Four friends who received a torrent of abuse after going viral have said the Government should do more to find “justice” for victims of trolling.
Kevin Rooney, Alex Lacey, Jamie Phillips and Connor Humpage first went viral last year when a photograph they shared on Instagram of them together on a night out became the “Four Lads In Jeans” meme.
The meme has since been so widely shared the quartet are now forging a media career from their fame and have signed several sponsorship deals.
Having already appeared in television and radio interviews, they are set to feature in BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge later this week and ad campaigns for McDonald’s and Sony noise-cancelling headphones.
They have even teased that they may feature in a Netflix series later this year, and when asked if one or more of them may appear in ITV’s Love Island, they told the PA news agency they “could not comment”.
The success has only been recent however, and for most of the year and a half since the photo was taken outside Birmingham’s New Street station, online trolling had outweighed the benefits for the four.
Mr Lacey, a plumbing and heating engineer, received abusive phone calls and texts after his work number was leaked and his mother was targeted on Instagram.
“She got trolled saying ‘your son’s this, your son’s that’ – that was a low point,” the 26-year-old told PA.
“You don’t see the good in it for a long time. It did massively knock me on my head. It changed me a lot.
“I don’t understand why the Government isn’t looking more into social media and online bullying.
“If I physically bully someone it’s illegal, but online it’s not. I don’t understand the justice in that.”
The abuse has not stopped, with Mr Rooney, 30, noting he was told to “go hang yourself” last week.
The group said passports or similar ID should be used by social media companies to verify users’ identities so people can be blocked from using platforms and police can take further action if needed.
“These people do need to be held accountable… social media is so powerful and people are taking their own lives due to being trolled,” said Mr Rooney, who works in manufacturing.
Mr Humpage said he was also affected by the way the group’s image has been used to convey opinions or beliefs not aligned with their own.
“As a tattoo artist, I was drawing a portrait of George Floyd out of respect and in tribute, then I think it was that day someone was making these memes slandering Black Lives Matter above our picture,” the 28-year-old said.
“Certain people are thinking they’re our words and we’ve said it and stereotyping us just for being us… I hope people realise we aren’t those types of lads.”
The turning point for the group was when their picture was combined with a viral sea shanty by Scottish singer Nathan Evans, himself a viral sensation, propelling them to newfound levels of fame.
“Before the sea shanty song, I would have taken the photo back very quickly… in a heartbeat,” said Mr Phillips, 28, who also works in manufacturing.
“It was very boring, very annoying every day… but the good that has come from it now, I wouldn’t take it back.
“I can look back in 20 years’ time and say I’ve worked with Sony, McDonald’s, say I’ve been on Radio 1 with Scott Mills – no one can take that away from me. I’ve spoken to Piers Morgan, that’s huge.”