Online forum Mumsnet has reported itself to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK data regulator, following an intern publishing the IP addresses of website users in a dispute over transgender rights.
The intern in question, Emma Healey, served as LUU Equality and Diversity Officer and a trustee of the union in the academic year 16/17.
In a series of since-deleted tweets, Healey criticised Mumsnet’s stance on trans rights, claiming that discussion on the forum often “descends into scaremongering and hate speech.”
“Whilst I was at MN [Mumsnet] (Sept 17-Mar 18), there was really no attempt to keep this discussion civil or polite,” she wrote.
“Misgendering and deadnaming were completely tolerated, and the internal moderation policy would change pretty much every day.
“There were many staff members, me included, who raised concerns about what was being said on site – but it was never taken on board. Any criticism has been dismissed as a smear attempt by ‘trans activists’ rather than actually thinking about what was being said.”
Mumsnet has received widespread criticism regarding their forums recently, with users openly calling for a new ‘Section 28’ targeting transgender people, promoting conspiracy theories which have blamed a mass shooting on transgender people, and likening transgender rights groups to paedophile networks.
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet’s chief executive, had responded to criticisms in The Sunday Times, by branding critics the “thought-police”, insisting:
“Transphobia is against our guidelines and we delete and ban users who are repeat offenders”, but ultimately “we at Mumsnet have always strongly believed that robust civilized debate is the best way to reach resolution on difficult issues”.
Healey’s actions have been attacked as she published a screenshot which revealed three user’s IP addresses. IP addresses can be used to determine the approximate location of an internet user, and whilst it doesn’t provide an exact location for an individual, when corroborated with existing data a plausible location can often be determined.
Healey had been a victim of these tactics herself, with her city of residence and links to her social media published in a forum after she spoke out about ‘neo-masculinist’ Roosh V online.
Healey later issued a statement via Mumsnet apologising for her decision:
“I was just mistakenly trying to do what I thought was the right thing as someone with very strong feelings on LGBTQ+ rights – and in doing so, I did something very misguided and frankly awful.
“I have definitely learnt my lesson: not only about not tweeting in anger but about the language I use, being careful what I say, the power of social media and thinking about all the potential outcomes of my actions (not just the outcomes I intend). As such, I am taking some time away from social media and will return with a hopefully more mature attitude.
“I’d like to also apologise to any users who have felt hurt, attacked or vulnerable due to my actions. I recognise that we do not agree on this issue, but I know the impact that my actions may have had on them and their mental health.”