I’m a lurker on Tattle Life: Unpicking my obsession with snark

Websites like Tattle Life are dedicated to the slander and snark of online figures — are they abuse or necessary catharsis?

Like everyone wandering this Earth, I’ve got a few skeletons in my closet. There is one, however, that deserves to be looked at under the harsh light of the day… I can’t stop reading snark. Snark is defined as an “expression of mocking irreverence and sarcasm” and in the internet age that manifests as subreddits like  “r/LAinfluencersnark” and websites like Tattle Life, which are full to the brim with anonymous swipes at everyone from Molly-Mae Hague to TikTok stars. While I never contribute to these forums, each night I peruse the bitchings on them while experiencing disgust and the feeling of being thoroughly entertained. I am what you’d call a “lurker” of the websites dedicated to the slander of online figures, and in that I join a hefty load of others: when I hopped onto Guru Gossip while writing this article, a counter revealed that there were 808 users online, and only 8 of them were registered users. Still, a lurker or not, as the weeks have gone by I’ve become aware of a cognitive dissonance at play. Late night giggles at the “savagery” of these anonymous users gave way to the awareness that not only would these remarks be having a palpable affect on those they target, but that the people spouting them were, at the very least, morally dubious. And when my lapse of judgement reached a saturation point, I decided it was about time that I probe what dark recesses of my brain make me like snark, and what role it plays in a broader sense. 

When it comes to the question of why people contribute to something like Tattle Life, the answer is complex. “There might be a sense of community found in these types of forums — as humans, we can be united by hatred or dislike just as we can for benevolent causes” psychotherapist Eloise Skinner tells me. She also sees the appeal of snark forums having something to do with how they offer “a sense of validation or safety. Watching a public takedown of a powerful figure means we’re safe in the knowledge that, while we don’t have the things they have, we also don’t have to deal with the public criticism. This can give us a sense of satisfaction with our own lives”. 

Eloise’s insights ring true, and you can see evidence of this on Tattle Life in particular. Have a poke around the forum devoted to Eden Harvey, a TikToker from Kent who documents the humdrum of her life on the app, and you’ll find that those using the forum see themselves as a quasi-family. When a prominent user explains that they’ve been struggling with trying for a baby, for example, others rush to offer comfort: “Hugs! We are a good supportive group here! Don’t ever feel [ashamed] for telling [us] what you’ve been through” reads a reply from someone called @bloogoo. Elsewhere on the forum, Tattlers use their tirades against Eden to reinforce something comparatively “good” about themselves. In one reply directed at TikToker @yazhadfield (Eden’s sister), someone finishes their slander by saying “I don’t smoke and I have a very respectable job”.

As you’re probably beginning to tell, “Tattlers’, as they call themselves, are a fickle breed. And though it might have been naive of me to assume it would be easy to do so, I wanted to speak to one of them for this article. That proved, well, difficult. My attempts to speak to a member of Tattle Life were quickly squashed when I discovered you needed to receive a referral in order to start posting, and so I took to Reddit. “Get an actual journalist job, not one that bitches over tattle” read one reply to my post on “r/sevdaelasnark”, a subreddit dedicated to the TikToker who’s garnered 1.7 million followers for fairly innocuous videos of her eating, and who already has twenty six threads dedicated to her over on Tattle Life. Another response to my post even insinuated that I was working for Sevda. “Interesting how this potential ‘article’ has come up after Begda’s management received emails and complaints about her from concerned followers” it read.

When I tried my luck on “r/TattleLife”, it was more of the same. It was again implied that I was working undercover (“you’re just another Kiddie flogger who sells their children’s intimate details for cash […] ​​The trolls on Tattle care more about the wellbeing of your children than you ever will. Try harder next time”) and within a few hours someone had found not only my personal Instagram account, but which secondary school I attended.

What did I take away from these interactions? While I don’t want to pathologize the behaviour of these snark forum dwellers, I’d say there’s a palpable sense of hysteria there. But that’s not entirely unexpected. Accuse someone of having Munchausen syndrome – as Tattlers did to Made in Chelsea alumni Louise Thompson – and it’s understandable why you’d want to remain hidden behind the shroud of a computer screen. But that also reveals the glaring contradiction at the heart of these forums: while Tattlers think they’ve earned the right to have these kinds of opinions, and are as “loud and proud” as you can be while hiding behind anonymity, they’re consumed with the fear of getting found out. A travel YouTuber (who wishes to remain anonymous) told me about the time they started receiving abusive emails from a Tattle Life user: “they were laced with expletives about me and my family. I posted a screenshot of it on my Instagram to show people the sorts of emails we sometimes receive. The person went back onto Tattle Life and told people that I’d Photoshopped the email they’d sent. According to them, it had actually been very pleasant and cordial”.

From everything I’ve gleaned about those who contribute to snark forums, it’s not difficult to guess what they might have said if I were able to talk to them. They would be, in short, snark’s first line of defence. That was the overriding sentiment of the single reply I did get on my Reddit post, which said that something like Tattle Life offers the same outlet as old-school gossip mags. “I don’t have time to attend mothers group and chat about magazines which aren’t getting printed or bought anymore, but I am able to chat on tattle. Then the anonymous nature of it means you can be a bit more savage” their reply read. The Redditor’s sentiment was one shared by Eloise, who sees “gossip columns in magazines” as a more “passive form” of the phenomena on display on these kinds of forums. 

Even those I’d spoken to who’d been the unwilling subject of Tattle Life discourse have attempted to grapple with what might legitimise using the forum. YouTuber and influencer Lucy Moon, who told me she was hesitant to go on record about being the subject of a Tattle Life forum, talked about how “publicly slating a creator can be an identity-forming exercise, especially for younger viewers”: “it can make them feel like they’re part of a community”. For Jenna Drenten, a professor in marketing at Loyola University Chicago, there’s also something decidedly creative about online spaces like Tattle Life: “despite being potentially harmful, snark forums do appeal to an imaginative side of consumer culture that invites people to consider, ‘This probably isn’t true, but what if it is?’ Content that thrives in these places always has a kernel of believability — an anchor in reality that enables people’s imaginations to run wild”.

It’s this characteristic of snark, however, that those targeted by it tend to take issue with the most. When the content on these forums is, well, nothing short of nonsense, it loses its potency, and becomes more frustrating than ever. For the anonymous YouTuber, “it crosses a line when people are just spreading lies. We’ve been accused of tax fraud, benefit fraud, faking illnesses, and breaking the law, all of which are completely untrue, and laughably so. If a newspaper published these kinds of things, they would be pursued for libel. These people have a far wider reach and are seemingly immune”.

Lucy echoes her fellow YouTuber: “Criticism with legs tends to make its way to you on your active social platforms, and often comes from a number of people who do also enjoy your content. If the criticism lives and dies on snark forums, there’s usually a reason”. She’s right. Look through the comments on an Instagram post featuring, say, a product from a boycotted brand, and there will be comments having a go. But it feels fair, and like it’s not veering over the invisible line that transforms it into “trolling”. What takes place on Tattle Life and Reddit, however, is aeons beyond that. “It’s like Pandora’s box — everything you’re ashamed of, every insecurity you have along with every possible criticism of you that’s never crossed your mind before” Lucy tells me. “When I read the forums, it created a constant critical narrative in my head and I began to hate myself”. Lucy also pointed out that the whispers on websites like Tattle Life can rear their ugly head in the real world: “The shooting of Christina Grimmie [a singer and YouTuber who was killed by an obsessive fan in 2016] showed us that some people take their online hatred of creators into the real world with terrible consequences”. 

Eloise and Jenna’s comments do tap into something pertinent, though: snarking existed way before something like Tattle Life did. “The desire for gossip and inside scoop predates the internet,” Jenna tells me. “Humans have a propensity for connecting with each other through gossip. The internet just amplifies how it spreads”. When a journalist at The Guardian tried to wrestle with their penchant for doing the same, they even positioned it as stemming from something called “schadenfreude”, the 18th century word for the kind of high we get off witnessing someone else’s pain. In other words – or, at least, this is how I’m going to take it – my late-night, dirty snark scrolling has a psychological imperative.

But the most compelling line of defence for snark stems from the fact that influencers are a constant means of annoyance. Or, as Eloise puts it, disappointment. “The snark or dislike of an individual might come from a loss of connection we once felt towards a public figure” Eloise tells me. “We might have loved an influencer for their relatability, but later find that they live a lifestyle far beyond what’s possible for us. That’s disappointing”. Influencers have a sell-by date when it comes to how they’re perceived by their legion of fans, and something like Tattle Life has the power to exacerbate that. It’s embarrassing that the opinions of an anonymous, faceless person can be taken on as your own so quickly, but if you take a stroll through a snark forum dedicated to an online figure that you “like”, it’s fairly likely that you’ll leave it feeling rather differently about them. In fact, being a former fan of whomever they’re now violently slating is a common thread to Tattle Life’s tapestry. “I used to like Eden” is a common preamble to a fair few of the posts dedicated to the aforementioned TikToker.

What does the future hold for snark forums and, in particular, Tattle Life? It’s hard to say. Influencers are a novel invention; if something like Tattle Life is just indicative that we’re still in a “growing pains” stage with them, maybe these kinds of outlets will fade into obscurity. Better still, the battle to shut down the website (a petition to do so has garnered nearly 70,000 signatures) might succeed. But that’s probably a rather hopeful vision for what’s been dubbed “the most toxic place on the internet”. In the time that I’ve lurked on Tattle Life, I’ve only watched it grow and grow. Influencers I previously thought of as too obscure to warrant a whole discussion forum about them… now have one, if not multiple. Even my own relationship with snark seems to be one defined by a kind of insatiable desire. While that does waver, and I’d never go whole hog and post on it, it makes for a compelling read that I’ll struggle to go cold turkey from. I know I’m not the only person to feel that way.

What’s most eerie about Tattle Life is just how quickly it’s taken on the same qualities as the other unmoderated corners of the internet. Tattle Life, like its predecessors, is already revealing itself to have the potential to harbour something much more insidious than the dark and gloomy world of influencer-based hate. Scroll through the website and you’ll also find forums dedicated to everything from murder trials to gender. The welcome page to “Gender Discussion” – which, at the time of writing, is on its sixtieth thread – reads “the trans rights movement is a homophobic, misogynistic men’s rights movement that preys on vulnerable children and adults”. If that’s anything to go by, Tattle Life is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or, it’s a rather vicious wolf in a slightly less vicious wolf’s clothing.

WriterAmber Rawlings
Banner Image CreditMean Girls / Broadway Video