Can we please stop aiding and abetting the bullies and cyber-stalkers?

This entry was posted on
Friday, June 8th, 2007
11:21 am and is filed
under The Political Weblog Movement.

Iain Dale has found himself in a tricky situation in this most recent thread about the capture of Rachel North’s cyber-stalker. Basically, he has a series of anonymous cowards (or possibly just one) screaming ‘censorship’ and ‘favouritism’ over his removal of bullying comments directed at John Hirst (which are inappropriate at the best of times).

Some of the more problematic comments may be heartfelt pleas from people with a strong grip on the wrong end of the stick, but most of them appear to be there to cause trouble for the sake of it. (In some places they call this ‘harmless banter’, you know.)

Here I should point out that I genuinely feel for Iain Dale on this one… to a point.

This is a problem that Iain largely brought on himself, and he resisted many warnings about it by dismissing me as… a cyber-stalker.

Have a look at the following if you feel you need convincing, because I’m going to stop talking about Iain for a bit and use a different example to show how counter-productive it is to cry ‘wolf':

While some of the activity has spilled over from the website of everybody’s favourite charmer, Paul Staines, Iain has failed to moderate contributions to his own website in a responsible and consistent manner. He has even used the growing use of anonymous bullying to his advantage. A perfect example can be found here, and a rather spectacular low point can be found here. There are also numerous examples of Iain dishonestly classifying anything critical of him as abuse, while allowing actual abuse of those who dared to be critical of him to stay live.

Now, as promised, we move on… erm, after a repeat of this key passage: If you run a weblog that contains a significant level of political discussion, you really should have some form of comment registration in place or be ready to moderate your arse off. If you don’t do either, you lay fertile ground for anonymous bullies who seek to limit free speech by undermining and intimidating those they don’t agree with (while simultaneously screaming about their right to free speech).

That passage relates to you and me as much as it does to Dale and Staines; we all bear responsibility for the communities that are formed via our interaction, and those outside of it that are influenced by what we publish… and how we publish it.

If you don’t recognise and accept that responsibility, then the chances greatly increase that someone is going to pay the price for your selfishness and neglect.

The only unknown factor is if it will develop as a result of your action/inaction, or simply be enabled by it.

Let me give you a very clear example from my neck of the woods how vicious the cycle can be when a complete bastard enters your little eco-system:

In summer of 2006, two Conservative activists from Guildford (Mike Chambers and Dennis Paul) were involved in the creation/promotion of an anonymous website that targeted a political opponent. The site began by ‘innocently’ airing rumours that the individual was a paedophile, and then graduated to repeated outright declarations. The man’s name, photo and whereabouts were published in a clear effort to smear him and attract the attention of the kind of nut-job likely to do him an injury (I can say the latter with absolute certainty, as there was an attempt to attract the attention of a rather OTT ‘nonce watching’ group during the promotion of the smear). is still dragging its heels on the removal of that website. Several official bodies including Conservative organisations both local and national further aided this campaign by circling the wagons around their two precious activists when it was reported.

And reported it was.

Watch out, folks… here comes that vicious cycle:

I published absolute proof that an email address using a domain name registered by Mike Chambers was used to create a USSU profile in the name of the author (‘Jonesy’) and promote/propagate the smear.

In the process of proving that connection, I published an address on Bloggerheads; the same address used to register the domain also appeared in a number of Conservative pamphlets (many of which were published online) as the contact address for Mike Chambers.

Dennis Paul (a close associate of Mike Chambers) also promoted the smear, right up until the eve of the recent council elections.

Paul’s reaction to the publication of an address connected to Chambers (which was already in the public domain) was to actively promote publishing material anonymously… the logic being that the last thing you wanted was some cyber-stalker publishing your home address or targeting you personally by some other means. He also went on to suggest (again and again) that the site reporting the smear (not the multiple sites behind the smear) involved the use of multiple personalities, bullying, personal attacks, etc. etc. etc.

Of course, these claims came from someone who actively sought to intimidate a political opponent by revealing personal details (and inventing others) and used multiple personalities when doing so.

Now, it doesn’t hold much water when one guy tries to play the victim to mask/defend his bullying, but when you’re in a publishing environment where the use of multiple personalities is so out of control that almost no-one knows who is saying what at any given time, you move from a puddle of muddied water to a sea of raw sewage.

In such an environment, people are unlikely to be able to correctly identify or repel an actual bully or cyber-stalker, not least because these words have been rendered meaningless by their constant misuse.

And from this stage onwards, the problem only gets worse; fear takes hold of more reasonable contributors, who more frequently will begin to post anonymously:

From the Dairy: The longer this is tolerated by the site author, the faster these bullies breed and the bolder they become. Many will take this behaviour with them to other weblogs and/or create a weblog of their own with a similar approach to ‘debate’. It also leads to an absurd situation where some contributors who would normally post under their own name feel so intimidated that they instead choose to post anonymously… which allows the users of sock-puppets to scream “Sock puppet!” at them.

The only way to avoid or counteract this dangerous and destructive cycle is to do your bit to make sure your corner of Teh Interwebs is free not from anonymity, but from the abuse of anonymity.

In my view, Iain should close the comments on this thread right now and reconsider the introduction of comment registration.

[Note: Introducing comment registration will not stop people from commenting anonymously… it will simply make it more problematic for sock-pupetting saddos to post under multiple pseudonyms.]

I’d ask the same of Paul Staines, but he made it clear long ago that he does not recognise the existence/importance of communities that form around blogs, and that he intends to suck this movement dry before moving on… just as he did with the rave scene.

About Tim Ireland

Tim is the sole author of Bloggerheads.
This entry was posted in The Political Weblog Movement. Bookmark the permalink.