30 comments on “Questions in The Guardian we can answer

  1. Richard Dawkins tweeted much the same this morning when he asked why you would hurl abuse at a stranger on the internet but not in real life.

    Clearly he has never spent any time out campaigning with an unpopular politician.

  2. Given that the Guardian’s comments section is the most heavily censored in the UK, what’s the Guardian doing giving us sermons on free speech? I’d rather listen to Hitler on the subject.

  3. I guess we’ve all made threatening gestures at other motorists, and then cringe as their seven-foot form climbs out from behind the wheel to confront you. I try to remember those incidents when I shoot my mouth off on the internet.

  4. The reason so many on the internet use pseudonyms is because the principle of free speech is not respected, standing up for one’s opinions so often penalised esp if you work for the state. Vicious trolls are a byproduct of this.

  5. Shinsei,

    “Richard Dawkins tweeted much the same this morning when he asked why you would hurl abuse at a stranger on the internet but not in real life.”

    If people could get anywhere near the McCanns, I think there would be abuse hurled. There’s a lot of frustration out there that something is wrong in this case, and that the mainstream media are not doing their job.

  6. She actually reached the right conclusion in that article. Leaving one to conclude just why a high profile journalist was dispatched in this case?

    Of course, asking that question probably makes me a ‘troll’ too…

  7. The same rules should – and do – apply as would if one walked up to a stranger in the street and hurled abusive or defamatory or threatening comment at them. Simple really.

    One or two things though:

    1. Colourful debate is a long established part of British life. Last night I called somebody on this blog an arse. Well, he was being an arse – and not for the first time. I reserve the right to do this. I also claim the right to respond in kind to every disingenuous post from Richard Murphy, every selective use of statistics or (deliberate?) misreading of them. And to every self-serving invoking of a Christian faith for which there is, in every other sense, scant evidence. Ritchie’s thin skin is matched only by his willingness to indulge in ad hominem attacks; a troll with a blog.

    2. As Bernie G points out, some spaces give a falsely heightened sense of anonymity and safety. Twitter, Facebook, this blog; we are well served by remembering who we actually are.

    3. The McCanns really have attracted every would-be Sherlock Holmes under the sun haven’t they. “If people could get anywhere near the McCanns…” Mate, think about that phrase and perhaps have another go at it.

  8. There’s a strange thing with Twatter troll victims. If they really don’t like being abused, why do they Twat?
    If you went down to your local pub, stood in the middle of the bar & started sounding off about your opinions to all & sundry, likely you’d get an earfull of abuse. Possibly beer. Why most people don’t do it.
    It’s the solitary thing I’d agree with Murphy on. His comments policy. It’s his rather dingy front room with the plaster ducks & the framed improving tract on the wall. Can’t blame him not wanting yobs like me pissing on the carpet.
    But with Twatter you’re trying to shout at the world. Why the surprise when it shouts back?

  9. In my personal defence I’ve never said he shouldn’t exercise whatever comments policy he wants on his own blog; I just say it shows he’s crap at his job.

  10. @ b(n)is

    The problem with the pub analogy is that the person shouting opinions in the pub is doing so uninvited. Nobody went to the pub to hear those opinions. If you twat, then you’re shouting your opinions at the people who’ve chosen to hear them (by following you) or consented to someone else sharing them (by following the someone else).

    Plus, if someone shouts an opinion and gets an opposing opinion shouted back, that’s one thing. If they get a death threat shouted back then that’s another.

    That said, I do agree that the answer to the question posed is ‘Yes’.

  11. A peculiar thing about the McCanns/sweepyface story is that the McCann’s aren’t on Twitter so there wasn’t a McCann account to ‘troll’ – some people collected the online comments of sweepyface and others into a ‘dossier’ and brought it to the attention of the police and the McCanns. From what I’ve read, I don’t have the impression that the McCanns were thought to be in physical danger, it was solely about the content of the comments, which would have otherwise remained unknown to the McCanns (assuming they don’t search for comments about themselves).

  12. Well no, TTG, I thought the pub analogy was quite apposite. It’s a “public space”* but you’re not obliged to go in it.

    *Scare quotes because, like pubs, social media aren’t actually public spaces. They’re private spaces owned by the providers. Hence freedom of speech,” I may not agree with… but I’d…yadda yadda” doesn’t apply. There’s no freedom of speech on social media. Or an expectation of restriction of speech. it’s a larger & better decorated version of Murph’s front room.

  13. Isn’t the important bit the anonymous bit? If I stand on a street corner and call person X a child murderer, thats free speech yes, but I am an identifiable person, and presumably would have to face legal prosecution for slander. If I do it anonymously there’s no comeback. Hence why I consider it wrong. If I post anonymous letters to an entire village claiming person X living there is a paedo or some such, is that not some sort of crime, assuming they aren’t? How is anonymous trolling on t’internet any different?

    Maybe the answer to the internet trolling problem is the banning of anonymity(said he going by the vague moniker of Jim). Thus if you want to say it on the net you have to provide your real name and location, which would be freely available to all.

  14. Banning anonymity would be another encroachment on the freedom of speech. And it wouldn’t stop all trolling – people troll under their real names. Anonymity is disinhibiting but it isn’t the sole online disinhibition effect.

  15. Also, one of the many good things about freedom of speech is surely whistleblowers. That’s why The Register allows anonymous comments: to get juicy information from insiders.

  16. Jim,

    “Maybe the answer to the internet trolling problem is the banning of anonymity(said he going by the vague moniker of Jim). Thus if you want to say it on the net you have to provide your real name and location, which would be freely available to all.”

    But that’s basically impossible with Twitter and Facebook. These systems are basically massively scaled clusters of computing with very few people involved in the process. Coding, testing, design. You start throwing things like address verification in, that’s a letter going out to someone, and a human being having to check the ID for each person. And that means the tiny margin has gone. Seriously – these sites make a dollar or two from each user.

    So, the alternative is paid social networking, and people won’t pay for social networking.

    Or, find a more hospitable place, or set up your own hospitable place. It’s not difficult to set up phpbb any longer. Most hosting companies have it as a one-click install. But again, these people won’t do that.

  17. Maybe the answer to the internet trolling problem is the banning of anonymity(said he going by the vague moniker of Jim).

    But you are not really anonymous. Even if you just call yourself “Anonymous Coward”. Most of us, here, are pseudonymous, and those pseudonyms can be cracked with some degree of effort. “Arnald” isn’t his real name (remember).

    Having said that, without having access to the appropriate internet server logs, it is difficult to get the data to start the traceback on. Unless Guernsey Post already redirect mail to “Dim Socialist Troll, Guernsey” to your real-world address.

  18. Let’s speak ill of the dead. (I suspect I’m doing some trolling here.)
    1. Try to shame your victim.
    2. Commit suicide, not out of shame, but to hope that posthumously others will try to shame your victim or your victim will feel shame.

  19. Commit suicide, not out of shame, but to hope that posthumously others will try to shame your victim or your victim will feel shame.

    To mix threads, that does require your utility function to be unusually weak in the “am I still alive” stakes while also being unusually optimistic in the “other people will shame my victim” area.

  20. To further mix threads “…require your utility function to be unusually weak…”

    How very…subjective.

  21. Not sure how you’d get on with the banning of non-anonymous posting under English law. As far as I’m aware (or so a lawyer mate once led me to believe),what you choose to call yourself is entirely a matter for the individual. If you get up in the morning with an overwhelming urge to be Thorn Dragonslayer, TD are your initials.
    So, as far as I’m concerned, when posting here I’m actually bloke (not) in spain (uncapitalised á la jd lang) & I just need to remember to change back before I go to the bank.

  22. The Malicious Communications Act 1988 prohibits the sending of indecent or offensive communications, including false ones, or threats, if there is intent to cause alarm and distress to the recipient. There is no actual need for the communications to have reached their target to be covered by the law. If that is not restricting our right to free speech (maybe some think it does?) why should there be a right to make similar offensive, malicious or indeed false accusations via the internet? Why is it OK to make anonymous vile statements about someone on the internet, but if I do it on paper I’m committing a crime?

  23. “Banning anonymity would be another encroachment on the freedom of speech”

    Nonsense. You can say what you like. Just have the balls to stand behind it, as you have to do in real life. That’s not suppressing your right to free speech, its just putting a small barrier to you behaving like a twat.

    “So, the alternative is paid social networking, and people won’t pay for social networking”

    They might if there was no social networking otherwise. Or social networking might die a death, and we’d all be better off as a result.

  24. Jim,

    The Malicious Communications Act 1988 prohibits the sending of indecent or offensive communications, including false ones, or threats, if there is intent to cause alarm and distress to the recipient. There is no actual need for the communications to have reached their target to be covered by the law.

    The s1 offence requires intent to cause distress or anxiety to “the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated”.

    If that is not restricting our right to free speech (maybe some think it does?) why should there be a right to make similar offensive, malicious or indeed false accusations via the internet? Why is it OK to make anonymous vile statements about someone on the internet, but if I do it on paper I’m committing a crime?

    AFAICT no-one said there should be a right or that it’s OK to make such comments, rather that it is an inevitable consequence of having the freedom to do so that some people will do so.

    Nonsense. You can say what you like. Just have the balls to stand behind it, as you have to do in real life. That’s not suppressing your right to free speech, its just putting a small barrier to you behaving like a twat.

    I didn’t say it would encroach on the “right to free speech”, I said it would encroach on “the freedom of speech”; sometimes people do not want their real world identity associated with their comments, they would not feel free to “say what they like”, sometimes with justification, so there would be a chilling effect if people could not be anonymous/pseudonymous. There are always trade-offs.

  25. Jim,

    The Malicious Communications Act 1988 prohibits the sending of indecent or offensive communications, including false ones, or threats, if there is intent to cause alarm and distress to the recipient. There is no actual need for the communications to have reached their target to be covered by the law.

    Right, so, do we prosecute every woman that sends her boyfriend a photograph of her snatch? That’s against that law, too, but we don’t, do we?

    So, what we’re really dealing with here is a form of selective prosecution where the state finds something the don’t like and then thumbs through the law finding something to nail someone with.

    It’s an act that was originally about sending people hate mail, and later, hate email. If you can write a book saying that the McCann’s should rot in hell, but not put that on a website then that law is an ass.

  26. “do we prosecute every woman that sends her boyfriend a photograph of her snatch?”

    Well unless her snatch is so horrendous to look at that sending a pic of it to her BF would cause him alarm and distress, then that doesn’t fall under the MCA.

    “If you can write a book saying that the McCann’s should rot in hell, but not put that on a website then that law is an ass.”

    I have no problem with someone putting whatever they like about the McCanns on the internet, as long as they’re prepared to stand behind it, and not do it anonymously. That gives the person being accused of whatever a reasonable chance.

  27. In the days of the Apartheid police state, it was illegal to comment on a newspaper’s letters page without your full name and street address during elections. What with state thugs and non-state racist thugs always interested in anyone who did not wholeheartedly support Apartheid, you can imagine that did have a somewhat moderating influence on what people were prepared to say.

    I used to use my real name when there was no election and no address requirement, and was prepared to accept either support or disapproval from people who knew me (our phone number was ex-directory), but when elections were declared I did not write letters. To do so would have put MrsBud and the then three little buds at risk.

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