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Seyi Akiwowo’s advice on online abuse ignored as tabloids run “clickbait” Alex Jones story

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Kayleigh Dray
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Seyi Akowowo

Seyi Akiwowo has shared her thoughts on that “clickbait, inappropriate, pitting-women-against-each-other article”. 

In the week of Caroline Flack’s untimely death, The One Show’s Matt Baker and Alex Jones made a point of exploring the issue of online abuse, as well as the government’s recent announcement that Ofcom will temporarily be given the power to take social media platforms to task.

And, to help them do this subject justice, they invited online abuse campaigner, Seyi Akiwowo, on the show. 

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For those who don’t know Akiwowo, some context: after being on the receiving end of particularly nasty online abuse herself – much of it racist – Akiwowo set up Glitch, with the aim of putting an end to online bullying through education and campaigning.

As she previously told Stylist: “No-one is supporting young people with how to navigate the online world. Everyone assumes that because we grew up with the Internet we know how to navigate it properly. Just because know how to do Word Art on Windows 97 doesn’t mean we know how to respond when someone says something mean to us.”

To combat this, Glitch provides workshops on digital safety to women with public-facing online personas, as well as campaigning governments and tech companies to take action. And, as such, Akiwowo is extremely well placed to talk about the the government committing more to do more to end online abuse and improve digital spaces.

Unfortunately, though, much of what she had to say on the matter during her appearance on The One Show was drowned out by a tabloid article focusing on Jones’ mispronunciation of Akiwowo’s name.

After spotting the mistake, one viewer shared a clip of the incident on Twitter, prompting Jones to issue an apology.

“@seyiakiwowo I just wanted to send a huge apology for mispronouncing your name on the show last night,” she tweeted. “I’m so sorry. You were utterly brilliant and thanks for opening up such an important discussion on @BBCTheOneShow.”

Akiwowo replied graciously: “I appreciate the apology.”

That, however, wasn’t enough to stop one tabloid leaping upon the story and sharing it as headline news – changing several key details along the way, particularly with regards to Akiwowo’s response.

Unwilling to let her reputation be tarnished, Akiwowo has since shared a “thread on everything wrong” about the article.

In her tweets, she noted that the article in question made no mention as to why she was on The One Show. Instead, it focused on the fact that she “took to Twitter to complain” – which, she added, was entirely incorrect, as it was a viewer who flagged the mistake in the first place.

“I quote tweeted the tweet of the clip to clarify what happened, to remind people of why I was on the show which was about online abuse and mental health AND that we can have banter ‘cos my reaction IS funny but to not be abusive, people make mistakes,” Akiwowo said.

“After Alex’s apology at 3.30pm [this story] was over,” Akiwowo continued, pointing out that the article falsely implied that someone had accused Jones of ‘butchering’ the activist’s name. “We had moved on. But at 9pm [this tabloid chose] to sensationalise for clickbait.”

Perhaps the most galling of all, though, was the implication that Akiwowo and her followers should not have shared their stories of when people mispronounced their names.

“What’s wrong with strangers bonding over a similar lived experience? Isn’t that what online communities are about?” she asked. “There’s an insinuation here that certain demographics aren’t allowed to ‘complain’. We should be grateful at the attempt to get our names correct? That we are all being… what? A bit ‘uppity’?”

Noting that the article didn’t take any of her advice with regards to online etiquette on board, Akiwowo noted that she had been trolled extensively in the reader comments section underneath the story.

“This article is now tarnishing my credibility and they’ve invited their readers to troll me,” she said. “[They] have at least five articles about Caroline Flack and articles about Meghan Markle’s ordeal. They have written on #BeKind, yet have been everything but kind and responsible with this clickbait, inappropriate, pitting women against each other ‘article’.”

Akiwowo added: “Not only are you putting us both in vulnerable positions, you’ve distracted from important topics suicide and online abuse for clickbait.”

Akiwowo’s thread has, at the time of this article’s publication, been retweeted over 300 times, and liked by almost 1,000 people.

In the replies, author of Fattily Ever After Stephanie Yeboah called upon the journalist in question to “do better”.

“This is so dangerous,” she said. “All this is going to do is incite trolls and hatred against Seyi, because I doubt if Seyi was a white woman with a long, Eastern European name that had been pronounced incorrectly, you wouldn’t have written this article.”

The One Show’s Jones added: “I wasn’t forced to apologise in the slightest but I wanted to as I consider it to be the polite and decent thing to do. Shame [the journalist in question] hadn’t listened and understood the point of the interview before printing such an unhelpful article.”

“Black womxn receive 84% more abuse than white womxn,” noted UK Black Pride, Europe’s largest celebration for LGBTQ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern descent.

“Seyi, from all of us at UK Black Pride, thank you for the work you’re doing to help combat online bullying and harassment. We stand with you and all victims of bullying and harassment. This is not OK.”

Elsewhere, women’s rights organisation Centenary Action Group, retweeting the thread into their own feed, wrote: “Awful behaviour, inciting abuse against @seyiakiwowo after she was on The One Show to discuss online abuse and the fantastic work that @GlitchUK_does to tackle this.

“We need an end to a culture which pits women against each other and seeks to tear them down.”

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To ensure Akiwowo’s comments don’t get lost in the noise, we’d like to remind readers that Glitch has well and truly welcomed the announcement of Ofcom being given more powers to regulate social media.

Speaking on her organisation’s behalf, founder Akiwowo said: “It is great to see that Ofcom’s powers will be extended to internet safety and that social media firms will be held to account over online abuse. This is long overdue, but it is a step in the right direction. The extension of Ofcom’s powers is key in making sure that there is an ability for action to be taken more quickly as new threats emerge.

“Glitch’s advocacy focuses on working with the government and tech companies to make online spaces safer for all users. We call on the government and Ofcom to take into account disproportionate levels of abuse that marginalised communities face.

“In the UK, Amnesty International found that around a quarter of women polled experienced harassment on social media platforms. For women with multi-intersecting identities, such as women of colour, LGBT+ women, and disabled women, it’s even worse.

“Whilst this announcement is exactly what is needed to start to tackle online abuse, we look forward to seeing the full response in the spring. In addition to this move to further regulate our online spaces, we also need the government to take a leading role in positively reinforcing good digital citizenship. We continue to call on the government to commit to truly investing in digital citizenship education funded through a 1% tax on tech companies.”

To learn more about Glitch’s work, and access their online abuse toolkit, visit their website now.

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Main image: supplied by Seyi Akowowo

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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