A good clean fight?


1:11 pm - November 9th 2007

by Justin McKeating    


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It’s all very well wanting a civilised, engaging debate on the Internet but some of the Left’s opponents aren’t interested in fighting fair. They’ve taken the gloves off. On some prominent right-wing blogs debate is at a standstill with homophobia and defamation becoming tools of the trade. But the way the owners of these blogs behave, getting redress for a slur on your character is fast becoming impossible.

Now, many people put this down to the normal Punch and Judy of blogs and blogging but when this is happening on what the media regard as the go-to blogs, it means trouble for all of us who have higher hopes for the blogging medium. You can’t ignore these people and expect them to go away. They’re the shock troops of a resurgent Tory party.

Comments deleted to shape the narrative of discussions. Criticism ‘disappeared’. Offensive, libellous comments left unchecked to be catalogued by Google for anyone to find. A refusal to give a right of reply to those who have been slurred. Leading right-wing bloggers are creating an atmosphere in which the admission of fault and the apology are taboo; they have their own ‘reputations’ to protect after all. People on the wrong end of this treatment find themselves in a dead end. Sooner or later one of them is going to have to reach for a lawyer to get redress. Anybody got a few grand to spare?

Why should liberal-left bloggers be concerned? So far, the big guns of Tory blogging have given left-wing bloggers a free pass because until recently most of us spent our time attacking the various sins of the Blair government. It was a marriage of convenience. But try sniffing around how prominent Tory bloggers conduct themselves and you’re off the Christmas card list pretty damn quick. ‘Stalker’, ‘obsessive’ and worse are the labels you can expect to have pinned to you by them if you dare to press for a straight answer to a straight question. Their online supporters (and they do have a lot of supporters) will question your mental health and your sexuality and libel you under the cover of anonymity. And you get no right of reply.

It pains me that more left-wing, Liberal, liberal and decent right-wing bloggers don’t get stuck in on this. Come a Conservative administration this could very well be the norm in political blogging instead of the behaviour of a just handful of high-profile opportunists. It’s a disease and it’s spreading fast. Tory central office would be fools if they aren’t paying attention to how debate can be controlled and opponents smeared online. At least one Tory MP has already adopted some of the tactics.

I have a feeling that a lot of bloggers trying to stick it to a future Tory government and their online cheerleaders in a few years time are going to wish they’d paid more attention to what’s going on right now. Sooner or later they’re going to target someone you care about. Real world reputations are at stake and are being damaged. It’s time to get in the ring and go toe to toe.

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About the author
Justin McKeating is an occasional contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a Brighton-based writer and blogger who can also be found at Chicken Yoghurt and Nuclear Reaction.
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Reader comments


No doubt you are right that more of us should be getting stuck in, but the problem with trying to have an argument with the right about this is that it’s a bit like trying to play football against a side that thinks it’s playing rugby. In other words, they just don’t recognise the rules by which we are trying to play the game! Partly this is down to philosophical differences – Tories tends to see their blogs as their “property,” and theirs to do absolutely what they like with. Liberal-lefties tend to have a broader conception of the blogosphere as a “public good.” But at the end of the day, it’s very hard to persuade people to abide by some concept of blog etiquette if they don’t accept that such a thing exists.

Can anyone throw up some more example sites? I confess to being rather inward looking when it comes to what blogs I read.

I wonder if your solution – wading in, as I take it – is the right one. The way you describe it, getting into the fight on their terms is precisely the wrong thing to do. If a website or blog-owner has no scruples about free speech they’re not going to be suddenly emotionally overwhelmed and see the error of their ways just because more people start trying to exercise it.

Could we develop a list of examples here, and everyone adds examples they find and explains as cogently and calmly as humanly possible what they think is wrong with them, and wait for the fight to come to us? That way, we are potentially another must-go site for journos to balance against the rubbish, rather than dissipating effort across right-wing blogs. Only thing is, you then might have to disable the “militant comments” policy in the interests of letting them come back at us (or they’ll just make precisely the same accusation of bias).

Hm, I know that’s not really what this site is supposed to be about – but I really don’t think going on to their turf in the way you should suggest is going to work.

Someone should produce a “top 10 corrupt blogs”, in the style that Iain Dale produces his interminable lists, indicating exactly why each is bad. Then everyone can link to it, and pass the link to anyone who’ll listen.

Mr. Kettle, what colour would you say this pot is? I think we’re deluding ourselves if we really think this sort of thing is one-sided.

The name-calling and finger pointing between Left and Right is childish and tiresome. Though I realize that such hopes are futile, I really wish each side would spend more time policing their own and less time screaming “but the other side is worse!”

When your comrades behave poorly, correct them. When your opposites behave poorly, defend yourself reasonably, but otherwise ignore them. Let the idiots on both sides discredit themselves, and let the rest of us concentrate on matters of substance.

Even better, let’s have a list that polices our own AND theirs on equal terms.

I wish I could agree with you Squid re: the idiots discrediting themselves. What happens far too often is that the idiots are the ones picked up by media because they’re the most outrageous in one way or another. That won’t change no matter what we do, but developing some kind of known source of comment that people can refer to for an alternative take is surely not beneath us, even if most of our time is rightly devoted to subtance!

You’re wrong, Squid; this isn’t about name-calling, alas. It’s about honesty. Top piece, Justin, but why so coy with the linkage. The interested could do worse than start here:

That’s here, btw, for any pasters:

http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2007/11/ellee_seymour_little_miss_conduct.asp

Crikey – that bloggerheads guy – obsessive or what?

Did anyone get beyond the first few lines without losing the will to live?

Is LC about addressing *issues* (for want of a better term) or obsessing about whether Iain Dale does x or Guido does y or this Ellee Seymour person – who is she? – does z?

Get over it.
Lead by example.

Donald, yes, I was a little coy. I suppose I’m not really interested in supplying googlejuice – I think anyone reading between the lines and using a search engine sensibly won’t have to look long to find examples.

Did you read my piece, Squid? The bloggers I allude to aren’t ignorable – they’re the go-to people when the MSM want a rentaquote but you want us to just let them get on dictating the level and style of debate in their corrosive fashion. If I saw any right-wing bloggers administering their own corrective then maybe I’d be more prepared to take you on board. And trust me, if you can point me to any left-wing blogs doing as I have described then, please, point me in their direction – I’d be only too happy to highlight what they’re doing.

Alix, I’m not really suggesting that we get in their and try to fight on their terms and turf. A number of people can tell you how futile that is. Rather, I’m disappointed that more bloggers aren’t interested in pointing out what’s going on. People go on about the Right stealing the march in blogging but fail to point out that some of them did it via some pretty disgusting practices. As for links, your first port of call should be Tim Ireland who shown the patience of a saint and forensically recorded what goes on.

Paul, as I said to Alix, I’m not really looking to take them on in an argument, rather to yell and tell. Expose these practices to wider scrutiny – let them run their blogs as they like, let’s just show the wider world what they’re up to. They’re the freaks not the norm. As I said, this really should cut across political lines. Left wingers have had a pop at Harry’s Place for some of their antics in the past – blocking inbound links, deleting comments etc – I’d have thought there must be right-wing bloggers who don’t like what some of their comrades get up to.

Chrisc, you’ve just done exactly what Justin and others know to be the problem – Labelled someone who has tried to root out the problem as ‘obsessive’.

It’s a sad fact that If you just highlight a problem and then move on, nothing changes. If you stick to resolving a problem, point out exactly what is going on, cataloguing evidence and timelines, you’ll get called names.

‘Comment shaping’ may be a problem on both sides, but I’ve only ever seen it myself on the right – On the bad sites, you’ll get ‘edited’, and swamped under a sudden deluge of ‘anonymous’ attacks (which are allowed to remain by the blog author) calling you anything from a nutcase to a paedophile. It devalues blogging greatly.

There we go ladies and gentlemen, our first ‘obsessive’ smear on Liberal Conspiracy! No more of that, thank you, ChrisC – go find one of the zoos where it’s tolerated.

If you’d got further than the first few lines ChrisC, you’d realise that far from ‘obsessive’, Tim Ireland cares deeply about the medium, its potential and the direction it’s currently being dragged. If LC and the wider liberal left are going to ‘address issues’ and take on the Right then they should be very much aware of what they’re going to be up against from some quarters.

Justin:

Like Alix, perhaps I’ve lead a sheltered blog-life, but I don’t really care what Guido or Iain Dale’s blogs have to say. I used to read a lot of Tim Ireland’s stuff 2-3 years ago, but I find the focus on Guido, Dale et al. to be utterly boring. I just can’t rouse the enthusiasm for caring about what they have to say; I long ago stopped believing that what they say has any relevance to me, much as I would not spend my days critiquing the output of the Daily Express or, for that matter, Hello! Magazine. They’re just not relevant, and I think that defining ourselves in opposition to them makes them appear far more relevant than they are.

It’s a cheap cliche, but I’m reminded of the old saw about ‘those who spend their time fighting monsters’ etc. Your post strikes me as off-puttingly vitriolic (Guido and Dale are a ‘disease’, those who do not do their utmost to oppose them are ‘fools’). I’m with you in your opposition to dishonest practices, but I think that the best strategy is to cut off their oxygen supply. The more we talk about them, the more traffic they will get.

ChrisC is the kind of person who berated the Washington Posts’ reporters Woodward and Bernstein for banging on month after month about Watergate…

They were criticised as obsessives and the paper was berated for being too aggressive/nitpicky/obsessive/liberal of the Nixon administration..

Not unlike the BBC’s Gilligan and his obsessive approach to the WMD 45 min story.

It’s only obsession with these kind of issues that dig it out.
Pilger’s take on Vietnam and Cambodia – obsessive.
Sweeney’s take on Munchausen by Proxy (Angela Cannings) – obsessive
Fergal Keane’s take on Rwanda – obsessive.

If they weren’t obsessive, we wouldn’t have heard about it.

Wasn’t Geldof a bit obsessive about Ethiopia “give us your fucking money NOW”… ?

Don’t down manic obsession is a bugger (although it means you do get your car really clean when you take it to the local home) but Manic being obsessive? Yes, and it’s bloody good thing too.

I take your point Justin. Deleting or changing blog comments just because you don’t like them is pathetic.

It’s not just the Tory blogs that do it though. Will at DSTPFW is a major offender too.

When I was in prison and studied law, specialising in prison law, the opportunity arose to legally challenge the prison authorities, which I took, and I was very successful in the courts. I put this down to the fact that if the Prison Service was not breaking the law in the first place I could not win, and secondly my attention to detail. Very soon I was being called obsessive by those working for the system. One psychologist wrote in his report “Although Mr Hirst’s challenges are legitimate, because prison staff view him with negativity, therefore I recommend that he undertake a Enhanced Thinking Skills course to address the problem”.

Some while back Iain Dale announced on 18DS and his blog that he intended inviting me onto 18DS to talk about the prisoners votes case. Then the silence was deafening. I received no explanation from the great man himself. Then Tim Ireland and Unity took up the issue on their blogs. Iain Dale then said he would give me an explanation. However, his explanation that it was because he did not know about my past when he made the offer did not ring true. One only had to read my blog or Google me and my past was there to see if anyone did the least bit of research. Recently, Iain Dale interviewed Jeffery Archer on 18DS and he knew of his past. Whereas I admit my guilt, Jeffery Archer’s response to this question received a “no comment”. Later when the question was rephrased he dodged it altogether. I would say on this issue that I have the high moral ground.

In email exchanges with Iain Dale he accused Tim Ireland of attempting to police the internet and stalking him. Then he informed me that if I did not remove my link to Tim Ireland’s blog, he would remove his link to me in his blogroll. I refused and he carried out his threat. I did not respond by removing his link in my blogroll, however, I did post that Iain Dale was both a hypocrite and a liar. Neither accusation is libellous because they are true and I can prove it in a court of law if necessary. As for stalking, one only had to read the sockpuppets on Iain Dale’s blog following my comments. Only when I threatened Iain Dale with legal action did he curb this conduct from commenters.

I am not scared to get in the ring with Tory bloggers. In fact, neither Guido nor Iain Dale will get in the ring with me. And, I have seen comments on conservativehome stating “What are you doing on here jailhouselawyer I thought you were banned?”.

I have been watching recent developments on both Bloggerheads and Ministry of Truth. They seem to be doing ok. If I am needed I am only a email away.

Thank you, JHL and others.

Let me try to make this as exciting as possible for ChrisC:

Imagine for a moment that your direct political opponent has created an anonymous weblog and posted a photo of you, your name, details of your whereabouts and repeated claims that you’re a paedophile.

Just think about it. Isn’t that possibly the most *exciting* thing that could happen to you?

Blogger.com refuses to remove the item, and even when the person who does it is identified and caught red-handed, the matter is ignored by his (civil) employer, and superiors in his party all the way to the top.

Imagine also that this chain of authority figures would be far more likely to take the matter seriously if it became an issue that many other people took seriously, but the matter was ignored by senior bloggers with remarkably similar political allegiances to that of the culprit.

Having fun yet? Are you *excited*?

Oh, we haven’t even started yet.

Now put yourself in my place. You’ve just watched all of the above happen, seen the techniques used to achieve it, done your best to deal with it, and then noticed similar behaviour and techniques in use at the blogs of those who were in a position to do something about it, but chose to ignore it. You speak up about that and try to warn fellow bloggers of the possible consequences, and your reward is to be subjected to deeply personal attacks while your quite valid concerns are strategically described as a personal attack.

And all the while, there’s a series of (mostly anonymous) comments assuring those who express concern that they shouldn’t look at your evidence (it is boring) and that the best possible thing they can do is just let Dale, Staines etc. get on with it, because they can’t possibly do any harm to you or anyone else who is not looking in their general direction.

How’s that, ChrisC? Did it restore your will to live?

(Note – For the record, I’ve seen this behaviour from the left and the right. But mostly from the right. This could be down to the whole property/society thing mentioned above, or because it grew and festered in a circle of right wing ‘bloggers’ that followed the example set by Dale and Staines. On that note, I did not read Justin’s comment as calling a person as a disease, but rather describing certain parties as being responsible for a disease spreading.)

16. douglas clark

Tim ireland,

Given that I am a fairly boring chap, who watches daytime TV, can you not get a ‘no win, no fee’ deal to take on these folk?

but I think that the best strategy is to cut off their oxygen supply. The more we talk about them, the more traffic they will get.

I no longer think that is an option. Even Guardian journos these days spend their time reading about two blogs before they start plugging the above.

Rob:

Your post strikes me as off-puttingly vitriolic (Guido and Dale are a ‘disease’, those who do not do their utmost to oppose them are ‘fools’)

Please try and represent my comments correctly. I said

‘It’s a disease and it’s spreading fast.’

It’s a disease. It. Not they. By which I meant their methods not them themselves.

‘Tory central office would be fools’

Would be fools. Not are fools. Meaning that the methods employed can be rather effective at marginalising opponents. What political party wouldn’t want a new dirty trick in their arsenal?

Steve I’ve only just become aware of Will at DSTPFW in the last day or so (his critique of Liberal Conspiracy was hilarious). What kind of stuff does he get up to?

Justin: I apologise if I misrepresented your argument. Nevertheless, applying terms like ‘disease’ to the methods of others is bound to be emotive and unnecessarily so in my opinion. Bloggers derive their online identity from the act of blogging, so there’s not much of a difference between criticism of their methods and criticism of them personally. I’m aware that you have obviously spent a lot longer considering this issue than I have and you therefore have stronger views than I do, but I find the tone off-putting (sorry, just calling it as I see it).

Yes, the article Sunny links to does refer to Guido and Iain Dale, but only small references and only because they genuinely are the most prominent political bloggers. Not the best, not even necessarily the most-read, but the ones that everyone talks about. The way to displace them is not to write angry posts condemning them. Calling them the ‘shock troops of a resurgent Tory party’ is somewhat unfair to the majority of decent Conservative party members who would not condone the alleged actions undertaken by these bloggers, and the casual use of the phrase merely gives Conservatives the excuse of believing that they are under unfair attack themselves.

I remember when Iain Dale’s blog was fairly new, and a lot more interesting than it is now. I stopped reading it when the partisan agenda became too much to take, and he made a few too many dubious accusations against others. I stopped reading it because it was negative, and that’s largely the same reason that I stopped reading Tim Ireland too. If a group of people want to have some kind of ‘blog war’, that’s up to them, but I’ve no interest in getting dragged into the fight. I’m sure I could summon up some vitriolic invective about nasty Tory bloggers if I wanted to, I just don’t see what good it would do.

Consider for a moment that blogging is still a fairly new phenomenon and has a lot of potential to grow. To use the clichéd economic analogy, we’re better off aiming to for a bigger slice of a larger pie than trying to argue that someone else doesn’t deserve their share of the current pie. Most people in the real world haven’t heard of Guido, and I doubt t hat many of them would be inclined to trust him or listen to what he has to say in the first place. If we want tomorrow’s blog audience to listen to more reasonable voices then the challenge is to promote those reasonable voices. We can’t win some kind of blog war with Guido precisely because he can use all of the dirty tricks that we can’t.

Calling them the ’shock troops of a resurgent Tory party’ is somewhat unfair to the majority of decent Conservative party members who would not condone the alleged actions undertaken by these bloggers,

Time for them to put their heads above the parapet too and say this behaviour is unacceptable… and their Party leadership.

douglas clark:

The only outfit currently handling *libel* cases on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis is Carter Ruck. I am not likely to be using their services in the near future.

Rob Knight:

I’ve made it clear repeatedly that not all Tories are involved in this… but most of this activity appears to be coming from that end of the political spectrum and many Conservatives turn a blind eye because it suits them to do so. Take, for example, what happened in Guildford:
http://www.bloggerheads.com/anne_milton/2007/01/peek-boo.html

On personal attacks, I’ll accept some fault here. Some people are very talented at goading their opponents into an emotional state, which then allows them to play the victim (for a higher level of this at work, see the loaded question; “Why do they hate bush?”). But it’s getting easier to avoid this as time goes by, as the same patterns keep emerging and many of these tactics now have the feel of routine to them. But consider that one pattern that keeps emerging is the call to turn away.

I am expressing concern about personal attacks and the way in which they are conducted, and the culprits will usually respond by screaming “Personal attack!”. It turns people off and gives them good reason to ignore any evidence brought to light. Something to think about.

That said, I make no apologies about being emotional about the damage being done to the blogosphere. I hate the word, but love the place.

Finally, there is a big difference between people taking a stand against this kind of behaviour and engagement in a “blog war” (a tag first applied by Staines then Dale).

Tim, remember the old rule about not feeding the trolls? If they think you care, they’ll keep on posting. The worrying thing is that it looks like you do care, when you really shouldn’t.

Ironed Sardine’s blog contains the sort of nasty personal attack which I don’t think LC ought to involved with in any way. I argue that these comments be deleted. This site has a specific comment policy

Also, deleting links to nasty personal attacks is absolutely not the same as having legitimate questions deleted because they’re political awkward. To suggest otherwise would be downright bizarre.

Just making a note for the record, Rob. Apologies for being so amused by it.

And I agree with Garry on the deletion of comments like this.

I’ve deleted all related comments. The comments policy is quite clear, don’t know why some people find it so hard to read 🙂

Erm…Sunny, what did Jonz or I say that was offensive enough to get us deleted?

Hell, I didn’t even swear.

I like deleting j0nz’s comments, it’s fun. And he loves playing the victim of some conspiracy or other, so we all win! I just deleted some of the other comments directly relating to him etc.

29. Susan Francis

This happens to women on the internet all the time. I didn’t know it happened to male political bloggers too (but without the gender-based insults and threats of sexualised violence, presumably), but I’m not at all surprised. The most effective counter I’ve seen to the trolling variety is an aggressive comment moderation policy – apparently implemented here; good – but I don’t know a solution to when they do it in their own space. Maybe naming and shaming will work?
Now I have to go and do other stuff. There is too much on this site already to keep up with.

>>”Even Guardian journos these days spend their time reading about two blogs before they start plugging the above”

Ummm, Sunny – the article was written by Bobbie Johnson. Blogger since the year dot, and long-term writer about blogs for the Guardian.

I’m sure you approve of the rest of the selections though.

Back on-topic, I’m afraid I’m pessimistic (although sympathetic) about the concept of ‘fighting back’. The general public know very well that the News of the World’s methods are sometimes Not Cricket. But they don’t care enough not to buy or read it. I can’t believe they’d be more discerning about blogs.

First things first, it’s nice to welcome a new blog on the block.

I don’t agree with the argument that this is a rightist phenomenon, as in my opinion it is something that a lot of leftist blogs are guilty of as well. The aim seems to be to smear and run, without leaving the victim any chance to reply. I don’t mind the smears, it is the failure to link that gets my goat. People can say want they like about me, for instance, as I have my own platform to reply on. However, if the attack comes without a link then that reply is obviously muted.

Let me give you two examples of this tactic in action. This chancer decided to run in the recent Best UK Blog contest. If you read his posting you will see that he lists every candidate except one, Neil Clark, the eventual winner. Sure, people could find Neil’s site via Google, but that is not the point. It is an example of the smear, run and don’t link attitude that far too many blogs have.

A better example would be this smear that was directed at both Neil and myself from Harry’s Place. Do you see a link anywhere? Neither do I. My reply was probably read by quite a few people, but not all. That’s the point.

So, attack by all means, we are the lineal descendants of the old pamphleteers, but link to the people you attack and let folk get both sides of the story.

I didn’t decide to run. I didn’t even know I’d been nominated until the short-list was announced.

And I didn’t smear Neil, I just said that I didn’t want him to win because of what he wrote about the Iraqi interpreters.

Exlie, I agree that this isn’t an exclusively rightist phenomenon and agree with your position on linking. As you say, let folk get both sides of the story.

I’m most concerned about certain rightist bloggers because they claim to be leading British political bloggers and do indeed have very large readerships.

If we’re going to protest when bloggers refuse to participate in honest debate while pretending that they do, it seems only sensible that we should deal with high profile examples first and foremost.

So what, if anything, can be done?

I don’t think it is right to dictate how other bloggers conduct themselves on their own blogs. If they want to deny the ability to debate legitimate points fairly while pretending that they allow it, that’s their right. But I do not believe that it is a good idea to continually allow people to gain advantage through dishonest conduct. For those of us who care about honest debate, I believe the correct response is to highlight these behaviours and make sure that the reality of the situation is widely known.

As such, I’m interested in sanbikinoraion’s suggestion above for a list of worst offenders. For it to work, however, there’d need to be a judging panel comprised of honest bloggers from all sides of the political spectrum.

One of the major culprits is the Adam Smith Institute Blog – the merest whiff of dissent from their party line gets your comment deleted. Trackbacks from posts elsewhere – deleted. Pretty quickly you get banned.

History here: http://ibanda.blogs.com/panchromatica/adam_smith_institute/index.html

They have also been know to edit posts retrospectively, without acknowledging that they have done so.

35. DamionKutaeff

Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your conmunity,
and wish to assit as far as possible.


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