20 November, 2011


The fragile sensibilities of the Righteous

I was kicked off Guardian Unlimited Talk, a predecessor forum to CiF, in early 2003 for ... well I'm not sure really. Official policy was that you would receive one warning about unacceptable behaviour, and if you misbehaved again you would be banned. I received my first warning email early one evening. The banning email followed one minute later, which I suppose was technically within the letter of the law. The emails had an oracular format, which seemed to be typical of "moderator" communications at the time. An excerpt from your offending post would be quoted. The nature of the offence would not be specifically explained; instead at least two of the forum rules would be listed. You then had to guess which of the rules you had broken and in what manner. It was like one of those structured punishments you get at school.

The comment text quoted in the reprimanding emails consisted of links to sites of which the Grauniad did not approve. That my comments had in fact expressed disapproval of these sites did not cut any ice. Actually I suspect that these links were just a pretext; I was really being banned for general Unrighteousness. I had upset Clare.

Clare? I always think of the Guardian moderator as Clare. Clare is a bright young school leaver. Clare hopes to go into politics or political journalism and is spending part of her gap year doing an internship at her favorite newspaper before going up to Oxford to read PPE. To keep her out of harm's way she has been put in charge of the reader forums. Clare is going through the transition from constrained sixth-former to independent adult, a phase during which many of us feel suddenly empowered, idealistic and keen to change the world for the better, rectifying our parents' mistakes with a simplistic optimism untempered by the hard experience of real life. Clare, it has to be said, is shocked, nay appalled, by some of what she reads on GUT.

I made a token effort to rejoin under different details, but I was spotted and blocked. Some GUT commenters were repeatedly banned and re-registered under new identities a dozen or more times. Identifying and outing them was a much-enjoyed GUT sport. The now rehabilitated Frank Fisher was one such. But for me it wasn't worth the hassle. Poking the Righteous with pointed sticks was fun but not that much fun.

Earlier this year I found myself undertaking the CiF registration procedure. Mainly, I was curious to know what details they were asking for these days, in particular did they still ask for your home postcode. In the process I seem to have successfully registered myself. I didn't bother attempting to start posting at CiF, knowing that I would soon be speaking out of turn and getting myself banned again.

But this week I had a go, commenting on a particularly sanctimonious Guardian editorial about Sepp Blatter's "denial" of football racism. And well, well, well, the comment was, as they say on CiF, moderated. OK, it contained two ethnic slurs and an obscenity, but all in the best possible taste and — and this is the point — entirely germane to the discussion which was, if you remember, about racist language in football.

Which does beg the question, how do you discuss "sensitive" subjects if you are not allowed to use the relevant language or link to relevant websites? I criticized the Telegraph for bowdlerizing John Terry's alleged "racist" remark as "you — black —", rendering it impenetrable. To give the Guardian its due, it didn't shirk from quoting the insult properly as "you fucking black cunt". So why can't I do the same in their fora?

I am reminded of an exchange on Pickled Politics between Jai the Prolix and the excruciatingly even-handed Sarah Annes Brown. Jai had linked to a screenshot of some supposedly deeply incriminating Faceache post which was supposedly the ex cathedra position of the EDL. Sarah asked why a screenshot and not a direct link to the original source. In the event its a bit complicated in that the original source had been since deleted, but Jai's reply is interesting,

I used a screenshot because PP editorial policy is that we do not link directly to extreme Far-Right websites. However, the comments thread via the “screenshot” link includes a direct URL link to the EDL’s official Facebook page where the statement was issued.

Given that much of what is written at PP consists of whingeing about the "Far Right", a prohibition on linking to source information seems just a touch self-contradictory.

But it's Sarah herself who gets the Dogwash special prize of a presentation box of biscuits for her ingenious solution to this knotty problemette. Sarah AB seems a decent enough woman whose meticulous all-things-to-all-persons-itude succeeds in making her welcome below the line at Pickled Politics while contributing both above and below the line at Harry's Place. In April, she wrote a piece at HP about some public meeting in London involving, among others, HP hate figure Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon is an anti-Zionist Jew who is not only of interest as an object of hatred to the Harryites, who increasingly seem to treat the slightest criticism of Israel as tantamount to a threat to rebuild the gas chambers, tedious Shoah-waving at its worst, but is also of interest to the Stormfronters, who of course see the hand of ZOG behind everything down to the very dog crap on the pavement.

Sarah wanted to link to a Stormfront post about the meeting. But linking to Stormfront itself was out of the question. Whether due to Harry's Place policy or Sarah's personal squeam I don't know. Her solution? She linked to the Google cache of the Stormfront article.

Dix points for ingenuity, love. Nul points for intellectual honesty.

I must sadly agree with you about the way HP is going. Atzmon, however, is genuinely odious and those who consort with him show themselves to be decidedly relaxed about anti-Semitism of the full-on, Holocaust-denying variety.

As for linking directly to Stormfront, the reality is that there are plenty of people ready and waiting to use anything like that against HP regardless of the context. Once the accusation has been made and the link demonstrated the damage is done. Not everyone out there has your scruples.

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