Before social media we had only dodgy junk mail to worry about, while now we know only too well how cyberspace and its many platforms are used for ill.
These first-class podcasts reveal chilling examples of how online harassment can move offline.
As if being a victim of 2017’s Manchester Arena bombing, or the Westminster Bridge attacks, wasn’t traumatic enough, many survivors have been trolled online – and stalked offline – by people who believe they are ‘crisis actors’ hired by a fantasy deep state and that the terrorist incidents were in fact a hoax.
Marianna Spring, the BBC’s specialist disinformation correspondent speaks to victims on the 10-part Disaster Trolls (Apple, BBC Sounds, Spotify), even tracking down one conspiracy theorist in person, Richard D Hall, who physically stalked survivors to see if their injuries were real.
They include Martin Hibbert, who was maimed at the Ariana Grande concert and left paralysed from the waist down; his injured teenage daughter Eve was also secretly filmed by Hall. There are echoes here of US conspiracy theorist Alex “Infowars” Jones, who falsely claimed 2012’s Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax.
Locked-down listeners in 2021 were fascinated and frustrated in equal measure by Alexi Mostrous’s catfishing saga, Sweet Bobby, which became one of the year’s highest ranking podcasts.
Mostrous’s new six-parter, Hoaxed (Acast, Apple, Spotify), has a similar buzz, though with darker subject matter. In 2014 police investigated a claim by two schoolchildren in London’s well-heeled Hampstead of a local Satanic cult cum paedophile ring involving their biological father.
The police instead found the children had been told to lie by their mother and her lover. It gets even more startling when the personal details of 175 parents, teachers and church workers – the alleged Satanists – are posted online and subsequently attacked by internet vigilantes.
Though grim, it’s a must-listen for it’s high quality investigation of one community at war with the worldwide web.
A 2017 study of 358 femicides found stalking took place in nine out of 10 murders. Perturbing data, as is Sirin Kale’s true crime series Can I Tell You a Secret? which spans 10 years and 11 arrests.
Mercifully, Matthew Hardy’s reign of terrifying surveillance didn’t result in death, but it took 62 different women to file complaints to the police before it was taken seriously. Kale’s inquiry includes an interview with Hardy’s mother, and the one police officer who finally brought him to justice after his years of hiding in plain sight.