I felt slightly soiled after reading this tawdry tale of opportunism and malice; but for those of you outside Ireland (or those of you without an affinity for ‘human interest’ stories – what the kids these days called ‘clickbait’) then you might not yet have heard this sordid story.
There is a café in Phibsborough called The White Moose Café. It is attached to a budget hotel called The Charleville Lodge. The owner (or manager?) is called Paul Stenson. He is an extremely active presence on social media, and seems to live by the creed ‘All publicity is good publicity’. He creates publicity through manufactured confrontations – using his abrasive online personality to fight with various groups, which in turn are breathlessly reported all over Facebook and in the press.
Some of these are entertaining. Such as the time he banned vegans from the café (he had written a Facebook post asking vegans to let the café know in advance that they were vegan. The vegans went bananas, so he responded by banning them all from the café. )
He later caused internet outrage (a very specific, easily provoked form of rage) by making a post requiring people who claimed to be gluten intolerant’ to produce a doctor’s note confirming that they had coeliac disease, before he would entertain their custom. How I laughed.
He offended the nation of Brazil when his post about how an applicant for a kitchen porter’s job in his café, caused laughter through his inability to pronounce ‘kitchen.’ He kept insisting that he was applying for a ‘chicken porter’ job.
The faux outrage and anger at these ‘scandals’ were absurd, and it was amusing to see the professionally offended get so upset. The hysterical over-reactions to his deliberate provocations were of course predictable.
The latest fake scandal is not nearly so carefree.
The basic premise here is that a young woman named Elle Darby – who claims to be a social media ‘infuencer’ because she has 100,000 followers on Youtube, who makes her living ‘promoting’ products on her channels – sent an email to the hotel, asking for a complimentary five night stay in the hotel in return for positive reviews on her social media platforms.
So far, so repellent.
While this is behaviour, undeserving of a response, it is fairly standard practice for these people to act in this entitled manner (another example, in Ireland, the detestable ‘Lovin’ Dublin website was caught red handed, trying to bribe Oscar’s Bar in Smithfield with ‘positive online content’ worth €2,000 in return for a free Christmas party, despite thrashing the place in a review only months earlier. The bar responded by claiming that they would rather stick needles in their eyes than work with Lovin’ Dublin, and posted the entire exchange on their page.)
Paul Stenson copied Ms Darby’s email to the hotel, to his page, half-heartedly obscured her name (I was able to decipher it by squinting) and wrote a scathing response to her, lambasting her greed, lack of self-respect and opportunism.
While the points he made were valid – it certainly is foul to expect freebies for nothing other than a sense of entitlement – I felt quite uncomfortable by the lack of care Stenson took to hide her identity in response.
Especially as he is so experienced and adept at using social media to promote both himself and his business.
Pretty soon she was being lambasted with death threats, and wishes for her to die of cancer, and various other forms of online abuse from keyboard warriors and the always offended.
In typical narcissistic style Darby created a Youtube video recounting her tale. To barrages of further abuse and death threats.
Stenson then banned all bloggers from his hotel; held a fake press conference about the fact that the story had gone viral globally , and sent Darby a bill for €4.3 million for free advertising. All the while claiming that he had never identified her.
Maybe he didn’t call her out loud by her name. But he certainly didn’t take sufficient care to shield her identity when he knew full well the response she would receive. His online experience and personal narcissism – displayed in the relentless self-promotion he engages in, meant that he knew what he was doing.
You could argue that her greed deserves such a response.
But by allowing an individual to be identified for online trial and crucifixion (regardless of how narcissistic she may be) is far different to causing mass offence to a group of vegans, or an entire country.
It is personally cruel, as it is targeting an individual. While Stenson may argue that allowing unregulated volumes of abuse being targeted at someone far less adept at social media than he is, was not his intention, the outcome remains the same. It was mean-spirited, spiteful and vindictive. He enabled this – not responsible for people’s reactions of course, but rather the facilitator of them. He is twice her age. He ought to have known better.
I know I am too soft, but I took no pleasure in witnessing the distress Darby was experiencing, with the death threats and hopes that her children died of cancer – I found it upsetting and unsettling. By posting her response videos she further prolonged the ordeal, but it remained uncomfortable to watch.
Paul Stenson played a vital part in that. He knew that his reaction would. I am wondering what kind of human being would take such pleasure in another person’s distress?
Then again as he too is a raging narcissist I am sure he will find it in his heart to forgive himself.