Over the last week or so I’ve been following the recent spat between Tim Ireland and Guido Fawkes. I haven’t commented up until now because I wanted to follow the argument rather than contribute to it and make my own mind up before commenting instead of just wading into a flame war. There have been some very good posts on the issue, notably from Justin, Septicisle, Nosemonkey and Unity as well as Tim of course and I’m glad I read them before commenting as they all make very good points. Strangely, apart from some witticisms there has been little substantial counter-argument from Guido who has left his acolytes to attack Tim.
Why comment? I think the issues Tim raises are important and worthy of debate. I broadly agree with Tim and tend to fall on his side of the argument, but I do read Guido’s blog from time to time and occasionally link to the odd good story and I’ll probably continue to do so. The dichotomy for me is balancing the freedom of the Internet which, obviously, I support, with a need for honesty, accountability and the freedom of others not to be abused (unless of course they’re asking for it), as well as plain good manners. What made me decide to comment however, wasn’t so much Tim’s post but this piece by Unity which for me shows that Tim has a very valid point. It highlights an outrageous abuse of someone’s on-line identity.
Although I wouldn’t call myself a ‘newbie’, I have nothing anywhere near the level of technical expertise of Internet veterans like Tim and Unity. I am however somewhat familiar with ‘netiquette‘ (a term I knew about long before I started blogging) and on the whole I’ve always tried to adhere to those protocols that I was aware of. They are basically common sense and tend to make life more civilised for on-line communities. I don’t feel that netiquette restricts me in any way, I still say whatever I want to say.
Unlike many bloggers I choose to write under my own name whether I’m posting or commenting. I understand the reasons why some people choose to write under pseudonyms or remain anonymous, but I wanted to be completely open and avoid any possible ‘outing’ later (also I tend to get tired of a pseudonym after a while and want to change it). The main issue that Tim raises (as far as I’m concerned) is the one of ‘sock puppets‘, where some people leaving comments take advantage of a flaw with Blogger.com and easily assume someone else’s identity. Needless to say, for the person whose identity has been hijacked this is annoying at best and harmful at worst. Anyone familiar with Guido’s site will know that the comments section of his posts are full of such identity thefts.
This raises the thorny issue of comment deleting. I don’t like deleting comments or making it tricky for people to leave comments. On this blog apart from the odd bit of spam I’ve only deleted a few comments. The last time I did it was when an obnoxious stalker of Rachel tried to reveal her ‘real’ identity. My policy is to allow as many comments as possible even if they consist of little more than ad hominem attacks and I have on occasion come under attack from bullies. A main motive for blogging is to engage in debate and on this blog I’ve been fairly lucky, commenters tend to stay on-topic and this blog isn’t exactly huge so there are usually few comments anyway. However there are times when it is wise to delete comments. I think one of those times is when sock puppets are used. I strongly believe in freedom of speech (unless it infringes on the freedom of others) but the owner of a blog has an on-line reputation and inappropriate comments can adversely affect that reputation and thus their freedom. An example of this can been seen at the NO2ID site where the administrators are trying to raise a very serious issue which became diluted by visitors posting comments on their pet 9/11 or 7/7 conspiracy theories. There was a danger that the site’s message would be taken less seriously by the influential people who read it so those comments had to be moderated. Over at Blairwatch we had a similar problem (involving in some cases the same conspiracy theorists posting off-topic comments).
Of course the owner of a blog also has the right to allow or delete comments as he or she sees fit, but deleting comments that disagree with their point of view or that expose inaccuracies in their post, whilst at the same time allowing comments that make unsubstantiated accusations or hijack someone else’s identity, says something about the blogger. And if that blogger also deletes an offending comment and replaces it with an edited version under the original name or pseudonym without indicating that the comment has been edited, that says even more about that blogger.
These are the issues which I consider most important. If a blog is merely a repository of gossip or holds views that I and others find offensive or goes on ad nauseam about its stats, I don’t really have a problem with that. I have the choice to read it or ignore it just as I choose not to read The Sun or The News of The World. On Tim’s point that Guido’s blog might attract legislation that restricts all bloggers, well, maybe, but I think that considering the antics of the shower in power at the moment, further legislation affecting freedom of speech might well come anyway with or without Guido. I don’t believe he’s as influential as he makes out (I don’t think any one blog can have that much influence). What is more likely attract legislation against us is the constant exposure of government dishonesty, corruption and sleaze by political bloggers of both sides of the political divide and I hope that continues.
For the moment I’ll leave my comment settings as they are. They are already time and date stamped and I want it to be easy for people to leave comments and engage in discussion. However as soon as I suspect that sock puppets (or IP spoofers) have being commenting, I’ll reconsider that decision (because I’m not much of a techie the only way I’ll be able to decide is if the comment is obviously different from the usual views of the person). I’m aware that by writing this I might well be inviting such an attack, but if some unscrupulous bastard tries to hijack my identity, at least my real views are recorded here as a guide for others (another motive for writing this). I agree with Tim that this really is something that Blogger.com should sort out, and it’s another good reason for getting a domain name and moving over to WordPress. Tim’s taken a lot of flak from Guido wannabes and acolytes for exposing these deceits. I know he can take it but I wanted to show my support. Tim and Unity have done bloggers a huge favour be exposing these dangers.