The Web We Want: was a campaign by the Guardian Newspaper aimed at addressing the rising global phenomenon of online harassment.
Over a two week period in April 2016 the Guardian published a series of articles about online harassment under the banner the Web We Want. Additional content was added to this section of their website over time and the Campaign has to some extent complimented and supported Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s wider Recl@im the Internet campaign.
The campaign launch involved the publication of the Guardian’s specially commissioned research into abuse directed at their own employees and a call to on government to overhaul internet abuse laws by former cabinet Minister and Reclaim the Internet Campaigner MP Maria Miller.
The series also featured a consultation process about the future of their our own commenting spaces and marked marked a significant retreat from their earlier reader engagement strategy leading to a marked reduction in the number of articles open for comment and corresponding decline in reader interaction.
The internet has a problem, and that problem is people. Mary Hamilton – Guardian Editor for Audience Participation, Loyalty & Reach.
In ‘the dark side of Guardian comments’ they reported that specially commissioned research into the 70m comments left by readers on their platform since 2006 had found a significant percentage of abusive comments.
In particular they found that articles written by women consistently attracted a higher proportion of abusive comments, that articles about feminism attracted the highest levels of blocked comments and that eight out of the 10 most abused writers eight are women.
What do we mean by ‘abuse’?: ‘Imagine going to work every day and walking through a gauntlet of 100 people saying “You’re stupid”, “You’re terrible”, “You suck”, “I can’t believe you get paid for this”. It’s a terrible way to go to work’ Jessica Valenti, Guardian writer
As a large number of readers pointed out in the corresponding comment sections, their finding is extremely questionable given that their own methodology establishes that their analysis counted any and all moderated comments as an indicator of ‘abuse’.
Readers also pointed out that the analysis will also have been skewed by the fact that Guardian moderators are notoriously inconsistent and especially oversensitive in their moderation of some sections. This includes notoriously provocative articles by feminists which are often criticized for their quality, controversial narrative and being cynically promoted as ‘click bait’ designed to drive traffic to their site.
Many of the reader comments under articles featured in the series point to a popular concern that the Guardian has subtly inflated their abuse claims by conflating criminal or abusive conduct with reasonable factual disagreement censored by heavy handed and biased moderation.
This approach was criticised as mirroring an increasingly popular victimagressor tactic of the regressive left which involves shutting down debate and discouraging dissent by accusing political opponents of being abusive or intolerant.
Further evidence of the Guardian’s politically biased approach when addressing the issue of internet abuse is evidenced by their unwavering and uncritical promotion of both the #reclaimtheinternet campaign and some of the extraordinary and politically advantageous abuse claims made by Labour MPs that have lead it.
For example coverage of Demos findings in research commissioned by Yvette Cooper for the campaign launch featured an image of a crowd of angry middle aged white men despite the fact that Demos had found that the majority of ‘abusers’ identifed by gender where female (and a fan of teenage heart throbs One Direction).
And when their Political Editor interviewed Yvette Cooper for the series, they agreed that ‘the problem isn’t just about things that are actually unlawful’ and in possibly the most revealing moment of the entire series reflected on (sometime Guardian writer) Polly Vernon‘s experience of low-level online abuse.
The article described how Vernon had been left feeling “dehumanised, mildly depressed, anxious and body dysmorphic” after experiencing an outpouring of online criticism, “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 continue writing.
What it failed to mention was that Vernon reported that her ‘abusers’ were almost exclusively women, more specifically feminists, and that her twitter dogpiling experience was triggered by a scathing review in the Guardian…