Death threats and abuse - what it’s really like to work behind Southern Rail’s Twitter

Neil (left) and Amy both work on Southern Rail's Twitter account

Southern Rail has been a trending topic on social media a number of times this year. Not always for positive reasons.

Strikes and engineering upgrades have seen embattled commuters vent their rage on Twitter and Facebook, targeting the rail company’s social media accounts with despairing messages as they struggle through reduced services.

Some of these posts have turned nasty, according to Southern’s employees, who have to wade through the abuse to try and provide customer service to genuine enquirers.

The people who manage Southern Rail’s Twitter account have told The News’ sister paper i what it feels like to be told that they should ‘get f***ing cancer’ and die ‘slow and painful deaths’ on a regular basis.

The death threats

Neil, 29, has worked on the team for a year and a half.

‘Death threats come through – people wishing us to have cancer’, he said.

‘Things that would not be acceptable in any other walk of life.

‘It does knacker you out. You can get to the end of the day a bit moody, but I try to leave everything at the door and go home with a smile on my face.’

Very few would abuse staff at a station

Neil, who has also worked at a train station, said if people can actually see you, far fewer hurl abuse.

‘Very few people would walk up to a member of staff in the station and launch a tirade of swear words’ he said.

‘I don’t know why they can do it on social media.’

The team’s office, based near Three Bridges, is open-plan and packed with large screens showing service updates, station CCTV and 24/7 news.

The crew work next to GTR’s control centre and Network Rail who are able feed information back to the team at the drop of a hat.

The social media team’s main task is to update passengers on any changes that may affect their journeys and help them plan alternative routes, and although the majority of exchanges are amicable, the team have to block several users who use aggressive and insulting language.

‘There’s a completely different world for people out there’

Amy, 25, stressed that if people remembered there were human faces behind each computer screen it would prevent abuse from escalating online.

‘We are humans, and we’re the people reading it. If I met up with one of the users and asked them to say it to my face, they wouldn’t. They’d say – “you know what, she’s a young girl, she’s just trying to do her job.”

‘Working here has made me realise there’s a completely different world for people out there. It’s the keyboard warriors.’

Trolls

Some users actively spam the Southern Rail account, sending messages that although rude, are not quite block-worthy.

‘We have a certain group of trolls,’ said Neil.

‘It becomes a hobby for them – contacting us on a daily basis. We can get 30, 40, 50 tweets a day.’

Using humour

The team often bounce back to more minor complaints with humour.

‘I can’t believe you’ve just given me 16 pounds change in 50 ps.’ one user tweeted in June this year.

‘There are 54 different 50p coins in circulation. You should use this opportunity to start your collection Sam.’ joked Neil.

Killing anger with kindness

Amy says that being ‘overly kind’ can defuse tense situations.

’If someone’s really, really rude you want to be overly kind to try and change the way that they are’ she said.

‘It turns them around and they’ll say thank you. Which actually does happen quite a lot.’

This article originally appeared on our sister title i. Click here to see the original piece.

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