Some time ago (August 2010) Rosie proposed the following:
Some of the commenters have complained that we do not adhere to our stated comments policy. The policy and the complaints can be read here.
I would suggest that we enlarge on this policy, and before laying down some ground rules, would ask the contributors here, both bloggers and commenters, to read this draft position paper and suggest some amendments and improvements.
The data is mostly drawn from this site, though I have been influenced by other tendencies I have observed in the blogosphere.
Broadly, I would keep to a liberal comments policy, but would note that there are objectionable commenters that have to be dealt with by deletion, editing, abuse or mockery.
“Trolls” are a well-known type of commenter, and can be left out of this paper. But there are other kinds of objectionable commenters, who commit offences against the intellect, manners or morals. For methodological convenience, I shall divide them into the following categories:- “Cunts”, “Arses” and “Shits”.
Cunts are so defined for their intellectual dishonesty. They argue in bad faith, ignore any counter arguments, pile up straw men by the barnload, make stuff up, put words in your mouth that you not only have not said but would never dream of saying, make wild accusations eg if you write about the same topic as another blog, you therefore agree with that blog in every comma, full stop and hyperlink, and if you don’t write on a particular topic that for them is big news, you are creating a deliberate diversion and your non-coverage is a sinister ploy . (For an example of this kind of Cuntishness see here from comment 10 on.) If you quote from writer X, you therefore agree with writer X’s every utterance. If you quote from a reputable source, they will google mine that source until they find something discreditable it published back in 1973. They fill the thread with irrelevant matter, hoping to use tanks of verbiage to crush what they failed to shoot down with counter argument. They adopt a patronising and/or jeering tone. They will never answer a direct question, either weaselling out of it or ignoring it or saying that the reason you asked this question was another diversion. They are Poundstretcher Alastair Campbells, intellectual loudmouths who are absolutely incapable of admitting that an opponent may have made a telling point, or has any motive other than the lowest form of partisanship.
The chief Cunt on this site (and many others) is johng.
With Arses it’s not a question of their political opinions, which may be perfectly acceptable, but of manner of expression. Arses shout and swear and scream diatribes against all those who have annoyed them in some way, whether it’s the Pope, the Labour Party, the bloggers on this site and other sites, or fellow commenters, even inoffensive ones. They post pointless abuse, insults and violent fantasies in comment after comment so that reading through the thread is like picking your way between the pools of vomit along Lothian Road/Sauchiehall Street [insert your local street famed for drunken debauchery] on a Sunday morning. Arses are better people than Cunts or Shits (see below) but they are a nuisance and put off other commenters, just as any guy ranting impotent violent threats while holding a can of Carlsberg is probably a better person than George Galloway, but you would still rather not share space with him.
The chief Arse on this site (and many others) is Will.
With Shits it’s morals rather than manners or standard of debate. In the society outside the blogosphere, Shits two-time their partners, betray their friends, play politics in their jobs instead of getting on with the work, neglect their children and aged parents and are rude to people who are forced by their position to be polite (waiters, airline stewardesses and the like). There’s only a limited capacity for Shittiness on blogs, which are built out of words rather than actions and it is primarily implemented by “outing” someone who wants to stay anonymous or writing comments in their name expressing racist, sexist or otherwise disgraceful views. Chasing commenters around blogs to shout abuse at them on different sites or insulting tentative or daffy but harmless commenters crosses over from Arsiness to Shittiness.
Our last Shit was a BNP creep called Curious Freedom, who “outed” another commenter, one Willywipples or some such stupid name. The most famous blog Shit is Orlando Figes who used sock-puppetry to savage his rivals’ history books and praise his own and then set lawyers on the rivals when they rumbled him. Threats of litigation, though they can certainly be defended in some cases, are usually a sign of Shittiness. Andy Newman has started to dabble his feet in this kind of turdery in the Galloway/Viva Palestina case and now is threatening more litigation against another blogger who “made clearly libellous and derogatory remarks of an explicit sexual nature about [Newman], and two respected academics and bloggers“, so though I wouldn’t call him a Cunt or an Arse as a rule, he’s in danger of turning into a Shit.
I would therefore suggest the following blogging policy:-
Cunts:- given that they reveal their own Cuntishness with every lousy argument and lie they produce and in that way damage their own cause and reputations they should be allowed to comment but should be taken to task and ridiculed
Arses:- should have their comments edited or deleted. The unarsey comments they make should be allowed to remain.
Shits:- should be banned immediately.
There are also reasonable folk, the ones who disagree with the blog post and other commenters but who do so honestly, make a case for their disagreement, and can write with wit, cleverness, information or common humanity. They should be welcomed and engaged with.
(NB: since 2010 some names -JohnG for instance – have largely disappeared from our radar while new ones have arrived. As for Will…he seems to have turned to Jelly. Readers’ suggestions for a consistent comments policy for this site are welcome).
Here’s Wight’s bollocks:
One of the most interesting aspects of George Galloway’s by-election victory in Bradford last week has been the wholesale gnashing of teeth on the part of the London-based commentariat, who in the process of trying, and failing miserably, to get to grips with the result and its whys and wherefores, have endured paroxysms of agony. From the asinine and embarrassing TV interviews conducted with Galloway in the immediate aftermath by Sky’s Adam Boulton and Channel 4’s Cathy Neuman, to a plethora of newspaper columns and blogs ranging from the absurd ramblings of perennial Blairite stooge, the unearthly John Rentoul writing in the Independent, to the fulminating excretia of Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail, the subtext implicit in the reaction of the nation’s most prominent TV anchors and newspaper columnists, bag carriers for the right wing consensus that dominates the mainstream media, is that, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, the people of Bradford West, in voting for Respect, have lost the confidence of the government and therefore the government should dissolve them and appoint another one.
The virulent dislike of George Galloway by each of the aforementioned, and various others, has dripped from every syllable of every word spoken to and written about him since the election. But no one should be under any illusion. This hatred runs deeper than Galloway the man. It extends to his politics and the constituency he represents – downtrodden working class communities that dare raise their heads to challenge the status quo on its own terms and win. Within this group politicised Muslims come in for special treatment, regarded as no better than unwashed savages intent on despoiling the very air breathed by white, Christian Englishmen and women, the nation’s pure-blooded Anglo-Saxon Volk whose existence is under threat as a result.
But this wholesale fear and hatred of the declassed and downtrodden in society is nothing new. In fact, it is a common thread running back throughout history, wherein elites and their vocal lackeys have met any stirring of society’s ‘lower orders’ with unmitigated vitriol and condemnation. Whether it was Edmund Burke excoriating the French masses for daring to rise up and make a revolution in 1789 with his warning that “the tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny”; or whether it was the hatred of the elites towards the Petroleuses of the Paris Commune or the Chartists in this country, not to mention the abject horror which greeted the Russian Revolution, the Establishment and its bag carriers in the media have never failed to meet the politicisation and/or rebellion of the poor and alienated in society with anything other than revulsion.
Only last year we had the near universal outpouring of shock and indignation over the riots, mirrored in prison sentences that left no doubt who makes the laws and in whose interests they are made. Now, with Galloway successful in providing a political and democratic conduit through which the same demographic can register its refusal to remain ignored and unrepresented on the margins of society, you would think he’d just committed a heinous crime.
How many other politicians can you think of whose success at the polls would be met with the avalanche of negative column inches that his has these past few days? Sectarian, demagogue, self-serving, maverick, opportunist, populist, dangerous, divisive, dishonest, suspicious, colourful – these are the adjectives that have been attached to him in the immediate aftermath of one the most emphatic by-election results in electoral history.
This of course won’t come as a surprise to those on the left. But when the vitriol emanates from commentator who is identified as being part of the left, the broad left that is, alarm bells should start ringing.
Mehdi Hasan is political editor of the New Statesman magazine, a publication which consistently succeeds in making left wing politics and progressive ideas sound about as exciting as non league football in January. Regardless, Mehdi, recipient of the Oxbridge education required of the nation’s most prized opinion formers, has been able to establish himself as one of the select few voices of the left deemed acceptable by the mainstream – in other words completely non-threatening and politically benign. But to judge by his analysis of Galloway’s by-election victory, it is hard to resist the conclusion that he’s spent too many editions as a guest on Question Time sitting next to the aforementioned right wing hack, Melanie Phillips.
For example, in a blog piece that appeared on the NS website on March 30, he writes
“I am no fan of Galloway or his sectarian, far-left, self-serving politics…”
But worse is the piece he wrote for the Guardian, which appeared a couple of days later. In it he vents his anger this time not at George Galloway but the Muslims who voted for him.
“…why is it that most British Muslims get so excited and aroused by foreign affairs, yet seem so bored by and uninterested in domestic politics and the economy?
From the march against the Iraq war in 2003 to the demonstrations against the Danish cartoons in 2006 and the protests against Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2009, British Muslims have shown themselves perfectly willing to take to the streets to make their voices heard. But how many times have they, individually or collectively, joined rallies over issues that affect our daily lives: from the reforms of the NHS to the future of local schools; from the lack of social housing to rising energy bills and train fares?”
This essentialising of an entire community in two paragraphs, hectoring them for in his view failing to integrate in a manner satisfactory to his own Oxbridge- polished sensibilities, would not look out of place on the EDL’s website.
Further on in the same piece, he writes
“Muslims do not lack for opponents or antagonists; those who want to portray us as foreign, alien, un-British, are growing in number. We should not be handing them a club with which to beat us. In fact, the best way of overcoming Islamophobia and suspicion is for British Muslims to broaden, not narrow, our political horizons, to get involved in our local communities, to show our fellow citizens that we care not just about events in Palestine and Pakistan, but Portsmouth and Paisley too.
How can Muslims complain about our rights, our freedoms, our collective future, if we aren’t engaged in the political process across the board as active British citizens? We have an obligation, as Britons and as Muslims, to fully participate in local and national debates and not to stand idly by.”
Writing here as a Muslim, while blaming the victims of Islamophobia for Islamophobia, Hasan manages to combine moral cowardice with contempt towards his less domesticated co-religionists for their, erm, backward antiwar politics? His inability to understand that Bradford West was a by-election in which austerity stood front and centre alongside Britain’s participation in a dozen years of brutal and ever more costly wars in the Middle East, with Galloway making the all important link between the two, is a withering indictment of his political degeneration.
In time honoured fashion, he leaves the best till last.
“We have allowed ourselves to be defined only by foreign policy and, in particular, by events in the Middle East for far too long.”
Yes, Mehdi, how inconvenient that you find yourself spending more and more time between appetizer and dessert at the dinner parties you frequent in north London lamenting the inability of Muslims to just ‘get over it’ and learn to ‘know their place’.
Fortunately the overwhelming majority within the Muslim community of Bradford West, along with the thousands of non-Muslims who voted Respect last week, know better. Indeed, in inverse proportion to the horrified reaction of a reactionary media, whose ranks it has to be said Mehdi Hasan comes close to joining with his own shoddy analysis, the people of Bradford West have succeeded in putting to the sword the idea that there is no alternative.
And before anyone mentions it: yes, I’ve often, in the past, been critical of Mehdi Hasan myself. But on this occasion I will defend him against this stupid, ignorant attack from a foul, racist scumbag and Galloway groupie.
Hasan comments further (on the New Statesman website) here.
Seymour bleats here.
And people think we’re sometimes a tad aggressive, here at Shiraz:
(from the Independent on Sunday):
They call him the “Blogfather”. Instead of making people sleep with the fishes, or leaving a severed horse’s head on silk bed-sheets, he prefers to settle scores via angry messages on his personal website. Thomas “Tommy Shots” Gioeli, an alleged Mafia boss on trial in Brooklyn for six gruesome murders, not to mention a string of racketeering charges, has hit on a very modern way to manage his reputation.
As the jury considers whether Gioeli, a 59-year-old Italian-American, should spend the rest of his natural life behind bars, he has taken the enterprising step of reinventing himself as the first “made man” to become a blogger.
His website, “Alleged Mob Boss Tommy Gioeli’s Voice“, has taken on subjects as wide-ranging as religion, politics and penal reform. Gioeli certainly has a way with words. The blog bestows members of the prosecution team with such nicknames as “The Liar”, “The Prune” and “The Seducer”. Their key witnesses, who are largely former gangland figures giving evidence as part of plea bargains are “water rats, subway rats, sewer rats” who “have everything to gain and nothing to lose by pointing their dirty, snot-caked fingers at me”.
But its main bugbear is the people, and legal system, responsible for his predicament. “Thomas Gioeli, an unconvicted American man, is being denied basic Constitutional rights and adequate healthcare for his many serious ailments during his incarceration,” reads the blog’s introduction. “The media, instead of reporting the truth, is working with the government to destroy his true character and create a real-life, paper-selling monster.”
He has now devoted a lengthy update to John “The Dolt” Marzulli, a reporter for the New York newspaper the Daily News, whose coverage of the trial appears to have caused him displeasure. “I would like to challenge The Dolt to [a] competition,” he writes. “When I am acquitted we will have a charity boxing match: One three-minute round, bare knuckles, Marquess of Queensberry rules.”
In another update, Gioeli responded to a suggestion that an ex-nun had been among the accidental victims of one of his Mob hits. “What a disgrace!” he wrote, denying the charge. “My saintly, elderly mother who just buried my father, my poor wife, my precious children, my priest, the rest of my family, friends, people I just know … would think I am an animal.”
Gioeli also complains that the prison officer who gives him pills each morning does not wear gloves. “This may be okay for the mother who is giving meds to her kids, but in an institutional setting it is downright unsanitary, if not illegal,” he writes. “So I refuse my dose until she wears gloves.”
Prosecutors have alleged that Gioeli is using the blog to attempt to influence the jury. He claims that writing it is instead a form of therapy. “I get very, very angry,” he says. “Then I write, and my anger melts away.” His alleged crimes are certainly those of a man with a short fuse. According to the FBI, Gioeli was responsible for a string of killings in his native city of Farmingdale, Long Island, which date back to an internal Mafia war during the early 1990s. He is also accused of profiting from illegal gambling, nightclub extortion and armed robberies.
In a recent phone interview with Newsweek, Gioeli explains that he types his updates and sends them to his daughter, who “does a bit of editing” before placing them on the site.
I finally succumbed to the ultimate modern-day vanity excercise: I Googled myself. I didn’t find much, as it happens, beyond some collaborative contributions on jazz that I’m quite proud of. Then I found this:
A website called Network54 – Formercommunists:
Uncle Joe: laugh? I nearly died!
“Jim Denham is part of that weird bunch of followers of trot guru Sean Macgamna, who have gradually abandoned any attempt at remaining committed to socialism, first the International Communist league, then socialist organiser , and now the Aliiance for Workers Liberty…They are soft on Israel, vehemently anti-soviet. Denham, sounds like a public school boy , despite his voluntary proletarianisation in the 1970s at Longbridge where he never made much impact, apart from touting a scurrilous anti-trade union leadership rag, personally is addicted to ‘left’ gossip and is a venomous tongued regaler of tall tales when in his cups about everyone on the left with the exception of himself Magamna and his micro group…. a very sad bastard in other words.”
I don’t think they like me very much. Oh well.
|I removed a Youtube clip of a shapely female backside, that accompanied this devastating critique, and that my critics had included as part of their powerful destruction of my personal character and my political allegiances. I thought the backside was very nice actually, but I’m advised that you can’t be too careful these days.|
On Blogging, Threats, and Silence
Cross-posted from Tiger Beatdown
Content note: This post includes excerpts of threats and abusive language.
I got my first rape threat as a blogger when I was on Blogspot, so new that I still had the default theme up and hadn’t even added anything to the sidebar. I can’t even remember the pseudonym I was using then, and I probably had about 10 hits on a good day, seven of which were me compulsively loading the page just to make sure it still existed, and the other two of which were probably my friends. I wrote a post about some local political issue or another, expressing my misgivings, and a reader kindly took time out of his day to email me.
‘You stupid cunt,’ he said, ‘all you need is a good fucking and then you’d be less uptight.’
I stared at it for a couple of minutes, too shocked to move. There it was on my screen, not going away. Someone really had thought it was appropriate not just to write this email to a complete stranger, a totally unknown person, but to send it. I deleted it, and spent another few minutes staring at the blank hole in my inbox where it had been before shaking it off and moving on.
It was harder with the next one, and the next, and the next, but by the time I’d clocked around 20 threats, and was up to around 30 readers, I’d learned the art of triage. The quick skim to find out if there was any actually personal threatening information, like identifying details, or if it was just your garden variety threat with no teeth behind it. I kept them all in a little file in case I needed them later, and forwarded the worst to the police department, not in the belief they would actually do anything, but in the hopes that information would be there, somewhere, in case it was needed someday.
‘I hope you get raped to death with a gorsebush,’ one email memorably began. I gave the letter writer some style points for creativity, but quickly deducted them when I noted he’d sent it from his work email, at a progressive organisation. I helpfully forwarded it to his supervisor, since I thought she might be interested to know what he was doing on company time. ‘Thanks,’ she wrote back, and I didn’t hear anything more about it. Several months later I attended a gala event the organisation was participating in and watched him sitting there on stage, confident and smug.
I thanked my stars that he had no idea who I was, that he didn’t know that the ‘stupid, fat bitch’ he’d emailed was sitting there in the audience, calmly staring back at him. Later, I wondered why I didn’t just turn around and walk out the minute I saw him. I certainly stopped donating and supporting, and I happily told people why.
He’s still there, and people tell me I’m not the only one who has received alarmingly graphic communiques from him for speaking my mind. His was the first of many emails so meticulously detailed that it felt like the uncomfortable realisation of a fantasy, and it only got worse when I changed platforms, to TypePad and then WordPress, accumulating more and more readers along the way, being more and more outspoken, being more and more open about who I was, finally writing under my own name, a calculated decision that exposes me to considerable risk, every day, a decision I cannot come back from. It is not a decision I regret, but it did bring home a new risk for me, that I had made it a lot easier for those electronic threats to become a reality.
I was careful in all the ways they tell you to be, to make it difficult to find my house, for example, and most of the rape threats, and the death threats, the casual verbal abuse from people who disagreed with my stances on subjects like rape being bad and abortion being a personal matter, weren’t really that threatening in that they didn’t pose a personal danger to me, and I was rarely concerned for my safety. That wasn’t the point, though, which is what I told a friend when she got her first rape threat and called me, sobbing. I wished she’d been spared that particular blogging rite of passage, but unfortunately she hadn’t been.
‘They want you to shut up,’ I explained. ‘That’s the point of a rape threat. They want to silence you. They want you to shrink down very small inside a box where you think they can’t find you.’
And it works. I see it happening all the time; blogs go dark, or disappear entirely, or stop covering certain subjects. People hop pseudonyms and addresses, trusting that regular readers can find and follow them, trying to stay one step ahead. Very few people openly discuss it because they feel like it’s feeding the trolls, giving them the attention they want. Some prominent bloggers and members of the tech community have been bold enough; Kathy Sierra, for example, spoke out about the threats that made her afraid to leave her own home. She’s not the only blogger who’s been presented not just with vicious, hateful verbal abuse, but very real evidence that people want to physically hurt her, a double-edged silencing tactic, a sustained campaign of terrorism that is, often, highly effective.
It took a few years to reach this point, but I finally have, the point where I do have concerns about my physical safety, and have had to reevaluate certain aspects of my life and work. I’ve gotten those emails that send a long chill down my spine and create a surging feeling of rage, mixed with helplessness. People have sent me my social security number, information about my family members, identifying details that make it very clear they know exactly how to find me. They have politely provided details of exactly what they’d like to do to me and my family, they send me creepy things in the mail.
‘I’m glad your stupid cat died,’ someone wrote me last October. ‘You’re next, bitch,’ and followed up with my street address.
‘I’m in the process of moving,’ I told the officer who responded, ‘but it concerns me and I wanted you to know.’
I spent the remaining week almost entirely at the new house, working on the house during the day and slinking home late at night, leaving the lights off to make it look like I wasn’t home, leaving my distinctive and highly identifiable car parked at a distant location. My neighbours left their porch light on for me, illuminating the backyard in a wash of harsh, white light. I’d spent years seething about how it kept me up at night, but those nights, I was grateful for it, reading my book under the covers in the dim glow of a flashlight.
‘You must be worried about fans finding you,’ my landlords say, and I want to laugh it off, the idea that I have ‘fans’ who would be dedicated enough to come this far to find me.
‘It’s not the fans I worry about,’ I say, darkly.
It’s a good week, these days, if I only get 15-20 emails from people telling me how much they think I should die, or how much they hope I get raped, or how much they hope my cat dies or I lose my job or fall in a hole or get shot by police or any number of things people seem to think it’s urgently important to tell me in their quest to get me to shut up. We are not talking about disagreements, about calls for intersectionality, about differing approaches, about political variance, about lively debate and discussion that sometimes turns acrimonious and damaging. We are talking about sustained campaigns of hate from people who believe that we are inhuman and should be silenced; the misogynists, the ‘men’s rights activists,’ the anti-reproductive rights movement, the extreme conservatives, the fundamentalists. The haters.
Joss Whedon fans in particular seem to be especially creative, although Glee fans are running a close second; Glee fans tend to be more fond of sending me photoshopped pictures of myself covered in what I think is supposed to be cum, although it looks more like mashed potatoes, or possibly whipped cream. Joss fans prefer to say it in text, intimately, lingering over the details. And of course there’s the usual abuse from people who think that people like me are not human beings, and thus feel it’s entirely reasonable, even necessary, to assault us, the people who write about topics like reproductive justice, domestic violence, intersections between race and class and disability and gender and the social structures that contribute to continued oppression.
I don’t talk about it very often because I don’t really know what to say. I get rape and death threats. I get emails calling me cunt, r#tard, all the other epithets you can think of and then some. I get abusive phone calls, and sometimes have to unplug my landline for a few days. So do a lot of other bloggers. It never really stops, unless you stop, which means that every day you need to make a conscious decision. Do I keep doing this? Do I keep going? Or is this the day where I throw in the towel and decide it’s not worth it anymore?
Like a lot of bloggers in the same position, I have tried to balance a desire to not remain silent with the need for increasing caution; not, for example, making information about where I stay when on trips available, making it clear that the only place people will find me is at public events in locations where there’s a security presence, being careful about pictures I post of my house and neighbourhood to make it harder to find, making sure close friends have contact information for me and my neighbours in case of emergencies. Thinking carefully about the kinds of events I want to attend. Things that are second nature to me seem to disturb other people, but I’ve learned the hard way that this is what I need to do to be safe.
But I’m still not going to shut up, and not just because I am bullheaded and don’t take kindly to being told to be silent or die. I don’t shut up for all the people who were forced to shut up, for the ghosts who drift through the Internet, for the people too terrified to leave their homes at all, let alone try to coordinate safety concerns to attend events, for the people who ask friends to open and sort their email because they can’t handle the daily vitriol. I don’t shut up for all the people who have been silenced, who did throw in the towel because they just couldn’t take it anymore. Not because they were weak or not committed to the cause, but because they, and their families, were in danger.
When it became evident that I wasn’t going to shut up, that I wasn’t going to let threats from hateful assholes dictate what I chose to cover and not cover, the campaigns shifted; I still got rape and death threats, but then came the websites dedicated to hate and speculation, the harassing phone calls. Then came the commenters sowing insidious trails at sites that linked me or discussed my work, the emails to friends and colleagues, the attempts to discredit me.
And, of course, the attacks on my readers. One of the reasons I was forced to close comments on my personal site was because people would stalk my readers to their own sites and harass them, and we had similar problems at FWD/Forward, and I see them here at Tiger Beatdown as well. Puzzled and upset readers sometimes forward the email they’re sent after they comment, or talk about something in a post, or attempt to participate in discussions; anti-abortion activists, for example, sending them hate screeds for being open about their abortions in what they thought was a safe space. Hateful people pick on people they assume are small and helpless, simply for voicing their opinions, or being present in a space, or being associated with the target of their hatred.
Then came the hackings, the repeated attempts to silence me in the crudest way possible.
This is something else people don’t talk about, very often; the fact of the matter is that if you run a feminist or social justice site, you will be hacked. Probably on multiple occasions, especially if you start to grow a large audience. Some of these hackings are just your usual cases of vandalism, people testing servers to see if they can do it, not with any specific malice directed at you. Others are more deliberate, more calculated, and they come with taunting and abuse.
Many feminist sites stay on services like Blogspot because of the higher security they may offer; people who host their own sites do so in awareness that if they aren’t very knowledgeable about technology, they need someone who is for when they get hacked, and it’s not if, but when. Readers often don’t notice because it flashes by, or it causes problems with the backend, the site management, not the front end. Sometimes they do, when hackers inject malicious code that changes the appearance of the front page, or attempts to load malware on the computers of visitors, or just takes the site down altogether, sometimes with a message making it clear that it’s personal.
Then your readers start screaming at you because the site isn’t working, and when you wade through your inbox it’s an even split between taunting messages from the hacker and readers demanding to know why the front page looks funny, yelling at you if you were asleep when it happened and didn’t have time to post an update somewhere to let people know what was going on for several hours.
You wake up every day wondering if your server is still up, and how much cleanup you may need to do to keep the site operational. That’s the reality. You wake up wondering what will be in your inbox, your moderation queue, your Twitter stream, and sometimes you lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering if you really want to keep doing this. The reality is that when people recognise you in public spaces and shout your name, you tense; is this person going to harm you? You spend the first five minutes of your interaction fighting the flight instinct, not paying attention to a single word the person is saying. When someone emails to ask to meet you when you’re traveling, your first reaction is not ‘oh, it would be lovely to meet readers, yes, please, let’s hook up at that dark shady bar in a city I don’t know.’
It’s concerted, focused, and deliberate, the effort to silence people, especially women, but not always, as I can attest, and particularly feminists, though again, not always, as I can attest, online. The readers, the consumers, the fans, may not always notice it because people are silent about it. Because this is the strategy that has been adopted, to not feed the trolls, to grin and bear it, to shut up, to put your best foot forward and rise above it. To open your email, take note of the morning’s contents, and then quickly shuttle them to the appropriate files for future reference or forwarding to the authorities. To check on the server, fix what needs fixing, and move on with your day. To skim the comments to see what needs to be deleted, to know that when you write a post like this one, you will have to delete a lot of heinous and ugly comments, because you want to protect your readers from the sheer, naked, hate that people carry for you. To weigh, carefully, the decision to approve a comment not because there’s a problem with the content, but because you worry that the reader may be stalked by someone who will tell her that she should die for having an opinion. And when it happens to people for the first time, they think they are alone, because they don’t realise how widespread and insidious it is.
All of the bloggers at Tiger Beatdown have received threats, not just in email but in comments, on Twitter, and in other media, and the site itself has been subject to hacking attempts as well. It’s grinding and relentless and we’re told collectively, as a community, to stay silent about it, but I’m not sure that’s the right answer, to remain silent in the face of silencing campaigns designed and calculated to drive us from not just the Internet, but public spaces in general. To compress us into small boxes somewhere and leave us there, to underscore that our kind are not wanted here, there, or anywhere.
*GAG GAG GLUCK* You have discovered the only vocables worth hearing from Sady’s cock-stuffed maw…die tr*nny whore…[slut walk] is a parade for people who suffer from Histrionic Personality Disorder aka Attention Whores…I know where you live, r#tard…why don’t you do the world a favour and jump off a bridge…Feminazi…
A small sampling of the kinds of things that show up in our inboxes, in comment threads, on attack websites, in things sent to our readers.
Rape threats happen. Death threats happen. People threaten friends, families, jobs, household pets. Stalkers go to considerable lengths to collect and exploit information. People who are open about this, who do talk about threats and stalking and danger, and they are out there, are punished for it. They get more abuse, they’re told that they’re making it all up, that it’s all in their heads, that they are exaggerating, entirely new hate sites spring up to speculate about them and talk about their ‘desperate ploys for attention.’ That’s what I have to look forward to for writing this piece, for laying out some of the costs of social participation for you, for openly discussing the thing which dare not speak its name, the brash, open hostility reserved for people who do not shut up.
This is a reality, and it doesn’t go away if we don’t talk about it.
Reading about Hari’s (mis)use of Wikipedia made me wonder – aren’t there more subtle ways of punishing one’s enemies? How about this counterintuitive approach. If your enemy is a modestly successful blogger or professional – create a Wikipedia page for them, complete with (carefully footnoted) references to all their achievements. Everyone will assume they have created the page themselves and think -before the page is deleted due to lack of notability – ‘what a dickhead’.
If your enemy is a writer – then write gushing reviews of their books on Amazon – if you have the energy to create multiple accounts, so much the better. This technique would work particularly well if your target’s books are obscure academic tomes which normally don’t attract any sales, let alone reviews. It will look as though the enemy is using friends (or sockpuppets) to inflate his or her reputation. A similar technique can be used to punish your blogger foes – write multiple admiring comments in different names (but the same style) as soon as their posts appear.
It’s amazing how many people effectively choose to punish themselves in this way already though.
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
The Act of Contrition (c1100) is really a model apology. You say you are greatly at fault, you don’t offer excuses for doing what you did, and you don’t say, by the way, I did other good stuff and my intentions were fine. Also, it is very short.
Not like Johann Hari’s apology. He starts by explaining why he plagiarised – because the people he interviewed didn’t produce good copy:-
The first concerns some people I interviewed over the years. When I recorded and typed up any conversation, I found something odd: points that sounded perfectly clear when you heard them being spoken often don’t translate to the page. They can be quite confusing and unclear. When this happened, if the interviewee had made a similar point in their writing (or, much more rarely, when they were speaking to somebody else), I would use those words instead.
He was doing them a favour you see. He was wanting to make a nice job of it. Just as an engineer, if he found a few cracks in a bridge he’d constructed, would put on extra thick paint to disguise this ugly appearance.
In my work, I’ve spent a lot of time dragging other people’s flaws into the light. I did it because I believe that every time you point out that somebody is going wrong, you give them a chance to get it right next time and so reduce the amount of wrongdoing in the world. That’s why, although it has been a really painful process and will surely continue to be for some time, I think in the end I’ll be grateful my flaws have also been dragged into the light in this way.
I, for one, don’t believe that dragging other people’s flaws into the light is motivated by a desire for their reform. Dragging other people’s flaws into the light doesn’t need lofty motives – it is jolly good fun, immensely gratifying and much practised by our opinion writers, professional and amateur. Think how many people would be pissed off if the targets of their criticism turned over new leaves. What would they have to write about in happy self-righteousness? (By the way, this gratitude for having one’s flaws exposed is reminiscent of a prominent evangelical Christian caught with a tart and furry handcuffs saying that this is a visitation from the Lord to humiliate them and bring them low and closer to Him, Hallelujah).
As well as creating a succinct apology, the middle ages had a line in thorough penances. For inciting the death of Thomas a Becket, Henry II walked to Canterbury Cathedral in sack cloth and ashes and got the monks there to flog him.
Not so Johann Hari:-
So first, even though I stand by the articles which won the George Orwell Prize, I am returning it as an act of contrition for the errors I made elsewhere, in my interviews. But this isn’t much, since it has been reported that they are minded to take it away anyway. (I apologise to them for the time they’ve had to spend on this.) So second, I am going to take an unpaid leave of absence from The Independent until 2012, and at my own expense I will be undertaking a programme of journalism training. (I rose very fast in journalism straight from university.) And third, when I return, I will footnote all my articles online and post the audio online of any on-the-record conversations so that everyone can hear them and verify they were said directly to me.
After this he will no doubt appear on the Piers Morgan show, saying how this was a humbling experience but he has really learned from it and hopes he is a better person and a better journalist now.
A few months job training, a career at the end of it and a bit of journalism with footnotes? A bit flabby, Johann. No, we need the full-blown medieval pentitential work-out. Here’s what you should do for you plagiarism, misrepresentation and lies.
Retrieve every article where you interviewed someone and then added words from the interviewee’s own works or from other interviewers. Go through the articles and highlight every phrase that you have interpolated. Publish results on web. Leave the comments open and unmoderated. – the modern equivalent of the stocks.
Better still, act out your interview. For instance this one with Toni Negri:-
He looks at me very closely, with mild displeasure. He says in a level voice: “I never made an attempt on anyone’s life.” Then, with a shrug, he says to his translator: “I was accused of having committed hold-ups.” So, was that accusation accurate? He takes a long drag on his cigarette. “Stealing money, if it’s necessary, I can understand.” I wait for him to continue, but the sentence hangs there, like his fading smoke. Did you rob banks? “Brecht said that it’s hard to know which is a greater crime, to found a bank or to rob one,” he replies. More waiting, more smoke. He pushes his glasses on to the top of his head with his taut middle finger. “I agree with Brecht,” he says, waving his hand as though to physically push me on to another question.
So you can perform as Negri, with a cigarette as a prop.
Record this and put it on Youtube, Leave the comments open and unmoderated.
After a week or so read each comment aloud and record yourself reading it. Put that on Youtube. Leave the comments open and unmoderated. And so on . The sadism and schadenfreude of a chunky percentage of internet commenters is up there with our ancestors who chucked things at miscreants sitting in the stocks and cheered at heretic burnings.
Lazy and incompetent journalists who make stuff up to cover their laziness and incompetence are as old as journalism itself. Young Scrubbs was supposed to cover the parish meeting, couldn’t be bothered, invented some copy and sent it in, only to find that at that meeting the parish hall had burned down and the mayor collapsed with a heart attack. But Hari’s other crime, that of using sock puppets to edit Wikipedia entries, really belongs to the internet age.
The other thing I did wrong was that several years ago I started to notice some things I didn’t like in the Wikipedia entry about me, so I took them out. To do that, I created a user-name that wasn’t my own. Using that user-name, I continued to edit my own Wikipedia entry and some other people’s too. I took out nasty passages about people I admire – like Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot, Deborah Orr and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. I factually corrected some other entries about other people. But in a few instances, I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk.
What is the pre-internet equivalent of that? Sending anonymous letters about your enemies to their spouses and employers? But how crazily malicious that sounds. Gossiping about them to all and sundry can be dangerous as it may blow back on you, so it is a crime that needs the anonymity of the internet and the invention of Wikipedia.
Hari says of this:-
I am mortified to have done this, because it breaches the most basic ethical rule: don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. I apologise to the latter group unreservedly and totally.
Of course it is a basic ethical rule taught to us as kiddies not to pull the cat’s tail as how would you like it if the cat pulled your tail, but it isn’t that which would stop most of us from inventing personae to edit people’s Wikipedia entries. Hari did this hundreds of times, taking elaborate precautions and creating a whole cast of sock puppets. Most of us wouldn’t do this because it makes you look like a crazy and obsessive loser. I can imagine some blog commenters* that I know (in the internet sense) doing this , but a writer with a prestigious job on a national broadsheet? However, I was equally gob-smacked when Orlando Figes, a respected historian, did something similar. There really is nothing queerer than folk.
So to continue Hari’s penance, he can edit each Wikipedia entry where he defamed someone and re-cast it, writing about their sobriety, homophilia, brilliance, tolerance and general sweetness. Also, since he sent his sock puppets around the internet to infiltrate threads where they abused his enemies and praised the works of Johann Hari he can retrieve each of those items and produce them in a handy compendium somewhere – eg seventhcircleofhell.blogspot.com. Comments open and unmoderated as above.
One year of this should be enough. By then he should be very sick of writing and the internet. However, he should have learned that it’s a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive and honesty is the best policy and all such things his parents neglected to teach him. He may even become known as Honest Hari, the man who never tampered an odometer when he takes up his new career as a used-car salesman.
*Including some who hang around this site
This is a major development that the bourgeois press are too frightened to cover. Thank goodness for Nooman and the fearless ‘Socialist Unity’ site:
On a post at Socialist Unity in praise of George Galloway, SteveH, who attempts to comment here, had this to say:-
Galloway, as usual, has been the most eloquent voice on this subject. I tried to make this point over at Shiraz and they banned my comments. What utter sectarians!
I am reluctant to introduce the words “Israel” or “Palestine” in a thread that’s about something else, but in fact SteveH is banned from Shiraz because he kept on about some “machine” that was stopping any criticism of Israeli actions. He defined this “machine” thus:-
“A network of people who are ready to respond on behalf of Israel when any criticism is thrown its way. This site, commenters such as Modernity are part of this I would say, though they are at the outer reaches of this machine. There is a need to create a counter machine by anti Zionists, this is increasingly happening.”
To which someone said:-
“What machine? What are you talking about? Do you not even faintly glimmer the thing that this sentiment echoes?”
You can read the exchange to see how SteveH made us very sick at Shiraz. He may have slipped through once or twice since then, but as far as I know he is supposed to be banned. This blog is absolutely welcome to the slimy, hinting little fantasist.
My comment was removed. I repeated the comment minus the last abusive sentence.
DELETED now marks the spot.
…from that waste of space Lennie “Seymour” Tombstone.
“The thrust of this article, focusing on the UK, will be that the Right has so far had the initiative because it has successfully piloted a series of ideological articulations that speak to a certain neoliberal ”common sense” and thus plausibly explain and offer solutions to the crisis. These articulations mediate between popular discontent (manifested in loathing of the bankers, distrust of the parliamentary process, and fear of penury) and ruling class imperatives. This strategy is obviously not limited to the Right: the Democrats in the US and social democratic parties in Europe perform a classically ”transformist” role, absorbing the elements of dissatisfaction among subaltern groups, expunging their oppositional content, and incorporating them into a politics of the pro-capitalist centre. Nonetheless, it is the Right that has played the dominant role in securing the ”austerity” narrative, tailed by the center and center-left. This shouldn’t be surprising. In organic crises, the forces best equipped to adapt and re-deploy are those of the ruling class and its allied parties.
“For the Left to win, it needs to find adequate modes of political organization and an appropriate series of ideological mediations that explain the crisis, mobilize points of discontent and maintain the unity of the anti-austerity alliance. This should not be seen as opposed to ”industrial” struggles; rather, it will have a formative, organizing role in the economic class struggle, ensuring that localized conflicts are generalized (rather than isolated in a way that allows them to be picked off one by one by the ruling class), and giving the working class a chance to move into a ”hegemonic” moment in which it both leads and incorporates the interests and perspectives of allied groups. In none of the advanced capitalist states are revolutionary groups currently in a position to challenge for leadership of the working class – far from it – but they should be ready to take the initiative in alliance with sections of the social democratic left, as well as the left-of-social-democratic left…”
There was a time when SWP’ers thought it important to relate to the working class. No longer, it would seem…