EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Investigative Journalist John Mooney on Bloggers Unveiled
Bloggers Unveiled has been a murky place to navigate with little community moderation and lots of nasty commentary and vitriol. An Instagram account supposedly upholding standards in influencer marketing fell victim to its own poor standards.
Following the article published by Sunday Times journalist, John Mooney last month and a statement by Cari’s Closet, the fate of Bloggers Unveiled was sealed and the Instagram account with over 220k followers shut down.
But questions remain. Who is behind Bloggers Unveiled, why the veil of secrecy and is this really the right way to police influencer marketing? Now that the police are involved in a criminal investigation into alleged death threats against Ramona Treacy, will that deter the hatred and online trolling?
I explore these questions and more in this interview with John Mooney which I did for the JSB Talks Digital podcast.
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW WITH JOHN MOONEY
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH JOHN MOONEY
JSB: 02:13 John Mooney thank you so much for joining me on JSB Talks Digital.
John Mooney: 02:20 That’s no problem you are more than welcome.
JSB: 02:22 When I read your article about Bloggers Unveiled I have to admit because I follow your work because I’m very interested in policing and security and I wrote a book on how police forces use social media. When I saw you writing about bloggers unveiled I was like oh this is interesting. So what prompted you or how did you get involved in the story?
Why Bloggers Unveiled?
John Mooney: 02:45 Well I suppose that all journalists now are looking at what’s happening in the online world and that includes me. I’ve become aware that there was this account Bloggers Unveiled that it was acting as a watchdog for the Irish fashion industry and I was very much interested in the fact that it had attracted this huge phenomenal following very very fast.
John Mooney: 03:12 In point of fact I would say that it’s rise in popularity was almost something unprecedented given what it was, given that it was acting as a mini media organisation questioning what was happening in that whole world. I became interested in it.
John Mooney: 03:33 I became even more interested when I heard that there were people being accused of running the account that there had been legal threats delivered to the account and that in point of fact it had reached a stage where there were people presenting themselves to the Garda stating that they worried about their own safety because they were being targeted allegedly because they ran this account. It ticked a lot of boxes for us.It had reached a stage where there were people presenting themselves to the Garda stating they were worried about their own safety @JohnMooneyST | #JSBTalksDigital #BloggersUnveiled Click To Tweet
JSB: 03:57 And of course you had the opportunity to speak to Ramona Treacy directly. Is it fair to ask whether you approached her or she approached you?
John Mooney: 04:09 We located her. I had become aware that this particular individual was being named online as a person who was controlling that account so we made it our business to find out where she was and did approach her. She can comment in trying to establish or verify the accuracy or inaccuracy of those reports were circulating online. We went looking for her.
Finding the identity of Bloggers Unveiled
JSB: 04:31 It’s certainly a public interest story at this stage. I followed the account. I’ve followed the comments and I would go as far to say perhaps there was so much vitriol on that account. There’s a lot of commentary about it. You were satisfied and you wrote this in your article that Ramona Treacy is not behind or was not behind Bloggers Unveiled and that Instagram account has now been disbanded.
John Mooney: 05:01 We approached her and when the Sunday Times approaches any investigation like this we do so from an impartial viewpoint. There was a lot of material floating around online. I discussed that with Ramona Treacy. We put certain allegations to her and there were explanations given for how some of this material had arrived where it did.
John Mooney: 05:25 What I will say is that at all times she stated emphatically that she did not run the Bloggers Unveiled account. She did make certain admissions about having maybe acted in a very inappropriate way whilst online and other forums and maybe did things that she regretted in her younger life and explained background to these and some personal issues that she had. She was quite upfront about all of that. We cannot find any hard evidence to suggest that she ran that account. My own feeling just as someone who investigates far more serious matters than this is that she wasn’t running that account for lots of different reasons.
I understand she was in touch with Bloggers Unveiled whoever ran that account she had outlined various allegations that were being made about her and there was some sort of dialogue between the two sides. I’ve seen that so I am satisfied that is the case.
There are also other issues and other information that I can’t really go into that would make me suspect that it’s not Ramona Treacy indeed it’s someone else but, again just as a journalist we played straight down the line she is emphatically denied that she was, has showed me evidence that would suggest that she’s not Bloggers Unveiled although she may have communicated with whomever was running that account.
John Mooney: 06:55 I have to say what I would describe as hard evidence is very different to what maybe other people would consider to be evidence. Particularly images that are floating around online. I get all these calls from people who claim to have very inside information and all of this. Really when you look at this there was actually no evidence whatsoever and that there was nothing there that I would regard as feeling that anyway substantial enough to enter into a court case or defend in a public forum.
John Mooney: 07:33 There are certain criteria that you use to establish and verify evidence and a lot of stuff’s gone round online wouldn’t be something that I would put a lot of faith in and I think it’s also important to say that people sometimes act in entirely inappropriate way in certain forums.
They do things that they definitely shouldn’t be doing but it doesn’t mean that they are automatically guilty of a separate allegation that’s made against them. That’s something that for example, professional investigators would be very aware of that sometimes that because someone does one thing it doesn’t mean that they’ve done another.
JSB: 08:17 The Gardaí are now involved. It is a criminal investigation and it remains to be seen if the real person or the individual behind Bloggers Unveiled might be uncovered because of this investigation. What do you think?
John Mooney: 08:37 The Gardaí have no interest in Bloggers Unveiled because Bloggers Unveiled is just a social media account that made allegations against people in an anonymous fashion.
John Mooney: 08:50 The Gardaí are interested in people sending death threats to Ramona Treacy and people who are harassing her. Harassment is an offence under the Criminal Justice Act in this country. You cannot go around attacking people calling them names online etc. There are criminal sanctions against people who engage in that type of activity particularly when it is persistent.
John Mooney: 09:11 Where the identity of whomever was operating Bloggers Unveiled, where that may enter the public domain or that may be solved is via the company called Cari’s Closet which was targeted by Bloggers Unveiled.
John Mooney: 09:29 Bloggers Unveiled made certain allegations against Cari’s Closet they utterly rejected these. The rights and wrongs of that are for another day, but suffice to say that they hired a very prestigious legal team in Dublin led by Darryl Robinson. They had sent a number of legal tracks to Bloggers Unveiled saying they will obtain what’s called the Norwich Pharmacal order in the High Court.Norwich Pharmacal Order - an order that forces the identity of a particular IP address #JSBTalksDigital #BloggersUnveiled #Exclusive Interview Click To Tweet
John Mooney: 09:59 That is an order that serves social media companies and forces them to identify the IP address and it shows the identity of someone using their platform. That was issued and Bloggers Unveiled came down and went offline very very fast after that track was issued.
John Mooney: 10:19 The people involved in Cari’s Closet have told me they are pursuing that order and will do so when the courts return from the summer recess. If they are going to be unveiled it’s going to be through that mechanism. Privately as someone who has been around the block in terms of cyber security, I suspect that whomever set up Bloggers Unveiled didn’t fully understand what they were doing and obviously how popular it would become.
Norwich Pharmacal Order
John Mooney: 10:50 If you could imagine you’re sitting at home. You decide to set up this account and it starts hurting people. You might have done it from your phone, in your own home which is logging onto a wifi network there and it’s created the Instagram account via your home or your offices wifi network.
John Mooney: 11:08 In that case, that person can be very quickly identified via a Norwich Pharmacal order as in who owns the IP address who would have access to that. You are probably if it’s a family home it’s probably reliable to be one person. If it’s in an office the company would have an obligation to discover who it was very quickly. There’s all sorts of issues there.
John Mooney: 11:33 I would suspect that whomever set up and ran Bloggers Unveiled immediately realised a cyber security problem and they were open to detection and that’s why I suspect it was closed down. I don’t think that our meeting got to do with Ramona Treacy or anything like that.
JSB: 11:49 The conversations continue online right to this day about Bloggers Unveiled. Who was behind it and so on. People are not considering the ramifications of what they are saying at all.
JSB: 12:04 Do you think that there’s a level of immaturity or an ‘I don’t care’ attitude when people continue to make public statements based on their own opinions?
John Mooney: 12:14 I think there is a number of things going on. I have to admit I was quite amazed at the level of interest in this story. I was also quite amazed that the naivety of people in terms of what they say online about people.
John Mooney: 12:32 There are cases coming now before the courts every day of the week on people who have posted material online and a substantial damages and awards being given to injured parties on this.There are cases coming before the courts on people who have posted material online and substantial damages and awards being given to injured parties. #JSBTalksDigital #BloggersUnveiled Click To Tweet
John Mooney: 12:44 I can tell you as someone who’s been involved in quite significant defamation hearings, that when in court it is not simply I believe this or I believe that. You are looking at hard evidence that has to be substantiated by technical experts and everything else.
John Mooney: 13:01 I find it almost impossible to say that a lot of this material has been published online is in anyway justifiable. I think it borders on the criminal end of things but certainly under slanderous and defamatory. I really don’t think people certainly some of the commentary that I’ve heard and seen it’s pretty grotesque.
John Mooney: 13:25 It’s interesting because many people that engage in this could be accused of trolling themselves. Involved in very reprehensible behaviour. I think what just astonished me about this whole thing was that culture of online comment. That it really is the wild west that people feel they can say whatever they want, and throw around allegations like confetti. They communicate with one another.
John Mooney: 14:01 I was amazed, I was getting emails and phone calls and DM’s on Twitter and messages on Facebook from people with all sorts of information or alleged information about these matters and Bloggers Unveiled and this, that and the other. When you scratched into this and you delved into it you start asking very pertinent questions very few of them are able to answer anything.
John Mooney: 14:24 It’s almost bizarre behaviour where they are quoting other people as if that was somehow solid proof. People ring me up and saying such and such a person has a friend in Facebook or Instagram that accessed the account and they learned who it was but Facebook and Instagram don’t work like that they are quite tight security systems in place to protect people. All sorts of stuff going on.
John Mooney: 14:56 A lot of it in normal society wouldn’t really get any traction and would certainly never enter into print or be broadcast or anything like that but instead on social media. I was surprised at just how loosely people spoke about this.
John Mooney: 15:22 Irish Courts are giving out awards against people who re-tweeted information that turned out not to be true. Quite serious allegations about people that hasn’t been true.
John Mooney: 15:36 I’ve also been astonished almost about these forums where people are trading insults at one another and seem to spend a large part doing it.
John Mooney: 15:48 Anyone who knows anything about stalking and that sort of stuff or cyber stalking or nuisance phone calls would know that you ignore this you get the police involved obviously, but you primarily ignore it and don’t feed into it rather than engaging in all this to-ing and fro-ing. That kind of behaviour I suppose that people are all being targeted that enter into these dialogue however trying to disprove an allegation made against them by an anonymous person or whomever.
John Mooney: 16:20 It is in many ways a bizarre world. People are being sued on these type of issues. I’m not saying that that’s going to happen in this case but if it did happen it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Professionalism Of The Blogging Industry
JSB: 16:35 And that leads me to ask you the question about the professionalism of the blogger and the influencer industry.
JSB: 16:42 Like you, I trained as a journalist so I understand very astutely the laws around defamation and slander and there are proper protocols and guidelines that you have to uphold in your profession. The problem is this has turned out to be lucrative industry but with very little regulation.
JSB: 17:02 We have the ASAI they stepped in as well as the PRII, but do you think it needs more rigorous policing and is it even possible?
John Mooney: 17:12 I think the Garda and the PSNI certainly, when people are being trolled and humiliated and attacked online. I think that they are getting to a stage now where they are going to start arresting and charging people with harassment etc. I think that that is happening. I think it’s probably going to come as common as a police officer charging someone for assault something like that.@JohnMooneyST I think that they are getting to a stage now where they are going to start arresting and charging people with harassment | #JSBTalksDigital #BloggersUnveiled Click To Tweet
John Mooney: 17:39 In terms of what’s really going to happen with all of this because you can see legal firms becoming very much aware of these issues. You are going to see a lot of litigation coming against people who engage in this kind of conduct online. Including against people like Bloggers Unveiled and that kind of stuff. You will see these kind of actions.
John Mooney: 18:04 People had this bizarre belief that somehow if you say something online it’s different from saying it in the real world. They really do believe that if you are using pay as you go phone that you cannot be traced or that if you use some sort of made up name on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or whatever that you cannot be traced. It’s simply not true. All of those social media companies when the police get in touch with them usually volunteer the information really quickly.People had this bizarre belief that somehow if you say something online it's different from saying it in the real world @JohnMooneyST | #JSBTalksDigital #BloggersUnveiled Click To Tweet
John Mooney: 18:41 I know where a contact of mine been involved in sensitive investigations where images have been uploaded on the net or on platforms like Facebook that they need to see it to get down very quickly and Facebook have offered to do it literally within two minutes and they were able to say exactly the names and addresses of where everywhere that these images were uploaded from.
John Mooney: 19:07 There’s an incredible level of ignorance and stupidity out there about these type of things that you can say what you want.
John Mooney: 19:15 The other thing that I found really interesting about this is that this whole spectre of people abusing people socially with a view to attracting followers to themselves and that kind of thing. That’s all very well and good until you get a higher court rate that’s going to cost you a hundred thousand Euros to get out of plus legal fees. I’m a bit taken aback with that.
John Mooney: 19:41 The other thing that amazed me is that really did astonish me where that people who were engaged in this type of debate online, they have this bizarre view of themselves of being public figures of some sort. One person I spoke to that said to me now I can’t be quoted because I’m a public figure and I’ve never heard of this person before.
I’m pretty sure that no one in the media has heard of this person before. They have this belief because the large number of followers that they were a public figure. I think that’s quite an interesting phenomenon that does develop into people thinking because you have a large number of people clicking on you from Twitter or wherever that you are somehow transcended into something or public prominence. Covering this story has been really interesting and eye-opening from that point of view.
JSB: 20:43 It’s a story John I suspect that you are going to continue to follow as it develops?
John Mooney: 20:48 We may do, yes. It’s the sort of fish to fry at the moment.
JSB: 20:53 I have followed your Twitter feed and the interactions that you were getting and it made for interesting viewing but I think that it is an important interview that I’m having and a conversation that we are having because I’m always trying to flag that what you say online can definitely come back to you in the offline world there is no demarcation.I'm always trying to flag that what you say online can definitely come back to you in the offline world there is no demarcation - JSB | #JSBTalksDigital #BloggersUnveiled Click To Tweet
JSB: 21:18 Thank you for the extensive insights and hopefully, finally maybe putting some clarity to a lot of the questions that people have and perhaps it will allow people to rethink, reflect and consider how they might act, behave and speak online, so John Mooney from the Sunday Times thank you so much for joining me.
John Mooney: 21:37 No problem thank you.