Backpackers, bullies and internet myths

The recent pillorying of 19-year-old Max Gogarty shows that, without tolerance, there is only mob rule onlineImagine the scene: a man stands on a pedestal while hundreds of people take it in turns to heap scorn on him. At first, they take issue with something he has written, but then, as the crowd works itself into a frenzy, they abuse him as the embodiment of some social evil.Perhaps you are imagining a scene from China’s Cultural Revolution – a student accused of bourgeois tendencies, head bowed, harangued by classmates. Or perhaps, if you were reading the Guardian’s travel site last week, you have a picture in your mind of Max Gogarty, a 19-year-old aspiring writer who posted a blog about his gap-year plans. Initially, the comments were limited to accusations of cliched prose. But when a Google search by one reader revealed that Gogarty is the son of a writer who contributes to the Guardian, Max became the target for hatred of supposed media corruption and hypocrisy. Commenters bemoaned the injustice that people such as Max (ie, not them) get to write for newspapers instead of more deserving people (eg, them).

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