allowing people to post under pesudonyms should not be allowed. It’s not allowed on this forum is it?
    The underlying issue is actually not with them, but the people who seek to troll in the first place.

    Reply
  • You might find it useful to set up a google alert for your name. The theory being you’ll be notified everytime your name appears on the web. http://www.google.com/alerts

    It’s not fool proof as I have to admit though, despite having a google alert on my own name, I know it doesn’t capture everything. But it’s still a help, and a free tool.

    Reply
    • That’s a good tip, Bridget. Worth using quote marks when setting up a google alert or periodically googling your own name, under web, news and blog areas of Google. When I search for “Martin Bamford” I get much more accurate results.

      Reply
  • I think it might be worth posting my own experience here.
    I had a disagreement on Citywire with an anonymous, and generally vitriolic poster, who goes by the name of Concerned.Consumer.
    The partners at our accountancy firm then received an email from an anonymous email address, making a number of silly accusations, but intended to be harmful to me.

    I raised this issue with Citywire, but they didnt even respond.

    My view is that forums which allow anonymous postings are no longer an effective place for debate. We had debates and discussions before these forums (and the internet) existed, and we will continue to have them in the future, but they wont take place on forums like Citywire, which are the place for vitriol, rather than intelligent debate, it seems. The internet will continue to develop, and moderation of comments will probably become the norm for professional forums.

    Reply
  • Our trade media is completely reliant on provider funding and as such needs to demonstrate readership and clicks to maintain it’s funding. Citywire have no interest in limiting the number of clicks whether anonymous or otherwise and as the website is measured simply on numbers of clicks you should not hold your breath waiting for change.

    Our industry media or more especially the NMA, MM and FA areas are not aimed at the public and should have been an ideal forum for discussing and sharing experiences – good and bad – in these challenging times.

    There can be no justification, on what are in effect an industry only forums, of allowing the nasty drivel posted under pseudonyms.

    The constant puerile attacks on SJP, Hargreaves, Andrew Fisher and almost anyone from the regulator create a dreadful picture of the industry and only further reinforce the negative perception of us which is held by the public at large.

    How anyone can argue the need for regulation in the face of the now normal gutter level debate on the various blogs defies imagination.

    I am sorry that some of you equate this drivel with Freedom of the Press because for me it is anything but as it allows the ” Trolls ” to have their way without any recourse whatsoever.

    It is a long time since there was any worthwhile debate in any of the trade media as they pursue readership at any cost.

    Reply
  • Good to see a lot of the original “muckers” from the NMA comments board on here. Such as shame the trolls have driven us away from what used to be a great forum.

    Reply
  • A comment from Citywire

    While comments on stories are an integral part of digital media, they bring with them the problems that are discussed here and affect every publisher on the Internet.

    At Citywire we do our best to create an atmosphere that fosters vigorous debate while doing our best to keep the (thankfully very few) trolls at bay.

    Here’s what we have in place:

    • You can only comment on the New Model Adviser® website if you are registered there.
    • Once that is done, your first comment is moderated before being posted to the site with your real name.
    • Assuming it’s decent, legal and honest, further comments from the same user can be posted directly.

    People are then allowed to change their posting name. Many who do so change for good reasons – they want to protect their identity but still add value to the debate.

    And then there are the very few who abuse the system.

    But at least we know their email address and can contact them and warn them as to their future behaviour. That usually does the trick.

    There’s no rock solid way of making the system watertight beyond requiring people to send in a certified copy of their passport or some similar extreme and ludicrous measure that would stop the system dead in its tracks.

    It’s also worth pointing out that, a couple of years ago, we responded to demands to build a water-tight closed garden forum for advisers.

    Unlike the Field of Dreams, we built it and they didn’t come. It attracted very little usage. So we closed it.

    Why didn’t it work? Probably because it went against the developing trends of the day (twitter, mobile) which make it easier for readers to comment on the fly, wherever they are, rather than having to get back to their desktop PC and sign in.

    Finally – and we’d like to emphasise this point: we genuinely do put the readers first at New Model Adviser, in whatever we do.

    That’s why we fostered the community in the first place, it’s why we have our unique audience development team to keep it growing and it’s why every front cover of our magazine features a member of the community.

    Thanks for reading

    Reply
    • Thank you Richard for taking the time to respond. You clearly are doing a lot to try and stop these horrible things from happening.

      But… they still happen.

      And it’s driving people away (I simply don’t bother looking at comments any more, so many mindless comments).

      So the only conclusion is that something more needs to be done than you are currently doing.

      My suggestion would be to ban anonymity. The rudeness would reduce markedly if people’s names had to be put by their comments.

      Is there a reason why banning anonymity would not be possible?

      Reply
      • Chris – good question. Two answers
        1) Some people want to comment and have much to add to the debate but feel they can’t under their own name – possibly because of company rules or because they will compromise themselves

        2) Short of demanding passport, rank,serial number etc it’s really difficult. If someone says they are Fred Smith then they have to take it on trust.

        I’d also add there is not a great correlation between anonymity and rudeness!

        Reply
        • Richard
          If somebody signs a contract with a company that obliges them not to comment on web forums, shouldnt they stick to that contract? It doesnt seem very ethical to help them to break that contract.
          How does this forum manage to encourage good quality debate from known contributors, yet yours doesnt?
          There are lots of ways to check people’s credentials – particularly if they are regulated and have to sign up to a code of ethics from an SPS issuer. You just need to get your thinking cap on and you’ll be able to solve the problem.

          Reply
          • Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to respond.

            It is a tricky situation. My comments were technically “anonymous”, but would have appeared to readers as being posted by myself, as my name was not anonymous!.
            Quite how we get round that in the future, I don’t know

            I suppose we all have to be ever more vigilant and police it ourselves.

  • Without wanting to diminish Fiona’s issues, which should be explored, I do have some sympathy with Citywire and the trade press generally on this as having looked into it it is a more complex area than I had anticipated, due to potential liabilities as a publisher. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pursue a solution. Maybe Citywire or an editor could comment as they will know more, will happily have a stab at summarising some of the broader points as I understand them in an article next week if not.

    Reply
  • I know it’s tricky Phil. We live in a democracy & freedom of the press is important. NMA’s actions were swift. I also know they are held over a barrel to a degree, but allowing people to post under pesudonyms should not be allowed. It’s not allowed on this forum is it?
    The underlying issue is actually not with them, but the people who seek to troll in the first place.

    Reply
  • I think it might be worth posting my own experience here.
    I had a disagreement on Citywire with an anonymous, and generally vitriolic poster, who goes by the name of Concerned.Consumer.
    The partners at our accountancy firm then received an email from an anonymous email address, making a number of silly accusations, but intended to be harmful to me.

    I raised this issue with Citywire, but they didnt even respond.

    My view is that forums which allow anonymous postings are no longer an effective place for debate. We had debates and discussions before these forums (and the internet) existed, and we will continue to have them in the future, but they wont take place on forums like Citywire, which are the place for vitriol, rather than intelligent debate, it seems. The internet will continue to develop, and moderation of comments will probably become the norm for professional forums.

    Reply
  • Good to see a lot of the original “muckers” from the NMA comments board on here. Such as shame the trolls have driven us away from what used to be a great forum.

    Reply
  • Our trade media is completely reliant on provider funding and as such needs to demonstrate readership and clicks to maintain it’s funding. Citywire have no interest in limiting the number of clicks whether anonymous or otherwise and as the website is measured simply on numbers of clicks you should not hold your breath waiting for change.

    Our industry media or more especially the NMA, MM and FA areas are not aimed at the public and should have been an ideal forum for discussing and sharing experiences – good and bad – in these challenging times.

    There can be no justification, on what are in effect an industry only forums, of allowing the nasty drivel posted under pseudonyms.

    The constant puerile attacks on SJP, Hargreaves, Andrew Fisher and almost anyone from the regulator create a dreadful picture of the industry and only further reinforce the negative perception of us which is held by the public at large.

    How anyone can argue the need for regulation in the face of the now normal gutter level debate on the various blogs defies imagination.

    I am sorry that some of you equate this drivel with Freedom of the Press because for me it is anything but as it allows the ” Trolls ” to have their way without any recourse whatsoever.

    It is a long time since there was any worthwhile debate in any of the trade media as they pursue readership at any cost.

    Reply
  • A comment from Citywire

    While comments on stories are an integral part of digital media, they bring with them the problems that are discussed here and affect every publisher on the Internet.

    At Citywire we do our best to create an atmosphere that fosters vigorous debate while doing our best to keep the (thankfully very few) trolls at bay.

    Here’s what we have in place:

    • You can only comment on the New Model Adviser® website if you are registered there.
    • Once that is done, your first comment is moderated before being posted to the site with your real name.
    • Assuming it’s decent, legal and honest, further comments from the same user can be posted directly.

    People are then allowed to change their posting name. Many who do so change for good reasons – they want to protect their identity but still add value to the debate.

    And then there are the very few who abuse the system.

    But at least we know their email address and can contact them and warn them as to their future behaviour. That usually does the trick.

    There’s no rock solid way of making the system watertight beyond requiring people to send in a certified copy of their passport or some similar extreme and ludicrous measure that would stop the system dead in its tracks.

    It’s also worth pointing out that, a couple of years ago, we responded to demands to build a water-tight closed garden forum for advisers.

    Unlike the Field of Dreams, we built it and they didn’t come. It attracted very little usage. So we closed it.

    Why didn’t it work? Probably because it went against the developing trends of the day (twitter, mobile) which make it easier for readers to comment on the fly, wherever they are, rather than having to get back to their desktop PC and sign in.

    Finally – and we’d like to emphasise this point: we genuinely do put the readers first at New Model Adviser, in whatever we do.

    That’s why we fostered the community in the first place, it’s why we have our unique audience development team to keep it growing and it’s why every front cover of our magazine features a member of the community.

    Thanks for reading

    Reply
    • Thank you Richard for taking the time to respond. You clearly are doing a lot to try and stop these horrible things from happening.

      But… they still happen.

      And it’s driving people away (I simply don’t bother looking at comments any more, so many mindless comments).

      So the only conclusion is that something more needs to be done than you are currently doing.

      My suggestion would be to ban anonymity. The rudeness would reduce markedly if people’s names had to be put by their comments.

      Is there a reason why banning anonymity would not be possible?

      Reply
      • Chris – good question. Two answers
        1) Some people want to comment and have much to add to the debate but feel they can’t under their own name – possibly because of company rules or because they will compromise themselves

        2) Short of demanding passport, rank,serial number etc it’s really difficult. If someone says they are Fred Smith then they have to take it on trust.

        I’d also add there is not a great correlation between anonymity and rudeness!

        Reply
        • Richard
          If somebody signs a contract with a company that obliges them not to comment on web forums, shouldnt they stick to that contract? It doesnt seem very ethical to help them to break that contract.
          How does this forum manage to encourage good quality debate from known contributors, yet yours doesnt?
          There are lots of ways to check people’s credentials – particularly if they are regulated and have to sign up to a code of ethics from an SPS issuer. You just need to get your thinking cap on and you’ll be able to solve the problem.

          Reply
          • Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to respond.

            It is a tricky situation. My comments were technically “anonymous”, but would have appeared to readers as being posted by myself, as my name was not anonymous!.
            Quite how we get round that in the future, I don’t know

            I suppose we all have to be ever more vigilant and police it ourselves.

  • You might find it useful to set up a google alert for your name. The theory being you’ll be notified everytime your name appears on the web. http://www.google.com/alerts

    It’s not fool proof as I have to admit though, despite having a google alert on my own name, I know it doesn’t capture everything. But it’s still a help, and a free tool.

    Reply
    • That’s a good tip, Bridget. Worth using quote marks when setting up a google alert or periodically googling your own name, under web, news and blog areas of Google. When I search for “Martin Bamford” I get much more accurate results.

      Reply

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