Rachel Riley libel trial: DARVO rears its ugly head

Continuing my account of my evidence at the libel trial against Rachel Riley last month, we move on to her second – and longer – thread addressed to Rosie, the 16-year-old girl who had criticised her for making an unsupported claim about then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and then for allowing her followers and supporters on Twitter to dogpile Rosie herself for having done so.

I should remind you that what follows is my evidence to the trial, detailing the reasonable conclusions that I drew from the evidence available to me before I wrote the Serial abuser… article.

Riley had deliberately chosen to address Rosie publicly, after having been asked not to do so, knowing that her comments were likely to attract unwanted attention to Rose; Riley had ignored the subject at hand in favour of a different argument that she could more easily use to assert the superiority of her own point of view over that of Rose (gaslighting), and that was therefore more likely to attract responses supporting her and denigrating Rose from her followers. Riley had 610,000 followers and Rose had only 10,000 – statistically, it was likely that more comments would be supportive of Riley than Rose.

Did Riley write her thread in the hope that her followers would send more abuse to Rose? It is hard to tell. Certainly she was reckless as to whether Rose would receive abuse and, knowing the state of Rose’s mental health (we know Riley did know this because of her reference to her friends who were mental health campaigners), reckless as to the effect that it would have on Rose’s state of mind.

Chronologically, the next tweets were from followers and supporters of Riley, again attacking Rosie but this time supported by Riley’s first thread.

Then Rose responded to Riley’s thread, politely disagreeing. Almost her first comment made the point that she had acknowledged that anti-Semitism existed in the Labour Party:

So Riley had no reason to discuss anti-Semitism in the Labour Party; Rosie agreed that it was there but the subject under discussion was different. She then addressed that subject as being a debate “weaponised by the media” against Jeremy Corbyn.

In a separate tweet, Rosie made another attempt to get away from Rachel Riley and her claims, announcing that she was about to “have a break from Twitter”.

But Riley wasn’t having any of that! Instead, she published a second, longer thread, less than two hours after Rosie had declared her intention to take a break from Twitter altogether.

Again, Riley could have avoided contacting Rose on public Twitter and could have used the direct message system. Again, she did not. Again, this was a deliberate choice; she wanted to put this in the public domain, and never mind the consequences for Rose who was, we must keep reminding ourselves, a minor who suffered with mental illness/disability that manifests as extreme anxiety.

This time, Riley wrote 16 tweets, ignoring Rose’s wishes and providing a further springboard for her followers to send Rose more abuse. Indeed, it includes from the outset everybody she had tagged in during her first thread, because it is a response to Rose, who had been replying to Riley’s first thread. It seems reasonable to conclude that the publication of more than twice as many tweets as in her first thread, directed at Rose but with other Twitter users included, was done with a deliberate intention to intimidate Rose, and to invite abuse. Knowing also that Rose had asked to be left alone, it seems reasonable to conclude that this was also intentional harassment.

Take a look at these:

Unaccountably, Riley had ignored Rosie’s admission that there was anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, but that the matter under discussion was Riley’s unsupported claim about Mr Corbyn, and gone back to gaslighting her with the claim that any talk of anti-Semitism in Labour was a “smear”.

Then, a little later in the thread, Riley tweeted:

I recall having to correct my witness statement at this point in the trial; it had labelled this as gaslighting but it is in fact a technique of abuse known as DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. I was able to insert this change because my evidence about this thread was mainly on the same subject anyway. I’ll walk you through it:

‘Deny’ is self-explanatory. The person accused of wrongdoing (Riley in this case) denies that it is the case. She was saying that she had not smeared Owen Jones and Jeremy Corbyn – without providing evidence to support her claim.

‘Attack’ is when the accused person turns around the criticism to focus blame on the person calling them out. Riley said Rose was calling her a liar (not true; Rose had not done this) but was not aware of “all the detail” (also not evidenced; Rose had followed the dialogue about Lord Sugar. But Riley was claiming that the topic was really anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and that Rose did not know “all the detail” about that. Of course not, but that does not matter – Riley was trying to change the subject to one that was much larger, but also irrelevant to the discussion at hand).

‘Reverse Victim and Offender’ is where the accused person turns the tables to say that, rather than being guilty of doing something terrible, they are being treated poorly. We see it here with Riley, who said Rose had called her a liar and then added, “That’s pretty hurtful.”

DARVO arises from the work of psychologist Jennifer Freyd, who links the first stage (denial) with gaslighting (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARVO).

There then followed several tweets listing alleged incidents of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, that were totally irrelevant to the discussion Rosie had been having. Then Riley returned to her DARVO tactic with:

Jews aren’t the enemy in this. Rose had not suggested they were.

“Disagree with any of these facts but please note that calling fears a ‘smear’ is deeply hurtful and helping to spread the virus that is Antisemitism.” But Rose had not called Jews’ fears of being attacked a smear. Riley had twisted her words to present a falsehood to thousands of potential recipients.

In fact, Rose had said Riley had encouraged others to smear Jeremy Corbyn in a very particular way. She did not say that all complaints by Jewish people were wrong. She had not even been given a chance to say whether she agreed or disagreed with the accounts Riley had provided and the suggestion that she did disagree is more gaslighting.

So we see Riley again attacking Rose – suggesting that Rose disagreed with the stories she had provided without giving her a chance to offer an opinion, misrepresenting Rose’s use of the word “smear”, and going on, again, to claim that she – Riley – was the victim by again claiming that Rose’s accusation was “deeply hurtful” (so it was now a stage up from “pretty hurtful”).

Riley’s next tweet hypocritically claimed, “Please know, none of what I’m saying is meant to attack you, or single you out.” This is simply not true. This was the 15th tweet in a thread that had done nothing but single Rose out, and that contained a sustained DARVO attack.

“Unf[ortunately] you’ve become a figurehead for all the wrong people in this…” In whose opinion? This is not evidenced. By tweeting this to thousands of people, Riley was putting forward the idea that Rose was representing the views of anti-Semites. She was also expanding on her claim in the previous thread that “I imagine you’ve received a lot of praise for echoing popular opinion on this”. The claim that Rosie was echoing “popular opinion” was false as popular opinion at the time was against Mr Corbyn. But the important element was “I imagine”; Riley had plucked an idea out of thin air and acted as if it were true – and now she was blatantly treating it as though it was a fact, without any evidence to back it up.

Rose replied to this thread 18 minutes later – politely standing her ground. Her response was a short thread of her own which gives the impression of a person trying to maintain her patience with someone who is refusing to engage properly with the subject matter: “Thank you, I understand everything you say and how the Labour Party do need to act more on antisemitism.” This is not an expression of gratitude; it is a protest that Rose was already aware of the issue that Riley had raised. It could be paraphrased, “Yes, I know all this and don’t need to be lectured on it, thank you very much!”

“Unfortunately others on twitter are not quite able to have a sensible debate without name calling and throwing abuse.” She was pointing out that she had a legitimate cause for complaint about the way others (including Riley’s followers) had attacked her.

And then a pointed contradiction of Riley’s implication that Rose was mistaken in her opinions:”I will always be willing to learn from others and recognise when I am wrong but also stand by my opinions.” This is accurate. She was saying she would not be steamrollered by Riley’s multitude of tweets defending a claim that Rose had not even questioned.

Again, she tried to drag the discussion back to its real topic: “It is a shame that I personally find the media will pick holes in anything and everything that Jeremy Corbyn does.”

And then Rosie tried – for yet a third time – to depart from the discussion gracefully: “Have a lovely Christmas, I’m putting this debate behind me now.”

Once again, this wasn’t good enough for Rachel Riley, whose response came just 14 minutes later:

She was asking Rosie to recant the claim that Riley had smeared Labour with claims of anti-Semitism within its ranks. But how could Rosie do that when she had never made such a claim?

Rose finally lost patience with Riley at 7.24am on December 18, 2018, after only a day’s dialogue between them. Her thread speaks for itself. She started: “I’m not finding Rachel Riley to be a nice person at all. I said I wanted to move on from this debate and end it, then she tweets me about retracting my comments after I said I stand by my opinion but will always listen to others.”

Rose continued: “I apologised for the ethnicity and religion mix up but what I won’t apologise for is saying that antisemitism is used by right wing media in order to bring Jeremy Corbyn down. She only believes what she wants to believe.

“She said that she isn’t singling me out but all she has done has encouraged an onslaught onto me.”

Those words are clear. Riley had “encouraged” an “onslaught”. Rosie was stating her firm belief that, in engaging Rosie in dialogue, Riley had set her up as a target for abuse by her followers (whether intentionally or not is irrelevant; Rosie is not clear on this point but the effect is the same, either way). Note also: Rosie had said that, in order to do this, Riley had ignored her repeated calls to be left alone.

“I tried to be respectful and mature to her by saying I understood her stance but she’s just thrown it in my face.” Rose was making it clear that she had disliked Riley’s attitude from the start and had been trying to show politeness in the face of extreme provocation: “she’s just thrown it in my face”.

“Not to mention the patronising “I’m sure you mean well”.

Then Rosie published the absolutely damning tweet of 7.31am, December 18, 2018: “I may be sixteen but that doesn’t automatically make me an idiot. I will not sit here and let her dictate what I say and how I feel. I do not feel threatened by you, Rachel.” This is a clear statement that she thought Riley was trying to exert coercive power over her – that Riley had bullied a child with mental health problems; that she had harassed Rose and that her behaviour had been abusive.

“And I would have hoped you could have listened to everyone else’s opinions instead of just your own”.

Rosie concluded by saying that she had blocked Riley from having any contact with her on Twitter.

That seems an appropriate place for a break. Next time, I’ll discuss how Riley circumvented the Twitter block and what she did with the information she then accumulated.

If you think the above is bad (and it is), there is more – and worse – still to come.

I still have to finish paying for my legal representation at the trial. If you are as horrified by the above information as I was when I read it in early January 2019, please support my CrowdJustice fund in one or more of the following ways:

Make a donation via the CrowdJustice page. Keep donating regularly until you see the total pass the amount I need.

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I’ll publish a further instalment of my evidence soon.

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