What makes so many women tear apart successful females on a website that’s pure poison? Its critics say it attracts one of the most toxic tribes on the internet. CLARE FOGES logs on to Tattle Life…and is stunned by the vitriol
Holding my breath as I tap in my email address and click ‘register’, I feel like a minor criminal. Why my sense of shame?
After all, I’m not buying drugs, hiring a hitman, hacking into someone else’s bank account or engaging in any of the nefarious activities associated with the dark web.
But there’s no mistaking my unease as I log on and join what is said to be one of the most toxic tribes on the internet, a so-called ‘trolls’ paradise’. Tattle Life is a website so savage it should come with a health warning.
Another personality getting a pasting is Stacey Solomon, an avid Instagrammer who posts regular updates on her home renovations, marriage and children
You may not have heard of it. Until very recently, nor had I. But even though the site has only been going since 2018, it has already drawn an alarmingly large following.
There were eight million visits in December alone, eclipsing the popular parenting website Mumsnet, which has seven million monthly visitors.
How harmless those infuriating threads between yummymummies boasting about their second homes, hedge-funder husbands and seven-burner hobs seem now when compared to the white heat of unjust hatred that fans this particular forum’s flames.
For Tattle Life is where women come (and the majority of posts are by women) to criticise, castigate and condemn their fellow sex. Celebrities, influencers, writers, commentators — no one, it seems, is immune from their venom.
Take Alice Evans, the Hollywood actress who recently split from husband Ioan Gruffudd. Taking to social media in the initial aftermath of their separation, during which time she discovered he was having an affair, she documented her anguish and that of their two young daughters.
The character assassination that followed could not have been more complete.
‘She is full of s***. It’s kinda sad she felt she has to make this stuff up for attention and likes,’ read one post.
‘She was controlling him. A good mother would simply not be using her children to get back at her ex whether he cheated on her or not,’ offered another.
‘She is full of s***. It’s kinda sad she felt she has to make this stuff up for attention and likes,’ read one post about Hollywood actress Alice Evans (pictured)
Want to pile in but worry you’re too late? Fear not.
Tattle Life helpfully provides a ‘Story So Far’ summary of the saga, plus a potted biography of Alice in which it describes her as ‘a xenophobic and misogynistic 53-year-old stay-at-home mother with a full-time nanny. Alice does not cook and gets all her meals from an expensive meal subscription service.’
You don’t have to be a fully paid-up A-lister to qualify for a drubbing here. Even the most inconsequential of Instagram celebrities, all of whom are British, are hauled over the coals of users’ spite.
In this witches’ coven for the democratic digital age, there’s room for all.
Users start a thread about a social media star and — ding ding, round one! — the pile-on commences.
Hidden behind avatars, anonymous Tattle Life members, many of whom are remarkably articulate, pick apart influencers’ mannerisms, faces, figures, families, homes, even their personal hygiene.
There’s digital bile by the bucket-load, making a mockery of the terms of agreement I am asked to adhere to, which include abiding by certain rules such as ‘no abusive or hateful messages’.
Agreeing to no abuse on Tattle Life is a bit like signing a ‘no violence’ pledge before you enter Fight Club.
Verbal violence is the whole point of the site. Katie Price is labelled a ‘drugged up p*** artist’.
But the main targets are not mainstream celebrities but the social media stars of Instagram and TikTok, the influencers and gurus who document their glossy lives in minute detail, right down to the avocado sourdough toast they had for breakfast.
Another page I click on brings up a torrent of insults directed at various TikTokers.
‘A lying unfit excuse of a mother,’ spits one post. ‘Contrived, dishonest and dangerous,’ screeches another. ‘Scammer, liar, manipulator . . .’ On and on it goes.
Nothing and no one is off limits — not even children. Though one of the site rules is that ‘unsavoury comments about children are not allowed’, this is gleefully ignored.
An example is this comment about a TikTok star, billed as a ‘disgusting vapid selfish woman who’s [sic] opinion of herself is overinflated, much like her daughter’s stomach’.
There is no barrel that Tattle Life won’t scrape, no low to which users won’t stoop.
Most recently, there was consternation on Tattle Life about the fact Sophie Hinchliffe, Mrs Hinch, has bought some alpacas
One of the most appalling things I came across was vicious criticism of Ashley Cain, the former footballer whose daughter died last year from leukaemia at just eight months old.
Though you might have thought this awful tragedy would earn the man some protection from the Tattlers’ spite, you’d be wrong.
Several threads pile into Cain, accusing him of spending the money that has been raised for his daughter’s charitable foundation.
There were times when reading this hate-filled nonsense made me despair that decency is dead.
Though the vitriol is sprayed far and wide, there are some social media stars with whom Tattlers are particularly obsessed.
Number one on the hit list is Mrs Hinch, a young mother from Essex who has made a fortune from posting cleaning videos on Instagram.
There are literally tens of thousands of comments ripping her to shreds.
She and her husband are a ‘deluded pair of t***s’, their house ‘not Buckingham Palace’.
Most recently, there was consternation on Tattle Life about the fact Mrs Hinch has bought some alpacas.
Several threads pile into Ashley Cain, who recently lost his daughter, accusing him of spending the money that has been raised for his daughter’s charitable foundation
Claiming to be concerned for the animals, one user asked if there is ‘somewhere that we can complain to, to add weight to it? Eg a department at Defra, or at her local council?’
Another Essex girl getting a pasting is Stacey Solomon, an avid Instagrammer who posts regular updates on her home renovations, marriage and children.
Once again, though Stacey comes across as a fairly blameless character, the Tattle Life crew despise her, pulling apart her ‘filthy kids, scruffy hair, outfits from Build A Bear’.
The level of scrutiny given to her Instagram videos is astonishing. In one thread, I read posts from Tattlers who obviously know the layout of her home, and disapprove of Solomon for putting her older sons in a bedroom too far away from her.
They are dubbed ‘the now forgotten annex boys’. A typical comment: ‘She’s a nomination for Mum Of The Year. FFS. Disgrace of the year is more like it . . .’
Every minute new threads pop up, garnering thousands of reads within hours. The site is clearly a goldmine for advertising revenues; dozens of ads appear while I am reading it.
You’ve heard that sex sells? Well, so does spite. The person profiting from all this is a mystery.
A sister site called Lime Goss carries an interview with founder ‘Helen McDougal’, though this seems to be a pseudonym and nothing is known about who actually started it.
The site contains vicious criticism of Cain, the former footballer whose daughter died last year from leukaemia at just eight months old
Whoever ‘Helen’ is, there’s no denying that she’s hit on a clever idea. The site taps into a deep human need for gossip — a need that goes back to the dawn of history.
In the days when we were hunter gatherers, gossip was the glue that held tribes together, helping members to bond and establish trust. Long before laws were invented, we had gossip to work out who the wrong ‘uns among us were.
Since then, gossip has been essential to bonding — particularly woman-to-woman bonding.
The word ‘gossip’ is an old English one, related to the female godparents who would attend a woman’s labour in medieval times and chatter to her to take away the pain; who needs gas and air when you could have a good old chinwag?
There is great camaraderie in having a good ‘goss’. In feeling vaguely naughty and secretive, gossip makes you feel you’ve made a pact with those you’re whispering with.
As the American socialite Alice Roosevelt put it: ‘If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come sit by me.’
Gossip creates intimacy — and, yes, it can be very funny. There is a glorious history of woman-on-woman bitching, my favourite being Bette Midler’s quip that ‘the only thing Madonna will ever do like a virgin is give birth in a stable’.
But the gossip on Tattle Life is of a different order. This is toxic femininity — and it has real victims.
Targets of Tattle’s fire tell of feeling depressed, anxious, even suicidal.
Last year, social media influencer Em Sheldon, who runs a beauty, fitness and fashion blog, gave evidence to MPs on Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee about the abuse she and others had received.
There were women, she said, in a ‘dark space of the internet’ who saw it as their ‘sole mission to ruin our lives’.
She is concerned there will be more mental health crises among her fellow influencers because, as she said: ‘In which other industry are you allowed to be constantly relentlessly attacked every single day just for existing? People are just so angry.’
Of course, Tattle Life sees things rather differently. Founder ‘Helen’ says the site exists as a public service, holding to account all those influencers who make a lot of money from flogging products to a gullible public.
‘You can’t expect to live your life online as a business and only receive praise,’ she says.
Who is right? Clearly those who spew bile on these sites are being horribly unpleasant.
But is Tattle Life a necessary outlet in an age when so many people are made to feel inadequate by the posts they scroll through on Instagram?
Influencers and vloggers may humbly suggest that they are just creating ‘communities’ online, but the reality is that they are selling a glittering version of their lives — a highly curated showreel which may inspire some women but depresses a hell of a lot of others.
Last year, social media influencer Em Sheldon (pictured) who runs a beauty, fitness and fashion blog, gave evidence to MPs on Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee about the abuse she and others had received
When they picture themselves bronzed on a Barbados beach, or posing with their cute child/dog/man, their followers may be sitting in grey old England, contemplating a trip to Tesco in the rain, nursing a broken heart.
Seeing these shiny creatures makes them feel dispirited. They compare and despair.
Tattle Life, then, could be seen as an antidote to the adulation on Instagram, a place where those with less-than-perfect lives can take potshots at those who are fueling their envy.
In a funny way, both the Tattlers and their targets are victims of a social media world which has become so addictive that it consumes our lives, absorbs our attention and skews our judgment.
The Instagrammers feel they are not living unless they are publicising every moment of their day and documenting their latest purchase; meanwhile, the Tattlers are unhealthily obsessed with minor details in the lives of women they will never know or meet.
The whole picture is unutterably sad. Perhaps the only answer is for both sides of this battle to urgently Step Away From The Internet.
Those who are being targeted should simply stop looking up the threads about them. The off button is available to us all.
The women who post on the site should take a step back, too. Many are clearly unhealthily addicted to the site.
And while their grumbles crank up the ad revenues for Tattle Life, they do not, I imagine, do much for their own wellbeing.
They’d do well to remember the old adage that if you have nothing nice to say — or indeed type — then it’s far better to say nothing at all.