Will Gillian McKeith Eat Her Words? close

David Hart
David Hart
In Codegent College, Apps
19th August 2010
Will Gillian McKeith Eat Her Words?

When @gillianmckeith picked a fight last month it was interesting for two reasons: firstly, there was a massive flurry of activity on Twitter and secondly, it prompted a respected journalist to suggest that he might sue the Twitter account holder for libel (although probably not).

Incidentally – I am saying @gillianmckeith when referencing what was said on Twitter instead of Gillian McKeith because at the time of writing, it’s not 100% clear that the two are the same.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell: someone started taking the piss out of Gillian McKeith because they felt that her PhD is not a 'real' one (whatever that means). They made reference to a chapter in a book by the medical doctor, broadcaster and writer, Ben Goldacre in which he discusses Ms McKeith.

There then appeared the following Tweet from @gillianmckeith: “How sad a life to enjoy reading lies about another by an ass who makes money from pharmaceutical giants.” 

The result? Well Ben Goldacre asked her to contact him and, according to the BBC, asked for her to retract the statement by saying: “Bad Science by Ben Goldacre is not lies”

What then followed, again in a nutshell, is a series of bizarre distancing by @gillianmckeith and the Gillian McKeith website . They removed any mention of being able to follow her on Twitter from her website. Apart from they didn’t really. The last time I looked, the code for following her is still in the source – it’s just been commented out. (For those of you who don’t code, that basically means that the bit of code has some parenthesis around so it is not shown on the page, but at the same time hasn’t been removed completely – the idea being it can easily and quickly be reinstated at a later stage if needs be). @gillianmckeith also started posting statements such as “Do you believe this is real twitter site for the GM?” (sic). And since 14th July…. nothing at all and all her followers and all those she is following have disappeared. It's as though none of this ever happened. Apart from it did.

The point here, is not whether Gillian McKeith has a ‘real’ PhD. (If I were her and felt that my professional integrity was being rubbished publicly, I'd be pretty cross too). But the way in which it was handled. For me it always comes down to transparency.

Ideally, she (or whoever had access to the Twitter account) should have thought a bit harder before writing a potentially libellous statement. It seems there is still a sense that Twitter, because of its immediate and informal nature is not something that is taken seriously. But a person is libelled if someone discredits them in their trade, business or profession. It makes no difference whether that’s done in a newspaper, book or online.

Once the damage was done, she (or those advising her) should have explained her position - if for no other reason than just wanting to clear things up - (did she say it, or did someone else posing as her, was it a simple mistake), apologised if necessary, retracted the statement and above all, been seen to be transparent and open. Instead, according to several commentators, the whole event has been denied, deleted and ignored.

Maybe denial works in the real world, but in the online world, it’s very hard to totally delete anything you have done or said. It’s potentially there forever. And how much less of a story would this have become if the response had been forthcoming? Perhaps people would have had some sympathy. After all, we’re all human and we’ve all said things in haste we later regretted.