Tuesday, October 20, 2015 

Impotence before the SNP juggernaut.

If there's one thing other than politics guaranteed to bring out the worst in some people, it's competitive international sport.  Orwell might have said that only English intellectuals were ashamed of their nationality, but then he died long before anyone dressed up as a crusader to attend a football match, chanted about not surrendering to the IRA, singing that goes on to this day (and was just last week targeted against James McClean in the Premier League), or booed the opposition's national anthem.  Obviously, you shouldn't hate the player, you should hate the game.

These things are though all but indivisible, at least to some.  After Scotland's last minute defeat to Australia on Saturday, dear old JK Rowling tweeted Scottish Rugby to say they did the country proud.  The response of Stuart Campbell, of the Wings Over Scotland blog, was to tell her and Muriel Gray to "fuck off, as you don't think we're a nation at all".  Rowling, who no doubt gets plenty of such tweets since she has both donated to Labour and opposed the Yes campaign last year, could have just ignored it.  Instead she responded to Campbell and then others in a calm and measured way.  She comes out of it once again looking the model of benevolence, while Campbell in his often obtuse fashion has responded to the wider media coverage of the exchange by focusing on the "fuck off" part, rather than his implying that Rowling cannot support Scotland and oppose independence without being a hypocrite.

Is an online exchange between a political blogger and the Harry Potter author really front page news, however, as it was deemed to be by the Scotsman and the Telegraph?  Campbell might continue to laughably claim that Wings is an independent site when it has never featured a critical word about the SNP, but the idea Nicola Sturgeon has any kind of control over what the most ardent and belligerent independence supporters get up to is nonsense.  That was proved by the reaction of some to Sturgeon's address to the SNP conference, all but ruling out another referendum if as expected the party repeats its success of last May in the Holyrood elections next year.

Such coverage is in fact grist to the SNP mill.  Any other party that has been in power for the past 9 years would be expecting the public and probably even its own supporters to be starting to tire of it.  With the SNP the opposite is the case, and part of the reason for that is the sense of grievance and victimhood that soon bubbles to the surface when the slightest heat is applied.  Fringe gatherings at the conference saw all the old canards voiced: the biased BBC, with even the weather map favouring England, everything being against the SNP despite its success in the face of such apparent adversity, and the odd whinge about not being given their due internationally just to lighten the tone.

To an extent, all parties complain of how unfair the media is to them, and to an extent they occasionally have a point.  When it's a party of government doing the complaining, even if it's just the supporters and MPs rather than the leader themselves, especially one so popular, it becomes that bit more sinister.  And yet it would be perverse to argue that the vast majority of the media wasn't diametrically opposed to Scottish independence, just as it would be to claim that the Better Together campaign wasn't based around fear.  It's this sense that because the SNP's very raison d'etre is so ferociously fought against, even if in truth it took the YouGov poll suggesting the Yes campaign had pulled ahead to really concentrate minds in Whitehall, that drives the ongoing belief the SNP is still an insurgent force rather than an accountable and responsible party of government.

The continuing focus on Cybernats is more than anything a reflection of the impotence of the media.  Independence was defeated, and yet the SNP emerged victorious, having lost the economic argument but won the emotional, patriotic one overwhelmingly.  Having made its case in such terms, convincing if not the 45% then a substantial percentage that opponents of independence are siding with the Westminster elite or are even actively traitorous, it's not surprising when the most vociferous then lash out in response to what to everyone else will see as completely innocuous.  The apparent belief on the part of the media, that by linking Sturgeon to such people she and the SNP can begin to be undermined just doesn't follow.  Even if most weren't of the opinion that the wider media is hopeless biased, it's just another instance of journalists seeming obsessed with themselves and the medium rather than the reality.  Most Scots will have had just as virulent if not more so arguments during the campaign itself; why would they be so disgusted by the abusing of someone as liked as JK Rowling when they will have experienced as much themselves?

Instead, it's far more likely to serve as further reinforcing of already entrenched positions.  More evidence of the media focusing on the irrelevant, trying desperately to link a political leader to online idiots as it can't lay a finger on her otherwise.  Alternatively, more proof of how the SNP has succeeded in splitting Scotland down the middle, to the point where it can't even come together over a rugby match without fingers being pointed and insults being thrown.  Most delightfully of all, we've got our own version of this fast approaching.  I don't know about you, but I can't wait.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015 

The most septic of isles (Or, ten years of this shit).

Would it really matter, if you were to count the days left with your hands? / Your focus secure and the loves you left, well / Smiles staged in photographs, here until

The only thing worse than having sex is not having sex.  The only thing worse than reading yet another article about Tinder and the brave new dating landscape while being a part of it is not being a part of it.  There are also times when you're fairly sure an article ostensibly about how we're the sexiest generation ever thanks to said innovations is rocking the snark only for it to then conclude this whole Tinder thing is in fact great.  I wouldn't know, as you need a Facebook account to use Tinder, and hey, I've got to draw the line somewhere.  Slim chance of meeting someone who both doesn't swipe left the minute they see my fizzog, and isn't interested only in the one bodily organ, versus being on social media?  The choice is there is no choice.

So here we are.  10 years ago today a stupid, lonely, angry, alienated and depressed 20-year-old started to write a blog.  Why I started I still don't really know, let alone why I've kept going for this long.  This, would you believe it, is the 3,799th post.  I frankly don't care to know how many words are contained in those posts but my guess would be in the millions.  The catalyst, obviously, was 7/7, and that was the barely hidden undercurrent running through Tuesday's post.  It's hard to separate what came after from that day itself when you spent the time immediately afterwards, or at least from the 12th, bitching about the reaction and indulging idiot conspiracy theories rather than recognising something clearly had changed.  The rules of the games might not have done, but it would be foolish to deny we had entered new territory.

In essence, the past 10 years have been about that.  Shouting about the injustice of it all, ticking off the tabloids, generally being about as much use as tits on a bull, hectoring from the sidelines and getting nowhere, yeah that just about sums it up.  Whatever the reasons behind starting to blog, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't hoped it would lead somewhere.  If nothing else, even if it was never likely to lead directly to a job considering how I've steadfastly refused to put my actual name to it and have never really tried promoting it or even maintaining a presence elsewhere, I thought it would perhaps count for something at some point.  10 years of writing a politics blog hardly anyone reads, won't that look great on the CV?  Proves I'm dedicated, right?  Dedicated to wasting my time certainly, and probably writing in office hours when no one's paying attention seems the most likely interpretation.

I of course protest too much.  I wouldn't have kept going this long if I didn't think I was having some impact, however oblique, however slight.  My initial motivations, as I wrote on the 5th anniversary, were complicated and let's be honest, more than a little sad.  Yes, to begin with at least I somewhat wrote as though I was talking to someone I barely so much as knew and who wasn't aware of it anyway.  Yes, this is the same person as written about here.  Yes, it's incredibly creepy, and I should probably just shut up and let it go.  I wish I could.  I hope though that if they're reading this now, that despite everything, they take it as a tribute.  Regardless of how, why, they inspired me.  This blog wouldn't exist without them.  They can take that in whichever way they want to.

It was also though about trying to stop my brain from turning into absolute mush.  I can say with utter certainty that if I hadn't started doing something, even if it was just writing purely for myself and not posting it online, my head would be even more fucked than it is currently. Blogging has  kept me somewhat sane.  How sane is open to question, but hey, I'm still here.  More to the point, it's also kept me honest to myself, been a constant challenge and helped to improve my writing immensely.  I'm still an abysmal judge of my own work and always will be, yet I would posit that despite how I'm no longer featured elsewhere as I once was, mainly thanks to how blogging itself or rather blogging as we knew it in 2005 has died on its arse, my writing has only increased in quality with each passing year.  I have off days, and there are quite a few posts from my early years I'm especially proud of, but I think I've hit a level of general consistency only occasionally broken into by those mockery posts we all love.

It's also more than a little frightening.  I've spent a third of my life spending most weekday evenings bouncing my thoughts, raves and rages against a wall of for the most part, complete indifference.  Why do we, I do this?  It's different from simply keeping a diary, especially as I try to convince myself that would be pure narcissism while this is something different.  What am I trying to achieve, what have I truly achieved, what am I going to achieve?  Probably very little, perhaps nothing.  Maybe I give voice to what a few select others think, who can't find the words themselves; maybe I just make for an occasional diversion.  Some days perhaps I'm good for a laugh, whether it's directed at me or along with me, either is fine.  To be sure, if there was no one reading then I wouldn't have kept going this long, and while that readership might have dropped slightly from its peak, let's just say there's more than enough still doing so to fight off the feeling of wasting my time.  At least for the most part.

All this said, I can't pretend that the stupid, lonely, angry, alienated and depressed 20-year-old has turned into a happy, well adjusted and content 30-year-old.  If I had, again, I most likely wouldn't be writing this post.  Am I more confident in my self though, more comfortable in my own skin?  Without a doubt.  That might just be the passage of time, and it probably is, but I'd like to think writing this blog has helped.  The bad times are still pretty bad, and last year's patch was the worst since the worst of times.  And yet I'm still here, for better, for worse.

I ended the 5th anniversary post by saying I couldn't promise another 5 years, and ahem, well.  Thanks then to everyone who's put up with my bullshit over the past ten years, to all my readers, anyone who's tweeted a link, sang my praises, ripped my rotten thought process to shreds, or simply lurked the entire time.  It means so much.  Here's to however much longer this most septic of isles stays afloat.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015 

This post summarised: I don't understand social media.

If there's something that never fails to raise a chuckle, it's just how many right-on folk suddenly discover they don't mind in the slightest receiving a honour created by royalty and given out by royalty making them a member of something that no longer exists.  That most would also normally blanch at the merest idea of being connected with the empire, for good reason, it's remarkable just how soon they decide otherwise once offered the chance to put some more letters after their name.

Yes, the Queen's birthday honours list was as delightful as ever, if not more so than usual.  Most of the fun comes when Private Eye bothers to look at the list in detail and finds just how many of the recipients owe their awards to their political affiliations, donations or other brown-nosing, or alternatively, to how despite or indeed down to their being bent as a nine bob note they managed to make the grade.  Some names do though jump straight out at you, like Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union, essentially receiving a knighthood for being extraordinarily useless at representing his members.  Simon Hughes is also rewarded for his services to the coalition by getting a K, a reminder of how brilliant the next round of nominations to the Lords will also be.

Then there are the straight up juxtapositions of worthiness.  Will Pooley, one of those who volunteered to help fight Ebola in east Africa and nearly died after contracting it himself, is justly recognised with an MBE; awarded an OBE is Caroline Criado-Perez, for getting trolled on Twitter.  Alongside her is Laura Bates, behind the phenomenally successful Everyday Sexism project, who receives the resurrected by Cameron British Empire Medal.  Considering the major triumph of Everyday Sexism has been to make self-hating, insecure men even less likely to give the merest of compliments to the opposite sex for fear of it being seen as harassment while the actual sexists carry on as they always have, who could possibly object to the award?

Getting the nod for an honour is in essence the establishment recognising the recipient as not representing a threat.  At opposite ends of the pool are Benedict Bandersnatch, who complained previously about posh-bashing, getting the CBE, while Lenny Henry's push for proper representation in the media was no obstacle to his knighthood.  The awards for Criado-Perez and Bates meanwhile are just the latest evidence that the fourth-wave of feminism, if it can really be recognised as such, has been co-opted entirely by those it supposedly targets.  When Waterstone's has a specific table set aside for the works by the aforementioned and others like Caitlin Moran, as my local has, while also at the same time encompassing Bryony Gordon's fucking everyone in a pair of trousers memoir The Wrong Knickers, appropriation has mostly certain taken place.

This not being a threat doesn't mean the public at large are any more receptive or impressed by identity politics, mind.  I'm with Paul when he responds to Sunny Hundal's piece for LabourList that recognises the left-wing social media echo chamber most likely contributed to Labour's loss, in that he says speak for yourself pal.  We don't all obsess over mugs with controls on immigration plastered on them, or imagine that activism online can replace activism offline.  I've been critical of politicians beating themselves up over not talking like the public, when in fact what the complaint is about and Sunny gets is it's not how they sound and the phrases they use, it's the content.  He's wrong about Blair getting non-Labour voters in as much as Blair's great success was to come at the precise moment the Tories utterly self-destructed, but he is right about the cultural deficit.

Not that hardly anyone outside said echo chambers pays much in the way of attention to Twitter subcultures, let alone your average voter.  When issues of identity do reach the mainstream however, as they have recently with Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal and Tim Hunt, it's far from clear it's to the benefit of those who are always the first to comment.  Jenner's transition invites cynicism because of who she is, regardless of the exact circumstances, as should the way it was presented to the world in a way those welcoming it would normally flinch from.  Rachel Dolezal is an almost perfect example of the double standards associated with racial as opposed to sexual identity, while you don't have to take the Daily Mail line to think Hunt harshly treated if still stupid, as plenty of commentators have.  Despise the way a phony image of the "metropolitan elite" has been created and instilled, as we should, it all feeds into it.  This is hardly helped when so often the sites and media associated with the left do their best to be a parody of themselves.  Some have for too long celebrated difference for its own sake rather than thought about what makes us belong, unites us.  Most pertinently, class has often been overlooked in favour of every other distinction.

It's not just the left who have given in to the lures of the echo chamber, of course, and this doesn't mean those ideals are the wrong ones.  For every person who banged on about immigration mugs, there are also those who don't think what ostensibly remains a centre-left party should have someone of the left so much as stand for leader, as that by itself shows the party is still not "serious".  They would seemingly have preferred the contest to be between three candidates with all but identical policies, none of whom seem to understand that Labour faces threats from both the left and right, with the potential for things to get worse before they get better.  Equally misguided are those who see fit to comment on the alleged hypocrisy of supposed radicals for cuddling up to the establishment, and then see fit to advise a party of the establishment and its supporters on where it's going wrong.  Oh.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 

Trapped in the echo chamber.

At times, I wonder just how it was newspapers filled their pages when they couldn't dedicate multiple anguished pieces to either actors making a poor choice of word, or alleged celebrities Twitter-shaming litterers.  Then you remember there was never a halcyon period for newspapers, regardless of what anyone will tell you: the tabloids were always full of celebrity bilge, including Hugh Cudlipp's patrician Mirror.  As for the broadsheets, they were in the main drier than downtown Jeddah on a Saturday night.  Not for nothing was the ghastly but at least readable Express the world's biggest seller for a time.

Apparently then I must defend Katie Price's right to party to claim disability benefits for her son.  First they came for one of the most loathsome personalities of recent times, and so forth.  Alternatively, I could let her get on with it, as I'm sure dear old Jordan can look after herself, surely?  Much like Benedict Bandersnatch (that is his name, isn't it?) no doubt instantly regretted saying coloured, without it being necessary for writers to assume he couldn't have much contact with black actors if he was going around doing so.  As for Kirstie Allsopp, well, as the personification of just about everything that would quickly send me completely and utterly fucking doolally, if she wants to be so petty as to put a litterer's number plate online, does it really need further comment?

Of course it does.  And of course, it takes two or indeed dozens of sad acts for these mini-ripples to get anywhere in the first place.  Reading Jon Ronson's interview with Adam Curtis, which quickly digresses onto the topic of Ronson's upcoming book on those who've found themselves at the centre of online storms, it's easy to forget these incidents would have felt that much less serious had the mainstream media decided not to join in the stupidity.

Personally, despite everything that's come since, I reckon the apogee was reached in the days after that woman put that cat in that bin.  Why put the CCTV online in the first place?  I love animals as much as the next carnivore, but let's face it, far worse than spending a night in a bin is going to happen to most cats through their own ahem, curiosity.  Why demand answers as to why she put it in the bin?  Did it matter?  Would any answer suffice?  She quite possibly had a terrible day, but rather than stroke the cat as most of us would have and probably felt just that little better, she put it in the bin.  Or perhaps she does just hate cats.  Either way, the why was irrelevant.  She will now and forever more be the cat bin lady.  Which could be preferable to being known as a cat lady when you think about it, who knows.

As you'll probably know by now, my own views on social media are roughly akin to both Ronson and Curtis's.  Yes, it can all too easily become an echo chamber, but then most of us don't like having our thoughts and opinions challenged in the first place.  Hence we buy that paper, we read that website, we turn our noses up at their rivals and so on.  Far more pernicious to me at least is not the vehemence with which a transgression against something might be pursued, so much as the effect it's had on activism.  On the one hand it's turbo-charged many campaigns, had a major role in the Arab spring, etc.  On the other, as Curtis points out, what is there to show for the vast majority of hashtag battles?  Not just the obvious examples for mocking, such as #bringbackourgirls or #kony2012, but what about #occupy?  Apart from giving us the 99%/1% identifiers, what did it really change, and is that perhaps not directly connected to the lack of real leadership there so often is behind such Twitter co-ordinated protests?

Curtis doesn't get everything right.  His remark on how in "ten years, sections of the internet will have become like the American inner cities of the 1980s" is just a little behind the times, considering how there have been subcultures online almost exactly as he describes since the late 90s, and you could probably identify similar groupings on BBSes if you so wished.  It's also something of a stretch to point towards "consumer journalism" being a recent thing - Murdoch's Sun was precisely that, long before accusations of dumbing down were bandied about, while the painting of the world as black and white is old as newspapers themselves.

What's so odd and defies explanation is just how quickly the "shaming" aspect of social media has become accepted.  Why should anyone care what a cricketer thinks about people on minimum wage for instance, and why does someone else known for their opinions on Twitter feel the need to dedicate an entire piece to it?  It tells us precisely nothing wider about ourselves, just as Emma West's rant about immigration didn't.  The answer maybe is that rather than giving everyone a voice, what social media has really done is inflate egos yet further and little else, empowering not individuals, but individualism.  This hasn't just happened to the Stuart Broads, the Allsopps, or anyone else you might care to mention, but also those whose reaction to the Sun trolling everyone last week over page 3 was to stamp their feet rather than reflect they had been too quick to assume victory.  More prosaically, another explanation is the encouragement if not active compulsion there now is to share, regardless of whether it's something that should be heard or deserves to be.  When rubbed against not the right to freedom of speech but, hilariously, the "freedom to be offended" as the headline writing sub on Jessica Valenti's latest we're putting an end to every sort of ism through making everyone check their privilege piece put it, increasingly pointless battles are the inevitable result.

As ever, most of the criticisms directed against others can be pointed directly back at myself.  Why moan about people moaning about inconsequential things?  Hasn't writing this crap for the last nigh-on 10 years been all about boosting your ego too?  Who gives a fig what you think about anything?  To which the only answer is: curses, foiled again.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015 

Tout est pardonné.

One wonders if prior to the last week quite so many people have previously tried to make their minds up over political cartoons where the punchlines are delivered in a language they don't speak and the topics are often directly related to events in that foreign country.  I don't speak French, my only real knowledge about Charlie Hebdo prior to last Wednesday was it's a satirical weekly that had published caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, and so I laid off reaching a definite conclusion on that basis.

Thankfully, some helpful people have translated the most widely circulated examples of Charlie Hebdo's content, and put them in their proper context.  Accordingly, the cartoon of Boko Haram's pregnant sex slaves demanding welfare, much pointed towards as an example of just how shockingly racist the paper was, is in fact mocking the standard right-wing obsession with immigrants/refugees claiming benefits.  We see alleged comedian Dieudonné, arrested this week over his comments about being "Charlie Coulibably", to understandable consternation over his right to offend not being protected, told where he can stick his quenelle gesture.  And for anyone repeating the claim the paper targeted Islam and Muslims above and beyond other faiths, a front page from 2011 is shown, which advocates flushing the Bible, Qu'ran and Talmud down the toilet, itself a response to a print of the Piss Christ artwork being vandalised in Avignon.

Instead of accept he might have got it wrong this time, lenin/Richard Seymour has instead doubled down.  It doesn't matter that you can detest the way the French state has appropriated the murders, be disgusted at how foreign leaders who care nothing for freedom of speech and have much blood on their hands were at the front of Sunday's march, and be concerned about whether the attacks will see a further ratcheting up of tension and discrimination against Muslims, and still also defend freedom of expression and pledge solidarity with those targeted.  But no, apparently Charlie Hebdo's scrawls were not satire but childish scribblings, and if you find them funny, witty or apposite you too are a child, or a moron.  How could anyone find a cartoon which draws on the "Muhammad was a paedo" school of Muslim-baiting satisfying?

Unless of course that self-same cartoon is again ripping the piss out of those idiots, which is the only conclusion that can be reached by seeing just the translation, let alone any further context.  Yes, you could say "pot kettle black" on that front and criticise the cartoonist for daring to think his work is above that of the "anti-jihadists" who really do just hate Muslims, but aren't we getting just a little bit haughty ourselves here?  Is "high-brow" satire the only satire it's OK to like, which itself is often based around imagery just as much as showing politicians and celebrities up as thoughtless idiots who believed what they wanted to?  Does it really need the Pope to step in and say please don't be beastly about religion as it hurts people's feelers for it become apparent that if freedom of speech means anything it's to say and depict things others don't want to hear or see, regardless of their position in society?

Tout est pardonné regardless.

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Monday, October 20, 2014 

Poisoning national life? That'll be two years.

Gosh, was it really but two weeks ago some of the internet world was up in arms over the apparent suicide of Brenda Leyland, aka Sweepyface, aka one of those meanies still obsessed with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and still insisting her parents might have had something to do with it, or at least bear some responsibility?  Unpopular opinions certainly, but not illegal, and probably not really deserving of a doorstepping from a Sky reporter.

How fast things move these days.  Just as we saw in the aftermath of the riots, when some judges took it upon themselves to hand down harsher sentences to those who didn't riot but suggested they might than to some of those who did, so now Chris Grayling promises the maximum sentence for "trolls" will be lengthened from the current six months to 2 years.  Anyone would have thought we don't have a prison system in crisis, one where the debate over whether Ched Evans should be allowed to play football again ought to have been delayed until he'd served the full 5 years he was given after being found guilty of rape, but no, space can always be found for those who "poison our national life".

Apparently Chloe Madeley was last week subjected to "online terrorism".  I say apparently as I really, truly, don't care enough to look any deeper.  One suspects the rape threats she received amounted to what they usually do, a handful of people, sometimes not even that, reaching for the most obvious weapon in their verbal arsenal, either sexual assault and/or death.  Back in the day, we called the people whose first response to getting bested in argument was to say the equivalent of "I'd beat u up m8" internet tough guys.  Because in the majority of examples, that's all they are: cocky and arrogant online but likely to shit themselves if someone took them up on the offer and arrived on their doorstep.

This isn't always the case, as #gamergate has (somewhat) demonstrated.  Madeley doesn't seem to have had her personal information posted online, as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian have.  #Gamergate has also now been going for two months, an incredibly long time by internet standards for a drama to still be developing.  For those who've missed the whole farrago up to now, in microcosm #gamergate is either one of two things: a crusade against corrupt videogame journalism, or a dying, backwards community trying desperately to keep its domain in aspic, without politics, especially left-wing politics and feminism, gaining a foothold.

As you might expect, in reality it's neither.  Both sides doth protest too much: despite how gaming journalists have tried to argue there was no truth behind the claims of corruption from Quinn's ex-boyfriend, who detailed how she had slept with journalists and others in the wider industry while still in a relationship with him, there has long been a problem with cronyism at best and outright corruption at worst in gaming media.  Rather than face up to the initial outcry following the spreading of Eron Gjoni's allegations, one of the first responses came in the shape of multiple news and review sites declaring the "gamer" label itself dead, all on the same day.  You know, exactly the sort of collusion and refusing to listen the old media used to indulge in and still does, albeit on a smaller scale than before.

Then again, you can't exactly blame them considering some of the abuse directed their way.  Think the trolling of Caroline Criado-Perez et al except multiplied many times over.  Nearly everyone with even a passing role has been "doxed", items really have been sent through the post, and so on.  It has also been to a certain extent orchestrated, one internet subculture organising for all out war on another.  Their enemy is "SJWs", social justice warriors, imposing their values and standards on others whether they like it or not, and anonymous most certainly does not like it.

You'd think being something of a left-winger, believing wholeheartedly in equality and so on I would be in alliance with those criticising games and gamers for their continued Neanderthal ways.  And I would be, if that first response hadn't been so woefully constructed, the backlash against the mere asking of questions so vehement.  The reason this has gone on so long without burning itself it out is precisely because those on the side of Quinn and Saarkesian have risen to the bait over and over and over, just as Criado-Perez and those supporting her did.  Moreover, just as the coverage of the banknote campaign and its aftermath made clear how journalists themselves ramped it up due to how they knew those involved, or indeed, how they were being targeted themselves, so any semblance of objectivity went almost immediately.  It's shone a light on the vulnerabilities and insecurities of both sides, highlighting groupthink and the way narratives are constructed in this extremely new media landscape.

There is of course no defence for threats, for "doxing" people, for scaring them to the extent they feel compelled to leave their homes.  Concerted, sustained trolling has to be tackled in some way, and if that means involving the authorities, so be it.  You don't have to be a cynic however to note it's only some victims the media cares for, and there are plenty of journalists who have never taken to their writing becoming so open to criticism.  We've already seen people imprisoned for making tasteless jokes, or given community service for daring to make angry political statements. Handing judges the power to impose longer sentences for going beyond what we consider the bounds of free speech, will, as it always does, encourage them to use it, just as publicity also makes them believe they have to set an example the next time a spotty herbert with a miserable life and a hateful online alter ego appears before them.  The only people who ever truly poison national life are those in positions of power, and the vast majority of keyboard denizens have none.

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Monday, May 12, 2014 

The impossibility of freedom of speech.

Perhaps it's just the years spent examining my own navel, but for the most part I go out of my way not to be an appalling hypocrite, choose the easy target (yeah, right) or make the obvious riposte/joke about things.  When faced however with the fact that someone was starved enough for excitement in the first place to be listening to David Lowe's Singers and Swingers show on BBC Radio Devon, then was apparently so exercised by how the version of The Sun Has Got His Hat On he played included the original, n-word using second verse that they felt the need to complain, I find it difficult not to wonder about how desperately empty their life must be.  Those minutes spent contacting the BBC could have been used in any other way imaginable; life might not always be all we would like it to be, yet surely, surely, even the most miserable, wretched and pitiless individual could have come up with something more entertaining and intellectually nourishing to do than whinge about the content of an 82-year-old song?

No?  We are back in context land, you see folks.  I can perfectly understand the BBC cutting the Major scene from The Germans episode of Fawlty Towers, especially pre-watershed, not least when John Cleese has himself said it's not something he would write now.  When it comes to material pre-1960 though say, to cut racist dialogue or stereotyping out of either music or films is to deny history.  You're not protecting people, you're censoring something approaching the norm and which should be recognised as such precisely because we've moved on from then.  David Lowe didn't even realise the song featured the n-word, and either wouldn't have played it at all, or as would have been best, prefaced it by saying it contained some language we would view as offensive now but wasn't then.

The only reason the Mail on Sunday decided this was a front page story is obviously due to the discrepancy of treatment between Clarkson and Lowe.  Clarkson, like Lowe, offered an apology and got a final warning; Lowe offered an apology or resignation, and the BBC accepted the latter.  Who knows whether there were extenuating factors or a manager was already looking to get rid of the DJ,  off he went.  The BBC has since done a reverse ferret and offered him the show back; Lowe has declined on grounds of stress.  It looks bad, and it is bad.  Often the BBC ignores complaints on the reasonable grounds that most are from the usual suspects, either with an axe to grind, nothing better to do, or the consistently and never knowingly under-outraged.  Why they took the single complaint this seriously is anyone's guess, unless post-Sachsgate and the Savile/McAlpine disaster they've become far more proactive than previously.

Then again, they could just be entering into what seems to be the new spirit of the age.  Nearly 40 years ago newspaper editors worked themselves into a frenzy over the use of a word they no doubt heard and used multiple times every day.  In our brave new social media world, we have people who can only be described as half-wits making complaints to the police about tweets they don't like.  Rather than the police telling said half-wit to stop wasting their time with spurious politically motivated whining, they instead visit the individual targeted and ask him, despite no laws having been broken, to take the tweet down.  Everyone then duly wonders whether things can be really that slow in Cambridgeshire for two officers to find the time to make such a visit, and if perhaps we've reached a new low in the great giving and taking offence stakes.

On the surface at least, the problem is the law.  We have free speech, except we don't.  Article 10 of the ECHR allows free expression but makes reasonable exceptions, including for the prevention of disorder or crime.  Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 duly makes it an offence to send a message that is grossly offensive (or menacing), which even by the standards of legislation that leaves it up to judges and juries to decide what can deprave or corrupt is by definition subjective.  As a result we've seen the likes of Matthew Woods jailed for three months for making unfunny, off-colour jokes, grossly offensive to some certainly, but par for the course for others.  Last week saw another victim, with Robert Riley jailed for eight weeks after tweeting in the aftermath of the murder of teacher Ann Maguire that he would have killed all of her colleagues at the school as well.  Riley was, predictably, another of those lonely people who enlivened his existence (spent as a full-time carer) by trolling, tweeting purposefully "outrageous" things in the hope of getting a response.  He had in fact as the judge noted sent other messages, including some that were racist in nature, but it was the couple about the dead teacher that resulted in Inspector Knacker getting involved.

Precisely what benefit anyone gains from sending pathetic misfits such as Woods or Riley to jail isn't clear.  It might make someone feel slightly better for a few hours, and could feasibly shock those convicted out of immaturity; it could also cause further bitterness, dare I say perhaps somewhat justifiably.  It certainly isn't a good use of resources, and yet despite the attention giving to trolling last August, the debate Keir Starmer urged nearly two years ago concerning the boundaries of free speech online hasn't really happened.  Abuse on the scale of that received by Caroline Criado-Perez is one thing; surely the despaired upon works of Woods and Riley ought to be something else.  We can't however seem to get perspective, as lazy journalists and also bloggers seek out the next comment or slight to get angry about.  We should hardly be surprised when the police and BBC management can't either.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014 

Stratchclyde Partnership for Transport gives you wings.

It's fair to say that I am yet to be convinced by any of those arguing in favour of Scottish independence. Apart from how I find it extraordinarily difficult to separate narrow nationalism from short-sighted political chauvinism, being constantly reminded of Renton's outburst in Trainspotting, I simply don't follow the case made by the radical independence people.  Should Scotland vote yes it certainly won't mean that the SNP will be in government for perpetuity, but the idea this will open a gap for those further to the left just doesn't tally. The SNP is fundamentally an authoritarian party, albeit one closer to social democracy than Labour has been in two decades. It's made the exact same compromises though, as evidenced by Salmond's sucking up to Murdoch and pledges on corporation tax and air passenger duty.  Imagining that giving them their greatest ever victory will in turn result in a triumph for those opposed to neoliberalism is just wishful thinking.

This said, it's difficult not to be slightly overawed by the efforts of some on the Yes side, as epitomised by Wings Over Scotland. Having already crowdfunded two opinion polls, Stuart Campbell's last appeal for cash to keep up the site's campaigning brought in over £100,000, a sum which astonished everyone. With some of this extra money, Campbell booked an ad to run on the Glasgow subway, a simple yet bold design pointing out that not a single national or daily paper supports independence.

Almost entirely predictably, within hours of the ad appearing it was being pulled.  The reason? It's difficult to tell, as the advertising contractor Primesight and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport have now taken to blaming each other, but it seems as though the justification remains that the ad is "political". Except, as should be clear to anyone even passingly impartial, it's not. While you can quibble over the exact number of papers that are Scottish owned, with Campbell accepting he forgot about the Greenock Telegraph, no Scottish paper does support independence.  The Wings advert is no different from a newspaper declaring what its political affiliation in the same way; how anyone could claim that makes the advert itself political completely escapes me. If anything, it reminds of the Guardian's well known advert from the 80s, which also advocated taking a wider view.

Whether the decision itself was political, and it's difficult to shake the feeling it might well have been, the knock on effect has been just as predictable: news articles on the controversy mean that thousands more people than would ever have seen the ad on the tube are now aware of it and Wings Over Scotland (Wings has also had its money refunded).  It also shows the Tube operators in an extremely poor light, especially when the newspaper distributed on the network today carries an advert attacking, err, the Yes campaign and directs readers to a website. Even if the Yes campaign does fail, and while I suspect the end result will be far closer than most polls suggest you'd have to be a brave man to bet against an No, the Scottish media and their friends in power have been shown up as never before.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014 

Why I'm speaking up for myself against everyone who has criticised me.

You've probably never heard of me, as no doubt you have better things to do with your life than follow the online adventures of the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, but a couple of weeks ago I tweeted something which has the potential to be truly revolutionary.

I tweeted a picture of the online Jesus and Mo cartoon, the one that both Viz and Private Eye would reject as being a bit pathetic and transparent.  For those not in the know, this has caused controversy in the past, mainly among those who are always looking to be offended.  If nothing else, I know a controversy I can exploit when I see one.  After all, I was the person who felt Tommy Robinson or whatever his real name is (he hasn't actually told me it, but it's not important) was just desperate to get away from the far-right organisation he created.  That Robinson has now been sent to prison again and tweeted after the sentence that it was a "stitch-up" in no way means I was wrong to try and get him to slightly rebrand his unique critique of Islam.

I tweeted it not because I was seeking to speak for anyone other than myself, but because I know the only way to keep my think-tank Quilliam going is to make ever greater attention-seeking gestures.  I'd noticed you see that there's a certain section of the left-wing Twitterati/commentariat that is outraged by everything and anything some Muslims do politically.  A month ago the issue of the week was the voluntary segregation that fundamentalists at universities were insisting upon, and which the official guidance had acquiesced in.  Somehow Downing Street intervened, and soon everyone was backtracking.  It didn't matter that this essentially means fundamentalist women won't be able to attend speeches by their favourite extremist, and I speak having previously ploughed that furrow, or will just mean that such meetings will have to happen off campus, clearly an important wrong has been righted.

Why then shouldn't I join in?  There was never any chance of Nick Clegg or the Liberal Democrats deselecting me down to my tweet; look how they've dealt with Lord Rennard and Mike Hancock for goodness sake, so there was next to no risk.  Death threats?  I was in prison in Egypt for goodness sake.

You see though, this isn't about me.  Honest, it isn't.  No, I was speaking up for my religion.  Not all of us Muslims are mouth-breathers without a sense of humour, or who are offended by someone drawing a line and writing "Muhammad" next to it.  Some of us are also extremely ambitious and know how to get people like Nick Cohen writing columns.  I did it to create a space for people to speak out without being immediately accused of blasphemy, for Salmaan Taseer, Muhammad Asghar, Malala and Salman Rushdie.

Fundamentally, I believe in the same things as you do, just like most ordinary Muslims.  I'm not ordinary obviously, but you get the point.  I believe in the ability of those on social networks and in the modern media to blow extremely minor spats out of all proportion, presenting them as though they are about the very fundamentals of freedom of speech; I believe in making the most of such outbreaks of bullshit; and most importantly, I believe in myself.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014 

Collymore and Ulrika.

I think I've made my views on trolling and Twitter pretty much clear, and don't really feel the need to repeat them again now in light of Stan Collymore's complaints about the abuse he's received for a while and which ratcheted up again at the weekend.  It should surely be noted though that unlike Caroline Criado-Perez, Collymore is in the business of making controversial comment on football and is no doubt well remunerated for doing so.  He's also pretty good at it, being the best thing on Talksport by a very long way.

Credit must nonetheless be given to both the Sun and Ulrika Jonsson for deciding this would be the perfect moment to bring up how back in 1998 Collymore attacked her and according, to Jonsson, said he "would fucking kill her".  No doubt he did.  One is also reminded however of how Jonsson's chosen way of promoting her autobiography was to focus on the allegation she made in it that she had been sexually assaulted earlier in her career, without naming the person responsible.  This, inevitably, led to speculation as to who it was, with Matthew Wright inadvertently naming John Leslie.  Jonsson chose not to cooperate with the subsequent police investigation into Leslie, with the CPS later dropping a prosecution against him at the last minute.

If we're going to bring hypocrisy into it, perhaps we should also consider the consequences of being deliberately vague and then not being prepared to pursue a case once the name of the person has become public.  As Ian Hislop said at the time, his general understanding was that you made complaints about sexual assault to the police, not the media (obviously, if the police ignore or don't act on complaints, then it certainly is legitimate to go to the media, although whether our press will treat ordinary members of the public's complaints with the same level of concern as they did someone like Jonsson, unless the individual being accused is also a celebrity, remains to be seen).  11 years on from that, and Jonsson is complaining about another incident that also resulted in no charges being brought, which Collymore apologised profusely for at the time.

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Thursday, January 09, 2014 

Revisiting the Twitter hate machine.

There has been, shall we say, an interesting response to the convictions this week of two of those who abused Caroline Criado-Perez on Twitter following her campaign for a woman to appear on a banknote.  At the time we were told repeatedly this was proof positive of how many women are treated when they dare to raise their voices in public for such causes, of the most vile misogyny, and how there needed to be a change in attitude by both social networks and the police to such incidents.  Some of us cautioned that the first two views especially seemed to ignore how trolling had developed, as well as how those who had previously been exposed as trolls tended to be rather pathetic individuals. Unlike political bloggers. Ahem.

Without saying the guilty pleas of John Nimmo and Isabella Sorley vindicate that stance, as it's evident that some of those behind the over 80 accounts who attacked Criado-Perez were motivated by little more than outright sexism, it doesn't exactly stand up the misogyny explanation either, something most of those commentating have curiously omitted from their write-ups. We shouldn't of course take the mitigating statements made by their solicitors completely at face value, but it doesn't surprise Nimmo was described as a pathetic friendless failure, whose only interaction with the outside world was to abuse public figures in an attempt to get online kudos.  Sorley meanwhile blamed her behaviour on both boredom and being drunk, the latter at least backed up by a string of convictions for being drunk and disorderly.

While you certainly can be a woman and a misogynist, Criado-Perez's explanation that our society is "so steeped in misogyny" that women joining in shouldn't be a surprise doesn't really cut it. Just as any ideology can blind you to far more prosaic explanations of behaviour, Criado-Perez's feminism seems to have stopped her from considering whether it might just be that Sorley is an immature person who's made some extremely bad decisions.  Going back through her tweets over the past six months, that certainly seems the more reasonable conclusion to draw.

Helen Lewis writes that the debate has been held back by how the abuse directed against Criado-Perez was so awful that it can't be quoted pre-watershed.  This seems a red herring: was the debate really held back?  I don't think it was; if anything, the response last July/August from the media was ridiculously over-the-top and misinformed precisely because those reporting on it were too closely linked to the people being abused.  I can more than empathise with Criado-Perez being deeply upset and changed by the nature of the worst of the abuse; a long, long time ago (we're talking over a decade ago) someone managed to find my address and threatened to come and beat me up, which even if extremely unlikely did cause me some worry.  No one deserves to be threatened in such an obscene way, yet they are just words, words delivered through a computer screen, and which are constructed precisely to garner such a reaction.  Feminists being threatened with rape or worse isn't instantly misogyny; it's pure trolling, the troll knowing that bringing rape into it is bound to result in a reaction.

Which is where I think so many have got it so wrong.  As Isabella Sorley tweeted, and I think we can take her word for it, "these people don't hate her, they are after a reaction and she is giving them one!"  The abuse went on and got worse precisely because it was bitten back against over and over, receiving such wide media attention.  Ignoring it completely obviously isn't an answer, but it's a better one than expecting either the police or Twitter to be capable of tracking down every individual who wrote something beyond the pale.  Wanting the police to investigate every instance as Criado-Perez seems to isn't just impossible, it would mean them also having to track down those who threaten racists, feminists who attack feminists, as well as those who tweet their disgust at the construct they've just witnessed on their TV screens.

Fundamentally, it does come back to the other point, the confusing of the internet you would like there to be with the one there actually is.  Some of those who took part in last summer's boycott were deeply shocked when they found that the part of the internet they occupied could be infiltrated by those from outside it.  Fact is that some users out there don't care for who you are, and are more than prepared to tell you about it.  Helen Lewis says we can't ignore what's happening and asks whether it will be enough to make us act, yet she doesn't suggest what we should do.  If that's because there is no real answer, and most of the suggestions as to how to deal with it either wouldn't work or would destroy fundamental online freedoms, as restricting anonymity would, then good.  If not, we either haven't learned anything, or simply don't want to.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013 

Worse than selling out.

Just about the best riposte to those quick to shout sell out came, naturally enough, from two people who despite everything, haven't really sold out (at least if you overlook all the merchandise that came out following the initial mega success of their series). Yep, we're talking about Trey Parker and Matt Stone's South Park, and that classic of the second series, Chef's Chocolate Salty Balls. Having sold his version of the Mr Hankey story to a grasping film producer and been stiffed in the process, Stan explains to Cartman that he deserves it for selling out, as anyone who makes money in the entertainment industry is by definition. Away from television but just as scatological, there's Tool's Hooker with a Penis, featuring Maynard informing an "OGT" fan who accuses him of selling out that he did so to make a record in the first place, and his critic "bought one".

Calling someone who's found success a sell out is then just about the stupidest possible criticism you can make. You can dislike an artist's output if they've watered it down so much in an attempt to find a wider audience that they fail to carry their original fans along, but then again, all of us need to eat. You can do much the same if they've done a complete change of direction, or indeed if they then fail to acknowledge their humbler beginnings, especially as success is often fleeting. Harsher, more vitriolic reactions can be justified though if either hypocrisy is involved or indeed, the individual belittles their previous work, or for that matter those who have clearly influenced them, for which see Disclosure and an upcoming end of year post.

We come then to Jack Monroe, the young woman with the austerity cookery blog, now column, soon to be one of the stars of a few Sainsbury's adverts providing tips on what to do with leftovers from joints. Monroe's rapid ascent to sort of celebrity, described by the Graun as the face of modern poverty and included in their list as one of the people of the year, has not gone unnoticed.  The ever lovely Richard Littlejohn dedicated a Mail column to Monroe and the Graun's version of what poverty is, and amid all the familiar nonsense, stupidity, deceptions and unnecessary meanness that characterises a Littlejohn column, there is something resembling a point struggling to get out.  Calling someone the face of modern poverty or as Littlejohn puts it, "a poster girl for poverty" is all well and good, except poverty no longer has a face, if it ever did.  As figures released last week revealed, more than half of those measured as being in poverty are in work, so applying easy labels or generalising becomes ever more redundant.

With the very best will in the world, nor are Monroe's recipes, despite her protestations, always the humblest or easiest to procure.  Yes, kale is an easy target, but then there's the beetroot, feta and lentil salad, or the chickpea and aubergine curry recipe.  I'd like to know where she got a large aubergine for 53p from (presumably Sainsbury's), as while you certainly can get them cheap, not everyone's going to be able find one for that price outside of say a deal or the reduced section.  She also somehow managed to get two sprigs of fresh parsley for 8 pence (try asking someone for two sprigs of fresh parsley from a market stall or in a shop and see them either laugh at you or narrow their eyes) for the smoky herring roe recipe, as well as 100 grams of green beans for 15 pence, which I again can't see as being based in reality unless they were massively reduced.  The point is that you can eat well for £10 a week, but that also assumes you have the time to find the items she suggests and to prepare them, not necessarily things those in such a situation have, or indeed an internet connection or the £1.40 for a copy of the paper she writes for to get the recipes in the first place.

This isn't to doubt Monroe's passion, and amid the many like Littlejohn who think nothing of demonising the poorest and those subsisting on minuscule amounts, anyone fighting back against such slander deserves support.  Nor is her decision to take Sainsbury's money for their adverts selling out, nor would it be had she not split the remuneration between charities and local food banks.  It does however come quite close to breaking what she wrote in her response to Littlejohn, that she didn't go in for product endorsement posts or guest or sponsored posts.  Let alone the adverts, her response to the claims of selling out is practically a paean to the supermarket and how brilliant they are.  Littlejohn, naturally, has seized upon this, and you can't for once exactly blame him.

All in all, rather than focusing attention, the pushing of Monroe has been a distraction from the harsh reality those who remain in penury are having cope with, as continues to be chronicled by Amelia Gentleman in the... Graun.  Poverty doesn't need a face; it already has far too many.  Whether we choose to acknowledge them or not is what matters, and while it's not her fault in any way, shape or form, A Girl Called Jack isn't helping.  And that's hell of a lot worse than selling out.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013 

The year round silly season.

Tom Daley is in a relationship with a man.  Somehow, despite Daley's announcement, life yesterday went on pretty much as normal.  In a country where same sex marriage will very shortly be legal, it might be an indication of how far we still have to go that pretty much every newspaper today has Daley on its front page, or it could be just another reminder of the cult of celebrity.  Coming out as bisexual, while certainly a big moment and decision for Daley (and probably a bit of a choker for his legion of female teenage fans) doesn't really affect the rest of us.  It's interesting in how a sports star feels the need to make clear his sexuality, and it's a reminder that in other sports, football especially, players don't yet feel secure enough to be open about being attracted to other men, yet it's also an insight into one reason why no one since Justin Fashanu has came out: the media simply wouldn't shut up about it.  Even if you made it easier for others to follow, would you really want your career to be overshadowed by something that shouldn't make any difference whatsoever?  Daley was concerned if he'd made the admission in an interview that his words would be twisted or misconstrued, hence he made sure there was no chance of that happening by taking to YouTube.

This isn't a post about Tom Daley or sexuality though.  Rather, what has really began to irk me is the way insubstantial or less important pieces of news are often responded to in an attempt to create a debate that simply isn't there.  Take the Graun, which just hours after Daley posted his video had a piece up by Nichi Hodgson, arguing "we shouldn't rush to define Daley's sexuality" (who was?) and that it suggests "being bisexual is still taboo".  While you can certainly make that case, it was just last week a survey suggested the number of women who'd had a same-sex partner had increased over the past 10 years, while predictably the Graun also had a piece up baldly stating "sexual fluidity is a fact of life for women".  It might not be the same for men, but what exactly is the point of addressing an issue that wasn't there in the first place?

The answer is, obviously enough, it draws in traffic.  Some days it seems news sites engage in little else but click bait, where what someone said on Twitter is dissected and squeezed for all it's worth, or where the latest meme or passing frenzy is debated for no discernible reason other than without it there wouldn't be much to fill out the page.  Then there are writers whose entire output seems to be designed to either wind the reader up or published purely as a kind of an elaborate joke on us poor bastards who used to quite like browsing Comment is Free.  Once there was Julie Burchill, who oddly enough now can't find anyone to take her nonsense, so instead we have Bidisha and Brendan O'Neill.  Not quite as irritating but still bizarrely foisted upon us are Holly Baxter, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Daisy Buchanan.  And occasionally, there are just fantastically stupid one-offs, like Nicolaus Mills' article yesterday on "self-gifting", which silly old web 1.0 me thought was err, buying stuff, or Lola Okolosie telling Marco Pierre White his hash of chicken, rice and peas was "a classic case of disrespectful cultural appropriation".

Point is, if I in fact do have one, is I can't be the only person who just really doesn't care about 99.99% of what's being discussed on Twitter or Facebook or on pretty much any social media.  If I did, I'd seek it out there.  It therefore doesn't interest me in the slightest that Katie Hopkins has said something else extremely vaguely distasteful, or the whole Elan Gale thing (who he? Ed) was a hoax which proves once and for all the internet is an unkind and mean place where adults act like children.

To almost completely contradict myself, very occasionally not enough is made of appalling similar behaviour, such as Peaches Geldof tweeting the alleged names of the two women who abused their babies for the approval of Lostprophets' Ian Watkins.  Apparently not realising that by doing so she was all but identifying their children, she later gave the most mealy-mouthed non-apology possible, focusing on how Watkins and the two women "will be gettings [sic] three meals a day, a double bed, cable TV etc – all funded by the tax payer alongside not being named apparently".  Whether she will be charged with any offence remains to be seen, but considering others have been convicted for naming rape victims on the site it would be inconsistent to say the least if the CPS declines to do so.  Coming in the same week as Lee James was convicted of the vigilante murder of Bijan Ebrahimi, it ought to have served as the perfect example of how quickly a mob mentality can be fomented.

You don't of course have to read any of those named above or those like them, let alone Buzzfeed or certain sections of the Huffington Post.  The portraits do however stare out at you, the headlines meant to draw you in, while you can't avoid their entries on the front page of CiF. Moreover, while there has always been an amount of fluff and barrel bottom scrapings on group blogs, it does seem to be getting worse.  Once there was considered and worthy content not apparently thrashed out to meet an artificial deadline; now we get pieces on "Lycra rage".  The silly season continues all year round.  Or maybe I'm just a bitter, miserable turd.

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Monday, October 28, 2013 

Thoughts on the end of the liberal conspiracy.

Liberal Conspiracy is gone.  It's something that's clearly been approaching for a while, such has been the dwindling number of posts, but it's still rather sad.  My thanks go out to Sunny for considering my witterings to be worthy of occasionally featuring there, and I wish him luck in his future ventures.  This also seems as good a time as any for a brief interlude of introspection, so here we go.

Sunny pulling the plug on LC is indicative of where blogging has gone over the last couple of years, which is pretty much down the toilet.  Perhaps I just haven't kept up, but away from the group blogs it seems moribund.  A few are still going fairly strong, others aren't updated as regularly as before, while plenty have thrown in the towel.  Clearly, individual blogs can still grow exponentially, for which see Wings Over Scotland, it's just they need a well-defined niche.

I would say this, but for me the real explanation for the decline isn't the mainstream media coming late to the party and overtaking the amateurs, it's that most writers now spend their time on Twitter rather than blogging.  Each to their own and everything, I just don't like the format and way it inevitably leads to circle jerks, as well as the tendency it inspires in trying to one up those you disagree with, which leads absolutely nowhere.  It also seems to lead some to believe that Twitter, or rather their followers and those they follow are the internet, the culmination of which seemed to be the "boycott" of August.  I'd like to think blogging broadens rather than limits horizons, while social networking in general does the opposite.  Might just be me.

It may also be somewhat to do with how ghastly politics is and has been for the last couple of years.  People seem to have tuned out to the point where Russell Brand being his normal, half-berk half-idiot savant self inspires more comment than anything in months.  You can focus when the government of the day is doing one or two things that are spectacularly ill-advised and wrong; when the coalition seems determined to bugger things up on so many different levels, it tends to inspire apathy rather than opposition.  With so many struggling to make ends meet it also leaves you determined to make the most of the leisure time you have, and while I might be the kind of sad bastard who likes smashing out hundreds of words every day, plenty of others who might have started out before think better of it now.

All this said, I for one am still fairly happy to keep going on.  I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought of putting an end to Obsolete/septicisle or whatever stupid name this site has quite a few times down the years, but for one reason or another I've continued.  Why stop now that the "competition" is dwindling?  Let's give it till Christmas, at least.

(Thanks to everyone who does humour me.  And if you're still reading, thank you especially.)

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Monday, August 05, 2013 

The epitome of modern self-absorption.

Right, can we cut the crap now?  This Twitter nonsense has gone on for far, far, too longThe trolling of Caroline Criado-Perez et al has almost nothing to do with feminism, or misogyny. What it does have to do with is a internet subculture that has been there for years, and has become most known thanks to the exploits of Anonymous, but most certainly did not originate with 4chan, or even the Something Awful forums.  Once upon a time, websites and their forums got "raided". Sometimes this happened justifiably, more often on a whim or on the basis of a deemed insult.  In essence, what would happen is that message boards would be flooded, goatse and plenty of other gross pictures would be posted, and a bad time would be had by members of the specific community.  As time has gone by, the targets have switched from being just forums to online games, and yes, social networking profiles.

From here, it's easy to understand how Anonymous broke through, although it's always surprised me that for the most part the main Anonymous grouping has had broadly left-wing political aims, as it always seemed to be the libertarians that shouted the loudest on the sites where its support sprung from.  Nonetheless, the potential has always been there for a similar grouping to emerge that while holding similar views on internet freedom to Anonymous eschews politics and instead just goes after whoever takes their fancy today.  I'm not saying this is what has happened in this instance, as it doesn't look as though the trolling is fully co-ordinated, but in the main the abuse is so obvious as to be laughable.  Some of it is plain misogyny, such as that coming from those using their own names and talking about "smashing up the arse", while talk of "all aboard the rape train" or anyone putting "lololol" or the like in their message pretty much gives the game away.

The real problem we have here then is that the likes of Caitlin Moran and all those that "boycotted" Twitter yesterday just don't understand the way the internet used to work and still does work outside of their own personal bubbles.  The only way to deal with being "raided" is to pull up the drawbridge, or ignore it.  Instead, we've had a media frenzy and surprise surprise, the abuse and rape threats keep coming.  Twitter itself has gotten the blame for something that has happened on every previous messaging platform and which they have all had difficulty dealing with.  Much of the trolling is coming from "one use" accounts, making it difficult for Twitter to do anything even if there was an easier way of reporting abuse, which itself would be a nightmare to administrate however many staff Twitter took on to do so.

It's understandable that those who have been subject to the abuse have taken it as being about men trying to silence women, about centuries of misogyny etc, but there isn't the same excuse for those who ought to know more about the wider internet.  The vast majority of those trolling won't be chauvinists but rather those who've taken exception, for whatever reason, to someone who ends up in the public eye, usually as a result of conducting themselves arrogantly.  They use insults or threats that they know will get a response, hence the emphasis on rape or death.  I might be blasé as in the past I've done my fair share of trolling and have in turned also been trolled, and threatened with getting beaten up etc, but I would have just laughed at most of the messages that have been sent. Reporting them to the police is the equivalent of a red rag to a bull, while treating it as though it's the most pressing issue for women in general is to lose all sense of proportion.

If anything, the whole debacle has just illustrated both how up themselves a hell of a lot of people are, and how they don't like it when the boot is on the other foot.  Anyone with a decent amount of followers can swiftly get anyone who criticises them, unfairly or not, an online mullering, as some have pointed out Moran and the likes of Suzanne Moore aren't above doing.  That number at the top of a profile only encourages the belief that they are an internet big shot; I have 30,000 people hanging on my every word, how can Twitter possibly cope if I simply stop enthralling every single one of those individuals?  The answer, it ought to be obvious, is that Twitter couldn't care less about political and media luvvies. It might have done a few years back before the site was embraced by celebrities, but it doesn't now when there are millions of 12-year-olds who use it only to declare their undying love for Justin Bieber or One Direction and who are the ones paying for the servers.  The idea of boycotting a free service in itself is only marginally less stupid than going on hunger strike in solidarity with those at Guantanamo, but going about it as some did just emphasised how out of touch with reality they've become.

None of this is to condone the nasty and malicious trolling Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy amongst others have been subject to. It has however revealed just how self-regarding and self-obsessed the modern media has become, and just how quickly it can find itself outside of its comfort zone. It might also highlight how little regard there is for some of them at the same time as they think they've mastered the new environment. One suspects though that this will go completely over their heads as they carry on #shoutingback.

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Sunday, August 04, 2013 


A number of Twitter users say they are boycotting the website for 24 hours.

Yeah.  You know when something starts off stupid and just keeps dafter until it finally explodes due to the sheer fuckwittedness of all involved?  This is the ne plus ultra.  It's like Clockwise but without the laughs.

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Monday, July 29, 2013 

The Twitter hate machine.

I've come to the conclusion that Twitter is the new arsehole of the internet.  There have been many sites that have combined both the best and the worst of the internet previously, but for the most part the media ignored them.  Twitter you can't ignore: there is almost always one story on the Graun's front page about something that's happened on there, regardless of importance, precisely because it's been so adopted by the media, even more so than Facebook has.  These self-same people are in the main the ones that are so shocked that, horror of horrors, there are some really rather nasty people on the internet who enjoy making empty threats against those in the public eye.  Trolling goes back to the earliest days of BBSes; it's only really moved on in that some people are now so confident they troll or flame using their real names.

Stewart Lee couldn't have been more right when he described Twitter as "a government surveillance operation run by gullible volunteers, a Stasi for the Angry Birds generation".  Twitter both monitors and reports, and if you're one of those caught up in a periodic furore when it's decided someone completely lovely has been unfairly traduced, then watch out.  Enter Caroline Criado-Perez, who just so happens to be a freelance hack.  Following her campaign to get true feminist icon Jane Austen on the £10 note, she was subjected to some pretty par for the course abuse on Twitter.  Regardless of who you are, if you become even briefly notable, you will get flamed and trolled, however unwarranted such treatment is.  It's how the internet has always worked.  Where once we just swore at the TV, now some people swear in public via Twitter.  It isn't pleasant, but a lot of people have found there's little to do other than put up with it.  Hell, just a fraction of the criticism and abuse Lee has received makes up part of his last show, Carpet Remnant World.  Turn it to your advantage; ignore it; block people; let them get on with it; or, and this is a really scary one, try and do without the stupid thing.  You might just be able to.

Don't though claim this is a unique problem for women online, because it isn't.  Yes, it's true that women tend to be abused in a far more degrading and sexual way than men are, as just some of the tweets directed at Criado-Perez suggest.  This is mainly due to how, again surprise surprise, the vast majority of trolls are men (or often boys), and usually men whose lack of social skills has made them especially embittered towards women.  As another report currently on the Graun's front page makes clear however, men can and have received almost identical treatment.  Stan Collymore has previously highlighted the racist tweets that were being sent about Patrice Evra in the aftermath of the Suarez affair, while even the slightest digging will find people being unbelievably stupid on the site, such as those complaining about the royal baby being assigned a "gender role".

This is the problem with bringing the police into the equation.  Not only would they never be able to cope if every potentially lawbreaking tweet was reported to them, it raises fundamental questions about fairness and just how abuse in response to abuse should be treated.  As Anorak points out, plenty of people said that Emma West, the woman convicted of a racially aggravated public order offence on Croydon tram, should be raped or killed yet no one it seems was arrested for saying so.  Nor were those who called for Azhar Ahmed to be killed prosecuted, despite the fact that they went further than he did.  The courts have also so far failed to take into consideration the "disinhibition" effect the internet has when sentencing those who have been convicted of going beyond the limits of free speech online: the two Facebook "rioters" were jailed for a staggering four years, longer than many of those who actually did riot, while Matthew Woods was given a three-month sentence for posting a bad taste "joke" about April Jones.  Those who want certain kinds of trolling to be treated as criminal or online threats as equivalent to those made in public or over the phone have to be comfortable in the knowledge that similar punishments will inevitably follow.

The most obvious reason as to why Twitter doesn't have an easy report feature is that it would be endlessly abused.  Moreover, if you are being subjected to an orchestrated campaign of abuse as Criado-Perez says she was, then the police probably are the right people to turn to rather than Twitter itself.  There's trolling and flaming, and then there's bullying.  To repeat a point, there's also an off switch.  Until relatively recently we managed to go without constantly bombarding each other with messages of 140 characters or fewer.  Yes, some people on the internet probably hate you.  More importantly, some people in real life probably like you.

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