Always link, even to your enemies

1:00 pm - August 4th 2011

by Robert Sharp    

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In my morning trawl through the Internet recently, I noticed two examples of a practice that has become mainstream: denying the object of your opprobrium a link.

First, the fascinating Brian Kellet writes this, in a fisk of a Liz Jones column about the NHS says:

I’m not going to link to the original story because I don’t want to send visitors to the rag that is the Daily Mail.

Then, in a battle of the pseudonyms, highly respected legal blogger Jack of Kent decides that he is going to have an argument with Gudio Fawkes, but without actually namechecking Guido or linking to the ridiculous Death Pentalty campaign he just launched.

I’m particularly disappointed in Jack of K, as he writes, in his very next post, that one should “use links and sources wherever possible.”

Linking out, regardless of whether you agree with the person you”re linking to, should be the standard for blogging, just as it is for academia. It is the link to sources which gives the work credibility.

In contrast, anonymous gossip disguised as lobby reporting is one of the reasons why there is so little trust in journalists at the moment (a topic discussed at the recent POLIS journalism conference, where I asked a panel of spin doctors and hacks whether the press should abolish anonymous sources)… and the fact that a tabloid does not have to cite its sources is one of the reasons why #Hackgate could happen.

Moreover, we know that our online bubbles are not as diverse as we like to think. Safe silos like Facebook actually filter content to prioritise those people that you already agree with, and our failure to link out just strengthens the confirmation bias.

I disagree with Paul Staine’s worldview and his approach to blogging, but I do actually want to know what he is saying about the death penalty, the better to campaign against him.

So, just as we’ve stopped using the Blame The Daily Mail cliche as a substitute for actual political analysis, can we have a moratorium on the whole “I’m not linking to those people” schtick, please?

I know we can Google pretty much anything we want to these days, but not everything appears on page one of the results. Worse, a failure to link looks a bit sly and scheming. Let’s leave the obfuscation and misdirection to those outlets with lower standards: The Newspapers.


Over at my own place, Jack of Kent gives an explanation:

I simply wanted my post to be a stand-alone statement against capital punishment, for use in future debates as well as in the current one. In fact, I had not read Guido’s post; I just knew generally that he had launched some campaign. Accordingly, I was not even arguing against him – I had no idea what his arguments were. All I wanted to do was refer to the context of my post generally, and then make a general argument against capital punishment, rather than it being seen as a direct reply to anyone.

Had I linked to anyone it would have been misleading, as I was not “replying” to anyone in particular.

I’m particularly disappointed in Jack of K, as he writes, in his very next post, that one should “use links and sources wherever possible.”

I am particularly disappointed that you have jumped, clearly without really thinking this through, to an adverse view

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments

Isyosty is there for people who want to cite the Daily Heil without giving their website the commercial benefit of additional traffic.

The problem with linking to sites like the Daily Mail is that they profit from any site visits you provide them. This doesn’t keep the dialog alive and honest, it simply creates a situation where the most provocative position is the one that makes the most money.

Linking to people is fine in principle but damaging in practice.

3. Flowerpower

Good argument, well put.
Nice to see someone putting the ‘liberal’ back into LC.

@2 see @1

OP – good article. Shouldn’t need to be said really (we all berate Hari for not giving references after all), the blogworld can get sloppy at times with sources etc.

5. Shatterface

‘Linking out, regardless of whether you agree with the person you”re linking to, should be the standard for blogging, just as it is for academia. It is the link to sources which gives the work credibility.’

Agree, absolutely.

It might cause problems where you link to articles beyond a paywall, or to sites with ‘adult content’, but if you warn people beforehand I think it should be standard practice.

Yes, I agree but up to a point. I don’t want to link to the EDL, the BNP and others for the simple reason that my blog will be infested by a load of knuckle-dragging racists if I do.

I actually provide a broken link, by the way. So I do link but not directly.

8. Mr Eugenides

This started out as not linking to BNP bloggers, which is fair enough I suppose, but has blossomed into something of a problem over the last few years.

I’d also suggest, as non-confrontationally as possible, that it’s overwhelmingly a practice of left-wing blogs. You don’t tend to see people fisking Polly Toynbee while refusing to link to the Guardian.

Not linking smells of the worst sort of self-righteous illiberal censorship that is actually suggesting that such opinions are not allowed to be expressed.

Do you people have lives or jobs
Far too much time on your hands.
As for Liz Jones , is she the same Liz that posted on the Hari thread.
Mr E
What a amusing moniker ?

I’ll repeat.
Linking too confrontational sources is fine in practice, but damaging in practice.

And the “not linking to the other side of the argument” thing happens on both sides. I’ve seen it from liberal and conservative commentators.


We have neither lives nor jobs. As lefties, we spend our days sponging from the state. Indeed, I am writing this from my £6,000 pound laptop I got for my “dyslexia” and I’m doing it from the 5 bedroom house paid for out of my Housing Benefit.

Yay Me!!

A forum I help run inserts before all links so that they can’t be traced back to you.

For those that’ve learned the basics of coding, putting rel=”nofollow” into the link stop Google tracing the link so you’re not helping them get googlejuice and improved searchr esults, I still do this on occasions.

Frankly, the amount of traffic the Mail’s going to get from a few bloggers is tiny, and Guido gets enough traffic as it is. Always link, even if you use a MITM site like Anonym.TO or a proxy display site like IstYosty that way people can check what you’re saying.

We have neither lives nor jobs. As lefties, we spend our days sponging from the state. Indeed, I am writing this from my £6,000 pound laptop I got for my “dyslexia” and I’m doing it from the 5 bedroom house paid for out of my Housing Benefit
I agree, as most of the posters on the site are right wingers.
Where they find the time eh
Spongers and hypocrites.
Most of us lefties have jobs.
6 grand for a laptop, I don’t think you dyslexia mate, Special needs I guess you little righty plonker

“self-righteous illiberal censorship”
But is it not an individuals choice, or do you believe in an authoritarian collectivist bloggers code.

A hyperlink (to use the unabbreviated term) is the hypertext version of a bibliographic reference. It’s up to the reader to decide whether or not to follow the link, and if so, how. And, of course, it’s up to the author to decide whether or not to give a link.

Not giving a link, while sufficiently conveying which web page is being referenced, doesn’t stop readers from visiting the referenced page. Such readers can go on to refer back to the linklessly referring page when communicating with the author or publisher of the referenced page (such as by posting a comment on the referenced page that links back to the referring page).

Web references can still be given without doing to in the form of hyperlinks, by giving the URL of the referenced page without marking the URL up as a hyperlink anchor. (Obviously this isn’t quite so straightforward when using, say, blogging software that automatically marks URLs up as hyperlink anchors. But on such points, there’s always the saying about bad workers blaming their tools.)

A long-standing problem with web browsers that’s relevant to this issue is the tendency of web browsers to automatically send the URLs of referring pages to the web servers serving up the referenced pages. This is what the misspelt “REFERER” HTTP header is for. I’ve always thought it was a bad idea, for privacy reasons. Here’s a relevant Wikipedia article:

If there’s something to campaign against, it’s the sending of REFERER headers by default. It’s a real privacy issue, since it means web servers collectively could well be quietly recording all or most of our travellings around the web. It’s a bit like the web as a giant, distributed, Stasi database logging almost every page we visit. And that’s before even mentioning cookies, advertising, Google, web stat counter thingies, etc.

The web, like Big Brother and the Stasi, is watching us.

Thanks all for the comments, all. I had not actually heard of Isyosty.

Mr E – actually that’s not true. A whole bunch of right-wing bloggers, especially Guido Fawkes, don’t follow such basic etiquette when it comes to their blogging too.

Staines for example linked to the PDF we published in the after-math of the AV campaign and did not say who published it first or where it came from. And he never links to Liberal Conspiracy.
I’m not bothered – I don’t want his window-lickers coming here. I’m just saying it’s not a left issue.

19. Chaise Guevara

So it doesn’t bother you that by bringing extra traffic to the DM and others, you are actually encouraging them to carry on printing bigoted crap by bringing them extra traffic and more money? They don’t care if people read their articles to agree or be outraged and the Jan Moir, Stephen Gately article was one of the most widely read articles the DM ever printed because of the controversy is caused .

The reason people like her keep printing such extremist rubbish is not because they actually believe it but because the more extreme it is the more money they make. By linking to it you are encouraging and rewarding hate speech.

I agree that it is necessary to site sources and provide proof for what you write, but as other posters have pointed out, sites like let you do this without rewarding the hatemongers. I also don’t see what’s wrong with reproducing a portion of text without linking to the original, as long as it is properly accredited. The bibliography of a book does not usually involve buying every reader a copy of every book cited and this is more or less the same thing. The information is available to allow readers to check your sources for themselves if they wish to.

20. Planeshift

Agreed, but with one exception – stuff behind paywalls.

Paywalls in academicia should now be obsolete, particularly as most of their content – at some level- is publically funded. It also enhances the quality of the work through a wider peer review process, and helps people outside of academia stay up to date with developments in subjects they are interested in. As far as I’m concerned, research that stays behind a paywall, stays unused, and we shouldn’t encourage it.

The content of the times is perhaps less of a public interest issue, but nonetheless I dread the day when quality journalism (not that the times produces much of this…) becomes only available to those with the money to purchase it, rather than treated as a public good.

Yep, always link.

Another option to avoid sending Googlejuice – if you must – is to use a twitter link shortener. I use It less onerous than adding a nofollow.

Good OP. I have mentioned this on LC myself. With one mod in particular linking to the mail with that ”Isyosty” site and the assurance that it was a ”safe link”. When I see that I always think ”FFS”. Is anyone really going to make any difference by not linking to the Daily Mail? I don’t think so. I used to read this other forum when they had a policy of never linking to the Sun and the Mail. And to even link to a sports story in the Sun would have one woman in particular, barging in and posting this ”NO SUN” icon from the ”Boycott The Sun” campaign. I found it totally tiresome, and that some people wanted to make everything about them and how right-on they were.

The Daily Mail is an active part of the right wing movement in this country. There’s no real difference between visiting its website and sending money to the Conservative Party.

Oh, and please don’t use the word “fisk”. It’s not 2003 and you’re not trying to get the government to launch an unprovoked attack on another country!

The filter mentioned in the OP isn’t confined to Facebook – it’s in search engines like Google, too:

Completely right. If you knock something, link it, let the reader go and see exactly what you’re commenting on. To see misquoting in respectable media is a regular occurrence, on both left and right, as is making strong statistical claims without showing either the source, the data, or any idea where the figure comes from.

The few pennies the Mail might receive from a handful of redirected readers seems a little petulant to be concerned over, particularly at the price of transparent, solid writing.

Link your sources.

Linking is also an important self-check – decent writers *want* to be challenged, because negative feedback is an important discipline.

One of Hari’s basic problems, beyond the inventions, was that he pulled stuff from God-knows-where and called it facts, and then built argument and polemic on his assumptions.

Then it became harder for people to check his little mistakes, so the house of cards became very large before it collapsed.

Even in the last Freedom of Speech vid he based accusations of police brutality at “Gay Pride demos in the 1960s” on an anecdote someone had ‘told me at a demonstration”.

Disappointing that Lib Con hosted this post, setting out mistaken and incorrect criticism of my blog, without even letting me know.

As it is, numerous people have now visited and commented on this post, containing an unfairly adverse comment about Jack of Kent. Nice.

David, your complaint that you weren’t informed is spurious. You have chosen to disable the feature in Blogger that will display incoming links to your blog, that is your personal choice. In addition, you’re using Blogger as a platform, which does not support the Pingback protocol which would otherwise accept the automated information that blogs send each other.

Basic blogging ettiquette is to always link to what you are discussing, especially if it is a blog post, and blog software then shows the links to create an ecosystem and ongoing conversation. A very quick check using Google’s basic tools reveal multiple incoming links to that post from a large variety of blogs.

Simply put, you are a higly rated blogger because lots of blogs link to you regularly. How many of them inform you of this? Basic blogging etiquette, as Robert correctly points out, is to link. That link is, in and of itself, information. You have chosen to not use the feature that will inform you of links (Blogger’s implementation, due to Google’s refusal to follow standards, isn’t perfect, but it is there).

So it is not normal to inform people, in fact many bloggers would consider such direct contact to actually be rude.

In addition, there is nothing factually incorrect in what Robert has said, and it is a valid criticism. You have chosen not to link to Guido or his campaign. That is entirely your choice. But is is considered bad blog etiquette.

Your opening paragraph specifically says that the campaign by a leading blogger is what prompted your post. Etiquette says link. You chose not to, that’s fine.

I consider it perfectly acceptable to break any rule of etiquette if you feel it appropriate. But if you knowingly do it, some people will critique that choice. Robert’s used your post as an example of what is, unfortunately, becoming more common practice.

You chose to specifically refer to Guido but not link. But you say it was as an example. Robert is using your decision as an example of something he doesn’t like. That’s perfectly valid.

And he chose to publish his post on a blog he co-founded. That’s completely within his remit, it’s as much his site as Sunny’s last I looked, the credits at the bottom of each page certainly say so.

Different people have different standards of what is and is not acceptable etiquette. Blogs, generally, rely on automated means to inform of incoming links. That’s one of the reasons linking is considered the polite thing to do.

29. Charlieman

@23. Chris: “There’s no real difference between visiting its website and sending money to the Conservative Party.”

I’m going to test out that theory tomorrow.

Firstly, I’ll visit the Daily Mail website. That probably isn’t enough, so I’ll leave a liberal comment on one of their stories.

Secondly, I’ll send a cheque for £2.00 to the Conservative Party. My guess is that it costs them £2.00 to cash the cheque and send me a thank you letter, so I will not be contributing to their funds.

I have my ideas about what will happen next, but what do you think?

30. Mr S. Pill


“I’ll send a cheque for £2.00 to the Conservative Party. My guess is that it costs them £2.00 to cash the cheque and send me a thank you letter, so I will not be contributing to their funds.”

Off-topic but if we all sent the Tories cheques for slightly less than it costs them to cash & admin-process & send out thankyous could we bankrupt the bastards? 😀

Pill, no because if they received that many checques then they’d either a) work out an economy of scale to make processing them worth it or b) not bother with them. There are economies of scale in dealing with large numbers of small donations that don’t work for a very small number of small donations.

Besides which, they’d just get another rich donor to sort them out like they always do.

32. Mr S. Pill


Ah well, worth a try… *goes back to drawing board*

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Always link, even to your enemies

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    Always link, even to your enemies

  3. Gareth Winchester

    Always link, even to your enemies | Liberal Conspiracy via @libcon <- I agree

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    RT @libcon: Always link, even to your enemies

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    Always link, even to your enemies | Liberal Conspiracy via @libcon

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    Always link, even to your enemies | Liberal Conspiracy via @libcon

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    Always link, even to your enemies | Liberal Conspiracy via @libcon

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    Always link, even to your enemies | Liberal Conspiracy via @libcon

  9. robertsharp59

    RT @JonathanHaynes: There's a hashtag I won't tweet on which looters are bragging about their acts. <- Always link?

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