This article was originally published by Whimn.
It’s rare for an influencer to become a household name overnight. But in November, British mummy blogger, influencer and midwife Clemmie Hooper became one of the most infamous personalities on the internet – for all the wrong reasons.
The mum-of-four, who goes by the online moniker Mother of Daughters, outed herself as a secret user of bitchy internet gossip forum Tattle Life.
Clemmie, 33, posted positively about herself while berating her husband and peers under the username AliceInWanderlust for a period of several months, before Tattle Life users unearthed her identity and pressured the influencer to come clean.
Clemmie’s fall from grace lost the so-called “mumfluencer” a reported 30,000 followers and countless friends. Then in December she deleted her Instagram account altogether.
It remains to be seen how the fallout will impact her marriage, brand deals and NHS job.
The story has highlighted an ugly corner of the internet most of us know little about: the murky world of internet gossip forums.
Of which, you might be surprised to hear, there are several. Aside from Tattle Life, others include Guru Gossip, You Talk Trash, GOMI (Get Off My Internets) and Lipstick Alley, as well as dedicated discussion areas like r/Blogsnark on Reddit.
Gossip is as much a part of human nature as eating, sleeping and accidentally eating an entire sharing bag of Doritos on a hangover. From playground rumours to secret discussions in the office chat, studies show we shoot the s**t for an average of 52 minutes a day.
And, aside from gossip and speculation, these forums are home to negative feedback influencers are unlikely to welcome in the comments section of their own posts. Eager to impress potential brand collaborators with positive follower engagement, influencers and their social media teams often censor their comments section. So feeling defiant, these commenters migrate over to gossip forums.
Threads on Tattle Life and the like frequently begin with a user expressing their dismay at being blocked or having their comments moderated on Instagram or YouTube. With an anonymous avatar to hide behind, things quickly turn nasty.
As one of Tattle Life’s 40,000 users wrote, “I don’t consider myself a troll or hater, but I have been called [these names] on many occasions for expressing my distaste or opinions. I don’t call names (often), I ask questions and they usually have a paddy and block me. So it’s nice to read the comments other blocked people would like to make about these idiots.”
Another common theme in gossip forum threads is the idea that posters are restoring moral integrity by holding influencers “to account”. The crime is usually pretty innocuous – doing too many sponsored posts in a row, for example, or showing off #gifted freebies too often – punishable by having one’s relationships, family life, income and appearance dissected and scrutinised.
Barbara Spears, a Professor from the University of South Australia and specialist in cyberbullying and social media, offers another reason women write nasty things about other women online: just like influencers chasing likes and comments, gossipers are fighting to feel powerful too.
“Girls and women use information about someone else as the vehicle for their weapon of choice,” she explains. “Girls share secrets, and then those secrets are used to denigrate someone else by selectively revealing them. This has a lot to do with who has and is in control of the power in the group. Being able to post freely, and anonymously is a lot about power.”
While Tattle Life’s anonymous owners claim its content provides “commentary and critiques of people that choose to monetise their personal life”, but the subjects of threads see the website as less diplomatic.
In September, beauty journalist and author Sali Hughes visibly struggled to contain her distress in as she read aloud a statement on her Instagram on her own experiences with Tattle Life. Sali’s voice trembled as she told of the relentless abuse she had been privy to online by a group of “rude and vindictive” posters.
“They screen grabbed every post, every article, scuttling back to their sewer to mock and belittle me,” she said. “They discussed my children, criticised my parenting, mocked my marriage and made personal insults about my husband, who is the kindest and most decent person I know.”
Sali isn’t alone in her contempt for Tattle Life. Youtuber Michelle Chapman became so frustrated with slanderous comments about herself and her family, she started a Change.Org petition campaigning for the website to be shut down. The petition has over 29,000 signatures at the time of writing.
Mumfluencer and author of MumBoss Vicki Psarias, also known as Honest Mum, told Whimn.com.au she was able to laugh off horrible comments made about her on Tattle Life.
“People have written that I have ‘evil’ eyes, I’m privileged and middle class, I’ve got a huge ego and that my family looks miserable – my Mum couldn’t stop laughing at someone writing she looks miserable. No one wants to read mean things about themselves but I’m a pretty strong person.”
Thanks to already having extensive therapy to help with health problems, Vicki was able to brush off the nasty comments and tried instead to understand her haters.
She said,“I genuinely feel sorry for people who feel the need to lash out at others. Hurt people hurt people as the saying goes.”
Indeed, lots of the commentary on gossip forums does seem to come from a place of hurt, or rather jealousy. A former user of Guru Gossip told Whimn.com.au she reverted to smack-talking influencers when she was at her lowest.
“I used to post a lot [on Guru Gossip] when I was at university and shortly after graduation, when I was struggling financially and feeling anxious about the future,” she said.
“Seeing bloggers and YouTubers earn thousands from promoting face wipes, or whatever, while I was putting myself into debt to get a degree was really frustrating. I think it was therapeutic to lash out at strangers who I felt weren’t deserving of a luxury lifestyle.”
The former gossiper, who wishes to remain anonymous, told us she regrets using influencers as an online punching bag.
“You kind of forget that there’s another human being with thoughts and feelings on the other end of it. I said some really cruel things. I’ll never earn as much as a beauty YouTuber does for saying she loves eyeshadow, but I’m happy and stable where I am. Her life has its pros and cons and so does mine.”
One regretful ex-gossiper logging off doesn’t turn the tide of negativity online. So, what’s the solution?
According to Barbara Spears, we can start by collectively being more responsible about what we post online.
“There has to be some recognition that our individual freedom to interact online does not mean we can impede someone else’s right to be free from harassment, persecution, bullying or humiliation,” she said.
“We need to acknowledge that with rights come responsibilities: to be an ethical digital citizen.”