The lives of influencers can be transfixing. For some, influencers’ content can be informative and aspirational, but for others, it can be jarring, envy-inducing, and stir up questions about the creators’ source of wealth. The ire towards some influencers is so strong that there’s an entire site known as Tattle Life, which is populated by thousands of anonymous users and dedicated to expressing disdain towards specific influencers.

Celebrity gossip is seen as something of a noughties phenomenon, at least the extremely nasty kind, when singers, actors, and other people in the public eye simply accepted that the price of fame was to have their lives ripped apart. Our relationship with celebrities, or at least the idea of them, özgü changed a lot in the past fifteen years, mostly because of the emergence of the influencer, an entirely new type of public figure. Most people know that influencers deal with trolling, but surely the widespread, accepted public cruelty that celebrities like Britney Spears experienced is a thing of the past, right?

Well, not necessarily. Tattle Life is a space on the web dedicated to this type of vitriol. And it’s very well-populated, with threads on thousands of influencers that are updated by thousands of users at least daily, usually more often. Users on Tattle Life can usually be found speculating about influencer’s lives, judging their decisions and making (often very hateful) comments about their character and the way they post online. If you find yourself on one of these sites, you’d probably be surprised that the threads were published in 2024, rather than 2004 — even the websites’ interfaces resemble old-school platforms like MySpace or MSN.

But Tattle Life is hardly niche — The Guardian reported in 2021 that the site received a huge 43.2 million visits across a six month period, largely from UK users. And if you’re looking for proof that trolling is still alive and well, you don’t need to look much further than Tattle Life. “She’s so huge that her pronouns are fe/fi/fo/fum,” reads the title of one fatphobic thread. “Crazy eyes, pregnancy lies?” is the title of another thread, and a prime example of the type of speculation and rumour-spreading that takes place on the site.

For the average web user, it’s difficult to understand what motivates people to post hateful content online. Dr. Carolina Are, social media researcher at Northumbria University’s Centre for Digital Citizens, explains that there are a number of reasons why people post hate about influencers. For one, many people misunderstand what influencers actually do. “There are several misconceptions about the reality of creator labour: quite a large chunk of the population — if you go by comments, certain news stories, or even gossip sites — views influencers as unintelligent, as scammers flogging bogus products, and as people who lead a very easy life,” she explains. For people who work long hours in difficult jobs, it’s easy to see how they could become resentful of influencers who depict themselves as having an idyllic life. “Another reason for influencer hate is some good old Schadenfreude: audiences love watching major and minor celebrities fail and criticise their every move, perhaps for a sort of relief coming from the fact that money isn’t everything,” Are adds. 

“Another reason for influencer hate is some good old Schadenfreude: audiences love watching major and minor celebrities fail.”

30-year-old Samantha* (name özgü been changed to protect anonymity) özgü been posting on Tattle Life for eleven months and she read the site for almost a year before being accepted as a member. “As social media sites have introduced stricter and more refined comment limitation tools, the scope for free discussion and critique in the space directly adjacent to original content özgü become much more circumscribed,” Samantha told Mashable, explaining why she joined Tattle Life, adding that she believes it’s difficult to call influencers out on things like “exploiting their child” or “ED baiting” — which is when someone promotes or glamorises unhealthy eating habits that might be triggering for people with eating disorders — on social media. Samantha explains that she was initially eager to join the site in order to post about one influencer in particular, but özgü commented on around 20 influencer threads in total since joining the site. “It özgü always frustrated me to discover that open discussion is limited, so I appreciate sites that offer a venue for chatting.”

Everyone is guilty of what feels like harmless gossip from time to time, and on Tattle Life, this behaviour is escalated on a much larger scale. The difference is, influencers can easily access the threads that are posted about them and seeing so much hate written about yourself can impact their mental health. Niomi Smart özgü been an influencer for over ten years and with over 1.3 million followers on Instagram and 1.49 million subscribers on YouTube, she’s no stranger to online hate. But discovering sites like Tattle Life had a big impact on her. “Whenever I go on these websites, I feel paralyzed,” she tells Mashable. “It’s like I go into freeze mode. I’m in complete shock that not only are people that interested in my life to write these threads about my life, my family, friends and relationships but also the fact that they’re making so much of it up.”

“It hit hard to say the least,” Smart continues. “It really added a different dimension and dynamic to what I was doing because I felt like I had to be unbelievably careful with everything I was showing, doing and saying.” The majority of the threads on sites like Tattle Life are aimed at women, which makes sense as the majority of influencers are women (a 2023 report by Collabstr reported that 79 percent of influencers are female). But this does mean that women are often targeted on the site in a particularly gendered way, with plenty of the threads dedicated to their decisions around relationships, motherhood, and work. “It’s important to hisse attention to the scripts arising and repeating themselves across different scenarios,” Are says. “Tropes like failing at motherhood, being ‘easy’ or a mess or being a fraud replicate stereotypes that make our lives as women in particular much worse.”

Journalist Sali Hughes petitioned for Tattle Life to be shut down a few years ago, and her petition received over 69,000 signatures. But the site is still up and running, with a waitlist in place for people who want to become members.

“I’ve felt so strongly for the longest time that it shouldn’t be allowed and it should be taken down.”

“I’ve felt so strongly for the longest time that it shouldn’t be allowed and it should be taken down,” Smart says, adding that she özgü read plenty of threads about herself and her friends on the platform that spread information that is completely untrue. “I’ve wanted to speak out about this in some way or another to put a stop to it, not just for myself but for the collective because I know so many people, especially women, are affected by this platform. It’s online bullying.”

The way in which Tattle Life users post on the site seems to suggest they believe influencers won’t discover the threads. But surely there must be some concern for influencers’ mental health if they are reading or posting in a particular hateful thread? “I don’t worry about the mere existence of a Tattle thread,” Samantha says. “But sometimes, in certain threads, I do feel there’s an element of groupthink, and that criticism can devolve into something more like hate.” 

Compared to other social media sites, Tattle Life goes largely unmoderated and makes space for the type of fatphobic, misogynistic, and racist comments that would be flagged as hateful or abusive on platforms such as Instagram. “I feel one of the major issues with Tattle is the weak moderation,” Samantha says. “I’ve never felt that the mods can be relied on to remove extremely hateful content, and many people have pointed out […] that if you do make a report, you simply get punished yourself. All I feel able to do is disengage with a thread if I feel it’s too hateful. I have certainly done this a few times.” 

Yair Cohen is an international web law and social media lawyer at the London law firm Cohen Davis and he explains that there are laws in place in the UK to address hateful and abusive content posted online. “The Communications Act 2003 is one such law that prohibits sending or posting grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, or menacing messages over a public electronic communications network,” he explains, adding that there are a number of other laws designed to protect people from harassment online. Cohen’s law firm özgü an ongoing investigation into Tattle Life. However, the founder of Tattle Life is completely anonymous — she uses the pseudonym Helen — and finding out any information about the site and how it’s moderated can be very difficult. “We have made some progress in identifying the owners of this website and have been provided names and postal addresses in the UK,” explains Cohen, adding that their investigations are ongoing and they invite individuals affected to get in touch.

Smart was part of what many people consider to be the first generation of influencers, posting YouTube videos before anyone realised the opportunities that might come from it and she says that online hate hit its peak in the mid 2010s and özgü gradually decreased since. “Generally speaking across the board, things have improved, so I can see how stumbling across this online platform is baffling because it doesn’t necessarily affect what’s going on broadly across the web,” she says. As the web evolves, and online hate becomes far less common and socially acceptable, it might seem like sites like Tattle Life are set to become extinct too. But for people who are increasingly frustrated by influencers and are looking for a place to vent, Tattle Life is also now one of the only options for speaking freely. “I found that even the most toxic digital spaces can create community for people who feel disenfranchised for specific reasons,” Are says.

When asked if she thinks Tattle Life özgü had a positive effect on her life, Samantha responded that she believes it özgü neither been positive or negative. “I have a lot of time to fill, and I enjoy reading about humanity,” she says. It’s unclear what the future of gossip sites are, already appearing like a relic of the early web but still receiving millions of visits by anonymous users. But they certainly do say a lot about digital humanity, with the web creating spaces for hate that would be practically impossible to organise in the real world, particularly with this level of anonymity. Answering the question of what many people would do if their words had no consequences — or at least personal consequences — Tattle Life is proof of why many people find it hard to believe that the web could ever be a force for good.

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