The internet should be a way to give voice to the voiceless, to hold the powerful to account but instead some people are using it to shut down debate.
Reclaim the internet and let it be the nice, helpful, democratic place we know it could be. Yvette Cooper MP
So a few final thoughts on the Guardian’s web we want (but can’t have without superstate intervention because of the epidemic of online abuse) series of articles that has been running over the past month.
Katharine Viner closed the series by asking the question how do we make the Guardian a better place for conversation? and explaining that as the Guardian’s first female editor, it is important to her that they do something to tackle ‘the online abuse that pollutes the water in which we all swim’.
Over the next few months, the Guardian will continue to explore, with our readers, the questions and challenges raised by these issues. Should we look at stricter moderation, or more ways of rewarding positive contributions to our site? Should we limit the number of comments we host, or make them a privile ge of membership? In a time of challenge to the business model of journalism, moderation is not cheap. Katharine Viner
Some of her peers have a few ideas about how editors should deal with online abuse?
The editor-in-chief of De Correspondent reckons that even though “the audience” have been underutilised for more than a century and even though ‘the voice of the people can be heard louder than ever…that voice isn’t always constructive, informative, or representative‘. Which is possibly why more and more olde media sites are actually backing away from reader comments.
One possible solution to this retreat suggested by the New York Times, might be to ‘curate more than moderate’ and focus on ‘the highest calibre comments that act as pure a reflection of the rest of the product as reasonably possible.’
Which I guess would be more honest than censoring comments you don’t like or agree with and then branding them as abusive if that helps to reflect your products preferred point of view.
Interestingly the editor of Gawker Media’s Jezebel blog reckon they’re currently discussing ways of actually publishing some of the personal attacks their writers get in order to give others a better sense of the onslaught of hate they recieve.
Which might at least help to offer some sort of sense of perspective about the level and type of ‘abuse’ we’re actually talking about and reassure a potentially underuatalised and disenfranchised audience that there isn’t some other agenda at play…
Since the 1850s, journalism has been mainly a matter of transmission. With newspapers, radio and TV, interaction between journalists and their audience was all but impossible. The internet changed all that. Online, talking back to the media is easier than ever. Suddenly, readers, viewers and listeners can be part of the conversation. People like to call this development a revolution – a game-changing democratisation of information provision. Rob Wijnberg, De Correspondent.
While some high profile Editors scratch their heads about what is to be done, the former Shadow Home Secretary knows exactly what time it is and used her contribution for the series to call on police and prosecutors to follow the Guardian’s lead in unmasking the true extent of the problem.
Yvette Cooper’s certainty that ‘there needs to be a wholesale review of the way the law works for the most prevalent online crimes’ echoed Cabinet Minister Maria Miller’s call for new laws at the start of the series
It seemed inevitable that Cooper would make an appearance at some point given that last autumn she appointed herself as the Chief Protector of online rights when she launched an initiative called Reclaim the Internet.
The campaign hasn’t exactly been a startling success to date. The twitter hashtag was largely greeted with amusement and the question who exactly is Cooper reclaiming the internet from and for?
After six months the campaign twitter account has managed to accumulate a grand total of 174 followers and apart from one tweet / retweet on the back of this Guardian interview, hasn’t been active since the start of January.
Curiously that first tweet in four months confirmed the Guardian’s scoop that a ‘major conference’ was scheduled for May which will come as news to anyone who bothered to respond to Cooper’s appeal to sign up to the campaign last autumn.
Out of curiosity EYEwas one of those people and to date all I’ve received has been correspondence directly from the desk of Yvette Cooper inviting me to consider why her constituents would be better off staying in Europe.
Which leaves me thinking that an MP who has fallen out of favour with her own party is more concerned about keeping herself in the spotlight than she is about any other cause.
If Cooper’s is genuinely serious about internet safety then, in my humble subjective opinion, her choice of case studies could be infinitely better, including, as they have to date, the extraordinary claims of Jess Phillips, Kate Smurfit and Dr Emily Grossman.
Then again, as Anushka Asthana, who interviewed Cooper, acknowledged: ‘the problem isn’t just about things that are actually unlawful’.
And in probably the most candid moment of the entire series she weaves the conversation into an account of Polly Vernon‘s experience of low-level online abuse.
Professional Critics v Amateur Abusers
Vernon described how after an outpouring from her critics she was left feeling “dehumanised, mildly depressed, anxious and body dysmorphic”, “was now utterly disinclined to write with honesty about her life experiences” and revealed that a relative disengagement with twitter is the only way she can bear to write and publish things she truly thinks.
Just to be clear we’re not talking about the type of high-level trolling that Yvette Cooper claims to be concerned with; “it isn’t death or rape threats, it isn’t anonymous,”
We’re not talking about The Independent’s Hannah McGill who proposed that Vernon’s Hot Feminist Treatise might have been more aptly titled Hot Narcissist but ‘that would fail to capitalise on the post-Caitlin Moran market for Sassy New Takes on Feminism By Witty Lady Journalists.’
Or the New Statesman’s Barbara Speed who felt that Vernon’s book was cribbing twenty year old ideas from Naomi Wolf (badly)
And obviously we’re definitely not talking about the Guardian’s Helen Lewis who’s critical mauling included, amounst other things, comparing segments of her writing to Alan Partridge’s fictional biography.
Or even The Evening Standard’s Rosamund Urwin who felt that after the Guardian’s spectacular savaging, finding further fault with Vernon would be akin to the satisfying but ultimately futile equivalent of kicking a dead body.
What the Guardian’s political editor wanted to shine a spotlight on is what Vernon describes as people who believed it was acceptable to criticise her on twitter after reading those negative reviews.
The word ‘plebs’ springs to mind.
Plebs who don’t know their place
(and ironically feminist plebs at that).
The whole marketing strategy of this book relies on winding people like me up; yet at the same time Vernon tries to pre-empt any potential criticism by insisting that contemporary feminism is too judgmental. Criticising the book not only marks you out as not hot but also unsisterly. Well, sorry. Contemporary feminism can feel brutally critical..there are hard conversations to be had within any radical movement. Helen Lewis
Problem, Reaction, Solution?
Which brings me to my conclusion about the entire web we want series.
Hopefully this conclusion should be glaringly obvious to anyone who has paid attention to any one of the Guardian’s articles in this series for long enough to consider the non censored opinions below the line…
The remarkable disconnect between editor and readership becomes clear to anyone that surveys the consistent counter narrative coming loud and clear from the comments section….
The message is loud, clear and consistent below the line of every ‘we we want’ article that allowed comments….
And based on the tiny little numbers on the right hand side of each comment indicating how many readers have taken time out of their day to agree…
It’s depressing to think that the answer to Katherine Viner’s question might be right under her nose…
And the fact she doesn’t choose to notice it, not to mention the fact that her paper keeps pushing a very certain agenda just looks more and more pathetic over time….
Not to mention insanely dismissive and patronizing to their readers.
The Hegelian dialectic is the framework for guiding our thoughts and actions into conflicts that lead us to a predetermined solution. If we do not understand how the Hegelian dialectic shapes our perceptions of the world, then we do not know how we are helping to implement the vision. When we remain locked into dialectical thinking, we cannot see out of the box.
EYEchipped in my ten cents and was surprised to get a reply from the Moderators (when their usual response is to press delete).
In my humble subjective opinion, their response to my question sums up their long term credibility problem…