One Australian radio host learned that the hard way.
On Tuesday, Hit Network host Ash London was introducing her pre-recorded interview with the group’s Louis Tomlinson, whose first solo record is due next year.
Setting up the chat, co-host Ash Williams asked London: “So I can get clear, too, because I’m a very visual guy … he’s the guy with the smaller face with the short brown hair?”
To which London replied:
“Kind of like ratty facial hair.”
That was all it took.
Even though Ed Kavalee, another co-host, had referred to Tomlinson as “not Harry Styles” and suggested he was “the least popular” member of the British pop group — arguably stronger slurs — London was inundated online with abuse and threats.
Fans called for the radio host to apologise to Tomlinson, despite the interview itself being a roundly positive one about Tomlinson’s music and whether he will tour Australia.
Amid the flurry on social media commentary, London briefly set her account to private and put a statement on Twitter.
That only invited thousands more negative comments.
Many online called her a “rat”, while others suggested she quit or even take her own life.
Within a few hours of London’s tweet, Tomlinson — who has more than 30 million followers — weighed into the controversy. His tweet included the middle finger emoji.
The hashtag #LouisDeservesBetter started to pick up steam.
London tweeted again, saying she was going to be “off socials for a bit”.
The intense backlash against London comes at time of heightened scrutiny of Twitter and how it deals with abuse on its platform.
In October, a lot of women boycotted the social media service after it temporarily suspended the account of actor Rose McGowan — a major figure in the unfolding conversation around sexual harassment — for violating its “terms of service”.
In the middle of all this, on Tuesday, some commentators raised a related, but less pressing question: “Is ratty really an insult?”
A discussion on Twitter about the offensiveness or otherwise of the descriptor “ratty”. (Twitter)