In a free state, tongues too should be free


8:50 am - June 2nd 2008

by Jim Jepps    


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The Declaration of Human Rights (article 19) states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Which looks like a reasonable starting point to me.

Except we’ve never held to this idea in its purest form. It’s generally accepted that it should be an offence to slander someone, to incite illegal acts, to distribute child pornography – most of us don’t believe people should be able to say anything they please regardless of the consequences.

Nor do we accept that everyone should have access to all media outlets. Newspapers aren’t like wikis where everyone has equal say on the content, which is what makes them readable and useful. There is quality control for a start. People talk about the free press but the last time I looked you have to have quite a lot of money to own a newspaper, and I don’t think I’m being entirely cynical to think this might influence the content therein, but it’s an accepted fact of life.

I think when we talk about free speech we usually mean where restrictions on free expression should be the exception rather than the rule. That doesn’t mean that you don’t hear people bringing up freedom of speech as if it is some sort of universal rule – it’s just that those people are wrong and usually don’t believe it themselves.

The heirs of Voltaire
Having said all this I should clarify I agree with freedom of speech as a general rule with those limited exceptions that are generally accepted. A society where people have the leeway to say radical, mad, stupid, offensive and wrong things is far preferable to one where any group imposes strict controls on what can and cannot be said. So, for instance, the concept of free speech zones looks pretty repugnant to me.

The right to transgress against accepted truths is a good one, it just isn’t one that has descended from heaven. To limit those freedoms isn’t heresy but normal and accepted practice, despite the fact that we see the term censor as a purely pejorative one.

I suspect the way we apply “freedom of speech” is based upon what consequences we find acceptable, which is an undoubtedly subjective criteria. In other words it’s not how distasteful we find an idea but how distasteful we find the results of it having been expressed.

We don’t want the reputation of innocent people smeared so we limit what can be said about someone. We don’t want children sexually abused so we find the distribution of such images to be unacceptable.

We don’t want to see Jews pumped into gas chambers so all decent, thinking people don’t want to see fascists come to power. Those who died in the gas chambers did not die because their arguments were not up to scratch but because a racist goon doesn’t need clever ripostes when backed by a mass movement supported by the State.

Harpymarx says that: “Fascism does not gain its political force from the coherence of its ideas. It derives its force from being a movement that will use the most extreme measures”.

Some think that the opportunity to pull apart the semi-literate ramblings of those like Richard Barnbrook will be enough to prevent attacks like this one by BNP members on a female anti-racist campaigner on Friday morning. I don’t agree.

For me the key to applied freedom of expression is taking a sensible and considered approach in context rather than a blanket free-for-all which, if actually applied, would lead to an escalation of murder, abuse, and other detestable behaviour.

This means I’m not for banning the BNP from having a website or publishing their journal but I am opposed to the Daily Telegraph giving Barnbrook his own space on their website.

By allowing him, and a number of other fascist bloggers, to associate with a mainstream paper isn’t just a parlour game of manners but is to flirt with those who’d bring pain, misery and heartache to millions in this country not in words – but in deeds.

——————
A longer version of this article appears here.

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Media ,Race relations

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Reader comments


i understand where your coming from but it’s just not true, because in papers and on TV’s we dont argue against these peoples arguments head on, people are led to believe that what they say is the truth. Arguing them in to corners is the only way to prove that they are wrong. Your right about having to have alot of money to own papers aswellm i think this is why pretty much all papers now are highly pro-market, although i am too i don’t believe that people who aren’t have a place to see their views expressed.
Also with the whole nazi thing, just because you say people cant be racist in public doesnt mean they’re not, driving it underground will only make these parties more miltitant

Banning Barnbrook’s blog on the telegraph won’t stop that sort of attack either though will it? The woman has unfortunately been the victim of people that disagree with her campaigns with acts of violence. Having some idiot on a blog trying to espouse racial hatred isn’t doing anything to make these people further violent, they are already repugnant and violent fascist.

I think some people tend to forget that unfortunately in this country and world there are extremely bigoted, racists and also violent individuals. If the BNP wasn’t there then there would be another cause for them to lend their name too. These people may be dwindling in population as the population gets more educated or they may be even thriving, who knows, but the point is that they exist and there is actually relatively little we can do without catching them out lawfully to stop them.

The question about things like Barnbrook’s blog is does it recruit MORE people to the BNP’s cause, and my opinion is emphatically that it doesn’t, and I would love to see some evidence that shows that the ramblings of fascists in a media that can be readily and regularly opposed with free debate actually cause people to turn in to fascists.

Unfortunately the attitudes of people like this article author seem to be about wrapping people up in cotton wool, as surely if the blog is bad, then so is freedom of expression that makes you a target of abuse. Should we not be banning people also from campaigning against the BNP lest thugs decide to beat them up for their views, if what this is all about is really stopping “bad things happening(tm)” forever?

For someone that claims they don’t agree with blanket free-for-alls, you’re perilously close to making such a generalised judgement.

I think that you are confusing ‘freedom of speech’ with ‘freedom to seize the power of a printing press owned by someone else’. The right to express yourself doesn’t extend to your right to walk up to anyone with a megaphone and demand the right to borrow it. And freedom of expression does not meant the right to deface walls with graffiti for example (although I may respect such acts as deliberate civil disobedience in some contexts). Free speech can remain absolute, in that you can write or say whatever you like using any means that you lawfully possessed (i.e. you bought them!), and that your speech doesn’t threaten the life or property of another individual (in other words, threats or incitement to violence).

The token of “child pornography” is perhaps the most dangerous (and quite recent) precedent to threaten this, and it works because the content is conjures up is utterly repugnant and distasteful to the vast majority of people. The unintended consequences of making possession of child porn illegal, however, is massive and probably outweighs the benefit of outlawing it. It means that rather than having millions of net users as allies in detecting real, actually happening, child abuse – only a small team of police officers are actually “allowed” to look at and detect evidence. If mere possession of child pornography was not a crime, anyone coming across it could immediately report it as evidence of abuse to the police without any fear of being prosecuted – essentially making child porn impossible to sell or distribute over the internet in anything but the tightest networks. As it is, people are more apt to delete and forget, leaving a wide open space for porn to be distributed. Thus creating a crime against expression actually helps to cover up the real crimes that violate the rights of children.

“People talk about the free press but the last time I looked you have to have quite a lot of money to own a newspaper”

As good a confusion of free speech and free beer as I’ve seen in a while.

“Some think that the opportunity to pull apart the semi-literate ramblings of those like Richard Barnbrook will be enough to prevent attacks like this one by BNP members on a female anti-racist campaigner on Friday morning.”

Does anyone actually think that? The bar for whether it should be free speech isn’t whether it’ll stop racist beatings, it’s whether it will incite them. And the point is that speech seems to be irrelevant either way, as your quote illustrates:

“Fascism does not gain its political force from the coherence of its ideas. It derives its force from being a movement that will use the most extreme measures”.

So if it doesn’t derive it’s political force from ideas so much as it’s extreme measures, why worry about them expressing their ideas?

5. douglas clark

I’m not convinced by this article. It seems to me that they make fools of themselves whenever they open their mouths or tap a keyboard. Barnbrook, for instance, has already called for the Army to occupy the streets, presumeably of London. I’d have thought most folk would have seen that as a hysterical overreaction, but we are so affeared that it might resonate with the populace at large that we think the answer is to shut him up. I do not agree, the more ludicrous he becomes, the more isolated he will become. It is the electorate that you are not trusting here.

With the usual caveats about calls to violence, etc, etc.

For me the key to applied freedom of expression is taking a sensible and considered approach in context rather than a blanket free-for-all

Then you are a totalitarian ar*ehole, with less right to discuss freedom of speech than Robert Mugabe, since what you actually mean is “I am pro free-expression, as long as we can decide what’s appropriately ‘free’ ”

It was the use of the term “applied” which gave it away .

“Then you are a totalitarian ar*ehole”

Why not just call him a Nazi and get it over with?

….because I have no idea if he is one. He is totalitarian though, because he wants to restrict freedom of expression based on what he deems to be offensive or not.

9. Woobegone

It’s ironic how the word “totalitarian” has taken on meanings so different from its original sense. Now it seems to mean “insufficiently libertarian” for some people. It’s almost – dun dun DUN! – Orwellian!

I think you are over-exaggerating the word totalitarian David. I wouldn’t say someone who is in favour of freedom of expression within reason is totalitarian. Is there a word for someone who decides to do something simply because they fear the outcomes of not doing something? I’m on a brain drain hour.

I love this – I think it’s cool!

David: “Then you are a totalitarian ar*ehole, with less right to discuss freedom of speech…”

So because you think everyone should be able to say anything they like, you think I shouldn’t have the *right* to say something you disagree with.

I love you and I want to marry you, do you prefer short or long engagements?

You always know someone’s on dodgy ground when they bring the Mugabe out on you.

Other, more interesting, points:

“Arguing them in to corners is the only way to prove that they are wrong.”

I wish that were true, but I fear it doesn’t work that way. Now, partly, that’s a failure on “our” part to convince those who are sympathetic to what the BNP say that it’s as stupid as we think, but it’s also because it’s not just an ideological struggle – it’s a physical one too. Proving the BNP is wrong in an argument is not the same thing as preventing a rise of fascism in the UK.

“just because you say people cant be racist in public doesnt mean they’re not”

Unforunately that’s true. But the key issue, for me, is the ability to organise racist gangs and become a significant political force. Lots of demoralised racists is better than lots of confident organised ones.

I should clarify I’m not for making it illegal for the telegraph to host his blog. I’m saying they are wrong to host and I’d like them to stop.

On confusing owning the press and freedom of the press – it was a semi-joke, but one that tries to make an important point I hope. Because the major media outlets are all owned by either the state or large corporations it means that the agenda of the media is not set in a directly democratic way but influenced by money and power – but this is an argument for a different post, so I don’t want to get side tracked.

“because he wants to restrict freedom of expression based on what he deems to be offensive or not.”

I definately didn’t say that. What I did say was that “it’s *not* how distasteful we find an idea but how distasteful we find the results of it having been expressed.”

In other words I don’t care how offensive you are (in terms of your right to speak) – I only care if you’re words have the effect of significantly increasing race hate attacks. In fact I’d say this argument applies to things I *don’t* find offensive in themselves but are likely to have objectionable consequences. The classic example is shouting the word fire in a crowded theatre. The word fire is not offensive – but in the context it endangers lives.

It’s not the words I care about, it’s deeds that follow.

I agree that David is exaggerating by using the word ‘totalitarian’. However, we should be wary of those who claim they are fit to decide what we may and may not say and who we may or may not associate with.

The European Convention on Human Rights goes further than the UN Declaration and says in legal terms what Jim Jepps seems to be getting at:

The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Freedom of expression seems something of a misnomer – rolls off the tongue easily, gives us a nice warm feeling, but is a little inaccurate. The above sounds reasonable but what are we relying on in the end? How do we test what meets those criteria? There lies the problem. That is what discussions about freedom of expression boil down to – who/what is fit to decide what we may or may not express?

As an aside I have never seen anyone reasonable claim we should all have free access to the printing press, and rightly so. I like the expression “confusing free speech with free beer” – it seems apposite here.

I greatly dislike the allusion to Nazi Germany – the context of which cannot be reasonably summarised in a throwaway line about Jews and gas ovens – and I think it demeans the Holocaust and those who fought and suffered at the time, and freedom of expression itself (among those liberties that were fought for), .

Can we dispense with the notion that the Daily Telegraph ‘gave’ Barnbrook a plaftorm? It implies some sort of activity on the Daily Telegraph’s part, when all it did was to have a blogging platform setup for the use of the public. There is no evidence that the Daily Telegraph gave him anything more than they give any member of the public. There is no evidence they solicited his views. Also there is no evidence it increased the likelihood of the campaigner being attacked by thugs. By the way, did anyone complain about specific T&C violations, or did they just complain that he is member of the BNP and therefore the Telegraph should pull his blog?

Incidentally Barnbrook hasn’t updated his blog since 26 May. He could be ill, or perhaps his advisors said, “you are making yourself and the party look like fools, please shut up or you definitely won’t get to be MP for Dagenham.”

ukliberty – I think the additional quote you provide kind of backs up my point doesn’t it? That most of us think that some infringement on freedom of expression is exceptable – but that we want to see those infringements kept to an absolute minimum.

Actually large numbers of us do have access to printers now – but not to distribution networks – and I’m not arguing that we all should. I’m simply pointing to the fact that the way we organise the media brings with it a specific form of bias. Rather than a different form that a different system might introduce.

I certainly do not mean any disrespect to those who died in the holocaust, and apologies if you were offended – but as we are discussing how fascism comes to power it seems a legitimate example to me. It is an important point that those who suffer at the hands of fascism do not do so because they lost an intellectual context, and beating their arguments is not always sufficient. I’m not sure this is as controversial a point as some people seem to think it is.

i can’t say what others said when they wrote the Telegraph but I know I pointed to his violations in their stated policies. And I say again the Telegraph are responsible for what is on their site and they have consciously made a number of BNP bloggers “featured bloggers” so they are not unaware by-standers here.

“who/what is fit to decide what we may or may not express?”

Well you could apply that “fit to decide” to any law, but I think there is a clear difference between a dictatorship ruthlessly preventing any disagreement, and an elected representative democracy enacting laws to prevent incitement to racial hatred or ensuring employees of the state don’t hold views that would see them act in a discriminatory fashion.

But Jim the problem lies in what is “an absolute minimum” and who decides what that is.

I did not understand from your sample letter what specifically you believed violated the T&Cs.

I was unaware that the BNP bloggers were made featured bloggers. What is the process here? Is it random, based on hits, or is it a staff decision? This makes no difference, by the way, to the contention that Barnbrook was not ‘given’ a blog.

My point about the Nazis related to the fact that they did not come to power merely because they expressed their views but also because of the situation that Germany was in after the First World War. It is the failures of other German politicians, ordinary Germans, and other European states, that helped the Nazi rise to power – it is about context. The Nazis were born from and took advantage of this context.

This idea is I think what I and some other commenters were trying to express in response to related articles and comments on LC in the past few days: I think there is a problem in Britain that mainstream politicians are failing to get to grips with people’s concerns about immigration. Such concerns may be ill-founded and poorly expressed, but mainstream politicians don’t seem to be properly addressing them. I believe that is where the real danger lies – not in people like Barnbrook making public fools of themselves, or any sense of legitimacy you might get from a My Telegraph blog, but in normal people turning to Barnbrook’s ilk because he at least is appearing to address their concerns.

Obviously they will be disappointed in the end, but it would be nice if we didn’t have to make that mistake in order to have mainstream politicians eventually do their jobs properly.

But I think that it helps if the BNP’s arguments are soundly taken apart by their opponents – and it also helps if the BNP make themselves look like the fools they are.

“That most of us think that some infringement on freedom of expression is exceptable – but that we want to see those infringements kept to an absolute minimum.”

You’re not wrong as far as I’m concerned.

“It is an important point that those who suffer at the hands of fascism do not do so because they lost an intellectual context, and beating their arguments is not always sufficient.”

But a balance can never be struck on this, if you start banning one area of non-incendiary speech because it may or may not end up causing some disturbed individual to do physical harm to people you just start down a slippery slope. The law is there to stop people being able to actually stir up hatred and confrontation between different groups of people and that is great, it’s the right way to limit freedom of speech in a liberal manner, but it is also the last point at which we can do so before we start verging on the realm of censoring honest, if not distasteful, opinion because someone or some group of people arbitarily decides it might not be helpful to a peaceful society.

On Who Decides: I think people seem to be treating this as a zero sum game. To characture for a moment I don’t think the question is – Either I think I should should decide, on my own, or nobody should.

I quite like participatory democracy – and I think we should find a fair and open way of making decisions in society not just on this question but all questions. At the moment we have Parliament and some laws enforced, or not, by the police – that’ll do for now.

I’ve not attempted to deal with who runs Britain in this post but I think the idea that there should be a process whereby we put limitations of freedom of expression (as now) seems reasonable. We can talk about what the best way of doing that is – of course.

i think Planeshifts point is important here.

If you have a quick look at the T and C’s you’ll see the breaches straight away.

We should take apart the BNP arguments, of course, I’m not arguing against that and never have.

“Balance can never be struck on this” I agree. It’s an art not a science in my opinion.

This means I’m not for banning the BNP from having a website or publishing their journal but I am opposed to the Daily Telegraph giving Barnbrook his own space on their website.

So it should be legal for an ISP to host a BNP website but illegal for a newspaper? What an absurd distinction — and likely to become a meaningless one soon too, as different parts of the media merge onto the Internet.

“Such concerns may be ill-founded and poorly expressed, but mainstream politicians don’t seem to be properly addressing them. ”

Except they are addressing them. There have been numerous pieces of legislation passed to deal with it, numerous policy announcments and numerous immigrants deported and detained. The opposition are also always trying to tell us of their proposals to limit immigration, such as points systems (now adopted apparently). You may have noticed that “properly addressing” the concerns of the ignorant led to the situation where people in Iraq who worked for the British Army were refused entry because the home office would rather leave people die than fail to “properly address” people’s concerns over immigration.

Cabalamat: Even in the quote you supply i didn’t say it should be illegal for the Telegraph to supply this blog and I’ve already said “I should clarify I’m not for making it illegal for the telegraph to host his blog. I’m saying they are wrong to host and I’d like them to stop.”

So your straw man looks rather flimsy to me. These discussions would probably be slightly more constructive without distorting other people’s arguments.

“I should clarify I’m not for making it illegal for the telegraph to host his blog. I’m saying they are wrong to host and I’d like them to stop.”

So let’s get this straight – someone does something COMPLETELY LEGAL in a private arrangement between an individual and a legitimate business – but because YOU don’t like it – you’d like them to stop. And you wrote this Article on Liberal Conspiracy!!

Holy shit, you’re in the wrong place, mate.

Jim, I can’t see any breaches of T&Cs that’s why I read your letter a few times and asked in comments here what other people felt were breaches. I’m not trying to score points – not trying to play a game – I genuinely can’t see any breaches. Please spell them out.

I think Lee @ 18 is spot on – not sure about the hatred bit, but going along with it for now.

I don’t understand Planeshift’s point @ 16 – obviously there is a clear difference. Did I give the impression that I think a ruthless dictatorship is equivalent to a benign democracy? (What about a ruthless democracy and a benign dictatorship?)

Planeshift @ 21 – if say a person concerned about housing prices thinks that one of the pressures on housing prices is the amount of immigration we have experienced over the past decade, how would you address that?

25. Woobegone

No he’s not. He’s saying he doesn’t like it but it shouldn’t be illegal. That IS liberalism, in one sentence.

@Woobegone.

Eh? No, he’s not.

He’s saying he doesn’t like it, it shouldn’t be illegal – <b<but he’d like them to stop anyway.

That ain’t no Liberalism I’m aware of.

“if say a person concerned about housing prices thinks that one of the pressures on housing prices is the amount of immigration we have experienced over the past decade, how would you address that?”

Either try and persuade them that immigration has very little to do with the rise in house prices or if they are totally hysterical ignore them.

As a seperate policy bring house prices down – but thats another topic.

But house prices are part of the context operated in by parties seeking to exploit such concerns. Politicians should be looking at the jigsaw and deciding on the appropriate approach to its pieces – as you rightly say, persuasion, short shrift, or economic adjustments. I would add, they should also avoid exploiting such concerns themselves. Can we honestly say the mainstream is doing all it can? Labour for example seems to exploit concerns about immigration from time to time.

I’m not particularly worried whether people want to stick the label Liberal on me or not – that’s a particualrly sterile way of arguing and isn’t going to convince anyone of anything.

So “because YOU don’t like it – you’d like them to stop”

Yes, that’s right. I’d like them to stop. I’ve even asked them nicely.

If someone were to suggest that we make it illegal however I’d try to persuade them that that would be the wrong course of action. Sorry if that annoys you but I do think that’s compatible with liberalism (whether I am one or not).

Otherwise we are saying that no liberal has ever said “oh *do* shut up”. No liberal has ever been angry that a newaper has printed an outrageous article, and thought it wrong of them to print it. No liberal editor has ever decided not to print something submitted to them on the grounds of taste, decency or political illiteracy.

Just because something is legal does not mean it is right. I think they should have the right to host Barnbrook’s blog but I don’t think that they are right to do it. This is all simple stuff to be honest.

Terms and conditions can be found here Here are the “juicy bits”.

Just as an appetiser…
2. Your continued use of the Site constitutes your agreement to all such Terms.

(so breach the terms and they’ll boot you off – those damn authoritarians – why don’t they just go and kiss Mugabe?)

Users must
4.3.1. comply with all applicable laws, regulations and codes;

4.3.6 not post, transmit, submit, refer to, make available or link to or from (or authorise or permit any other person to do the same) any material which:

a) is untrue, fraudulent, inaccurate or misleading; and/or

b) is obscene, threatening, menacing, offensive, defamatory, abusive, is in breach of confidence, in breach of any intellectual property right (including, without limitation, copyright) or otherwise is in breach of or violates any applicable law or regulation or code, and/or

5.1.7. you waive any moral rights in all material you submit
(just added this last one for fun – it’s not part of my argument – just amusing)

So leaving aside his cut and pasting from Littlejohn (breaching copyright) and the fact that if you stop people posting things that are untrue the entire world wide web will come crashing down around our ears….

he’s argued that (among other things)

– all immigrants are to blame for everything
– therapists are all rapists
– the police should break the law to get crime down (surely it would go up if they did that, never mind)
– send the army in to sort out ethnic crime

This doesn’t breach 4.3.6?

Incitement to racial hatred and Incitement to commit criminal acts (which I think is now called encouraging or assisting crime, although that might not have come in yet actually) breaches 4.3.1

I mean I’ve not read all his posts so I’m sure there is plenty of other wild ramblings that breach the t and c but I believe I’ve established i have a point on this. I’m open to correction of course.

So let’s get this straight – someone does something COMPLETELY LEGAL in a private arrangement between an individual and a legitimate business – but because YOU don’t like it – you’d like them to stop. And you wrote this Article on Liberal Conspiracy!!

Grrrrrr… here we go again.

I’m not going to get into defending the name of the blog again.

But have a look at this story:
http://mwcnews.net/content/view/22941&Itemid=1

Americans received a good dose of conservative idiocy over the weekend.

The dose, which almost defies belief, involves noted conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, who got upset with a television advertisement by Dunkin Donuts that featured 30-minute chef Rachel Ray.

The reason for Malkin’s distress over the commercial? The war on terrorism, a war that excites conservatives even more than the war on drugs, the war on communism, or the war on immigrants.

Malkin went ballistic because in the commercial Rachel is wearing a scarf that bears a resemblance to a kaffiyeh, a traditional scarf worn by Arab men, which apparently some people in the Middle East view as a symbol for Palestinian independence and Islamic radicalism.

So, there you have it: Rachel Ray, the chef who shows people how to make 30-minute meals, and Dunkin Donuts, the company selling donuts and coffee, secretly and subliminally promoting terrorism and al-Qaeda and maybe even anti-Semitism.

when Jim Jay says he would rather the Telegraph not host a blog by a fascist, then it doesn’t mean he wants to make it illegal…. any more than the conservative nutjobs in the US who complained against the above ad wanted to make certain garments illegal.

I really despair when people look at such debates about free speech in black/white terms and start throwign around ‘totalitarian’ with abandon.

jim jay:

It was Mad Mel he cut and pasted, but other than that, broadly agree.

This is the problem with the paper giving free reign for people to start their own blogs without checks or any kind of screening process. While blogger and wordpress or whoever do the same thing, they’re not giving the impression that the content has somehow been approved by a somewhat respected broadsheet newspaper.

I doubt anyone at the paper had a clue that Barny had started a blog there at all until either the Graun or someone else brought it to their attention – and from that point the paper had to choose between giving the BNP a platform or appearing to be part of the Politically-Correct establishment.

But whether or not it was a deliberate decision – the blog’s there now, and it seems to have been abandoned for a week. The longer it stays that way, the more rubbish it looks as it gets invaded by white supremacist nutbars, and the more damage it does to the BNP’s attempts at looking more reasonable and serious. The best thing is probably to ignore it until it fizzles out – only stopping to pull apart the less dribbly posts.

Having said that though – it could be back next week. I’m pretty sure I saw a disclaimer when I signed up saying that users would be temporarily banned on their first offence – and a couple of the more blatant anti-immigration sentences have been removed.

The Telegraph doesn’t appear to be as open as the Graun or even the Daily Express with its deletions. I was just about to start a reply to someone who had argued that the tiniest amount of black genes would make a person more violent, that apartheid South Africa had the right idea and included references to ‘mud people’ when I noticed it had disappeared and another message urging us to blame the ‘p*kis’ has gone without so much as a mention.

In that case, we should be prepared to out argue the main posts, which isn’t difficult, bat down the crazyloons who have racist websites that seem to refer to phrenology, and point out every breach of the terms of service until he gets permanently banned.

I think people put too much stock in terms and conditions, being articles of laws that are really only there so that if you pretty much post anything that isn’t a copy pasted fact from the encyclopaedia Britannica there’s a chance you could get it removed “legitimately” thanks to the terms and conditions. It’s like all those good ol’ terms and conditions of use that say “We reserve the right to terminate your account for any reason”. The rules are there to let the telegraph delete what people say legally and hassle free, not really because they believe in all of those terms. If they did the majority of the blog posts on their site would have to be removed thanks to something as simple as having untruths posted on them!

If websites wish to be more proactive and sensible with their terms and conditions then that’s their game, but in reality they’re not there to protect anyone but the owner of the site.

“So because you think everyone should be able to say anything they like, you think I shouldn’t have the *right* to say something you disagree with.”

Nah, you have every right TO SAY that other people should have their free speech infringed on the basis of your ideology. But if you do, you are quite apt to be called a totalitarian. This is what free speech is all about! You get to say we shouldn’t have a right to free speech on things, and we get to call you names that, annoying for you as they are, are quite accurate.

Incidentally, totalitarian is an apt description since free speech is the cornerstone of all other rights in any society, since it is how political discourse happens. It is also essential for the functioning of a market as it allows information about products and services to be spread without being vetted by a central agency. In other words, the first thing you would do in order to take away from liberties, would be to start defining speech codes.

Also, I feel using UN declarations as a basis for human rights is rather akin to quoting the Catholic church’s doctrine as if it was an authority on human rights. Owing to both organisations’ propensity for turning a blind eye to systematic child abuse taking place under their aegis, neither deserve to be quoted with undue reverence.


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