Monday, October 06, 2008

A high-wire act by Mr Ahmed and what it might mean for us all


Yesterday, I drew attention to a posting by one of our fellow Lib Dem bloggers, indicating my concern as to the implied homophobia of his comments about the new Labour cabinet.


Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceA number of you commented, indicating that I was not alone in my view. Indeed, some of you posted comments on Irfan's original posting, advising him that, at the very least, the language used was unwise. It was apparent that he had also drawn some highly inappropriate and unsavoury anonymous comments.

However, it is his view at the time of writing that he is perfectly within his rights to bring the matter to the attention of others. And, of course, he is right. On the other hand, he is providing a platform for homophobia of a sort most heinous, and worst of all, doing it under a Liberal Democrat banner. This is unacceptable and, it might be argued, behaviour likely to bring the Party into disrepute. Indeed, Julian Harris has uncovered another comment which might be deemed to be in conflict with the tenets of liberal democracy.

"What can be done?", I hear you ask. At this time, there is no mechanism to remove offensive material from the Aggregator unless an individual chooses to self-police. However, as a collective, we should have the right to exclaim, "Not in my name". Access to the aggregator generates a significant percentage of traffic to our blogs, and loss of that access will hurt, especially those of us who set some store in the level of our readership.

So here's a proposal. If someone is offensive, it should be the right of a self-defined community to punish that individual in an open and transparent manner. We should encourage rehabilitation and penance, as well as restorative justice. However, we should not allow a free-for-all, whereby the acts of an individual imperil our collective reputation.

So, my friends, I come to a question? Do we believe in obliging individuals to accept responsibility for their actions and in defending the rights of others to take offence? Or do we prefer to just disengage from a debate about proper behaviour?

10 comments:

Wit and wisdom said...

It seems entirely reasonable to advise the individual of your concerns the first time and only to take any action if the problem persists. I confess to not having read the original post but I tend to follow Irfan's comments and I find little to offend.

To blasphemously misquote a religious nut of my acquaintance, let he who is without sin type the first letter..

Will said...

Much that I think Irfan's post was ill-judged, I would be very concerned about any kind of mob mentality that says X number of people can force someone off LibDem Blogs - which, at the end of the day, is Ryan's site and it's up to him who's on it.

(If you think someone's posts aren't compatible with them being a Liberal Democrat - a prerequisite of being on LDB - then that's another issue.)

The nature of blogs is that they can be self-policing and drawing attention to content you disagree with and commenting to say so is the best way to deal with it. I doubt many people reading Irfan's post and seeing the comments on it are likely to think it's representative of you average Lib Dem blogger.

David Mathewman said...

Personally, I would be very unhappy with the 'Lib Dem Blog Aggregator' suddenly acquiring itself powers to ban a particular blogger. It doesn't feel to me like the correct thing to do.

Rather, I feel that the Aggregator should explicitly be a space where any blogger on it should have the right to say something that every other user of the aggregator disagrees with; even that every other user of the aggregator finds offensive.

That, to me, is the Liberal, free-speech position.

I'm prepared to rethink it if the aggregator becomes swamped with trolls. But I'm not prepared to rethink it because of one blogger who is making a couple of comments that are being successfully countered. I don't want the aggregator to become the 'good parts' version of Lib Dem blogging - I will consider it tainted and less useful if it does.

Mark Valladares said...

I agree, Irfan's postings do not represent a 'body of offence' significant enough for punitive action. However, I raise the question in the event that he, or anyone else for that matter, decides to use a blog as a platform to express views which are consistently inappropriate. Is it fair to place the onus on Ryan to act as judge and jury in such a circumstance? I suggest that it is not.

I do not suggest that a small group of individuals should, in a vigilante manner, attempt to police our corner of the internet. However, we should be aware that, at some point, it may be necessary to act. It is for the community concerned to decide upon where that point lies.

Stephen Glenn said...

I agree with David and Will above.

As Nich Starling wrote in the Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging this year while a vast number of blogs on the aggragator are universally on message but some of us do at times emphasis an alternative view. That is what being a Liberal Democrat is about we can stress alternative views.

In this particular blogger's case I have passed comment to him in the past in private and this time on his blog in public. However, as has been done both by yourself and Jennie a counter case has been argued and posted on the aggregator, while some of the rest of us have merely posted comments reflected our distaste at the content of that post. In this case as I said on your original post I think it is largely down to a youthful lack of experience and possibly understanding.

As Will also points out the aggregator is Ryan's site and does contain adisclaimer in the imprint.

"The views on this aggregator are a collections of views from various people's blogs. LibDemBlogs and the Liberal Democrats accept no responsibility for the posts made."

Admittedly the new skin does place this at the foot rather than where it used to be near the top of the sidebar if I recall. But it is there. However, I don't think we should open the door to being each other's thought police. As bloggers we are quite capable of posting comment or counter post if we find something we disagree with either from a fellow Lib Dem or some other parties blogger.

Jennie said...

I'm with David on this. There's a mute button on LDB for a reason. If there's a blogger on there who is consistently offensive to you, you can mute them, but as long as they are a party member they are entitled to have their blog aggregated. One of the things that I value about the party is that people with objectionable opinions might be told that they are ill-informed, or just plain wrong; but they aren't SILENCED and denied a voice at all.

They are free to say what they think, and we are free to reply, argue with them, mute them, whatever. I think your "I am muting you now" post is good, fair, and appropriate. But getting someone kicked off the aggregator, no matter how much of a troll they are, is illiberal.

Irfan Ahmed said...

A lot of comments have been left on my blog and here about my post.

The Post only gave an anonymous comment a voice and I only identified something that I think people should know about. If you are offended by that they isnt a lot I can do. I actually hve nothing at all against people who are gay and have just mentioned what a large number of people mentioned on Guido's Blog.

Secondly, LibDemBlogs is the site of Ryan and if he wants to remove me of the Agregator then he can. But that is his choice.

jamesshaddock said...

I'm with Will, David and Stephen.

If people are offended by something, either take it up with the blogger or ignore it. The mute feature on LibDem Blogs allows that.

Mob mentality, as Will put it, could lead groups of bloggers ganging up on others they disagree with. I have several views that don't go down well amongst some Lib Dems such as supporting nuclear power and selective education. What would stop such a way of policing the blogosphere affect me?

Andy said...

Hmm. I can appreciate where you're coming from, but sympathise with the weight of comments above that if someone is suitable for membership of the Lib Dems, they are automatically suitable to be syndicated on Lib Dem Blogs.

(The subtext of your post, indeed, seems to suggest that a possible mechanism to censor someone who consistently posts opinions that are incompatible with the Lib Dems more generally would be to attempt to have them removed from the party.)

One thing I do wonder is whether, if we so wanted, we could use a kind of negative LibDig points system to register those posts with which we actually have a problem (rather than simply not being bothered, whereupon we simply don't click to recommend it at all). That way the offending post is still readable (indeed, it may attract further attention to itself through the force of its own controversy), whilst still making it clear that it is not in line with Lib Dem thinking more widely.

No? OK then. ;)

LJH said...

Right, time to exercise my right to say something unpopular and against the consensus.

I don't agree that this is an issue of free speech and framing it as if it is does not further the argument. No-one is suggesting that a blogger be denied his or her right to free speech; no-one that I have seen is calling for Mr Ahmed to shut his blog down.

What has been questioned is the right of Lib Dem Blogs members to express certain political views under the umbrella of Lib Dem opinion. And last time I checked homophobia (like racism and sexism) was antithetical to everything we are supposed to stand for.

The practical necessity of belonging to a political party is that all of us have to moderate our views - and surrender a bit of our freedom of expression - to fit within its margins. Also, ask yourself this question: there is a by-election in an area like Brighton or Manchester that has a big gay community. Are you happy for borderline-homophobic remarks to go out on opponents' literature under the label "as said by an official Lib Dem blogger"?

Two more brief points. The American left has been tied in knots by right-wing ideologues saying: "you have to tolerate our views, no matter how offensive because you're liberals and that's what you believe." Er, no. Better to have the conversation early, the conversation that this blog has attempted to initiate.

And while defending Mr Ahmed's right to freedom of expression to the hilt, where's your concern for the freedom of expression of any LGBT community members who may feel intimidated out of joining the Lib Dem conversation because they have been made to feel unwelcome?