Most people were surprised to hear the news that Hollywood Director James Gunn had been fired by Disney from the production of big budget Marvel superhero film “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3”.
When the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” film was announced many thought it a strange choice as it was based on one of Marvel Comics more obscure titles that even self confessed comic nerds like me were unfamiliar with. They followed up that unusual decision with another one when they appointed director James Gunn to helm the production. Previous to working on Guardians, Gunn’s had mainly worked on independent films, often with Troma Entertainment, a company known for producing low-budget horror films, many of them playing on 1950s horror with elements of farce, parody, gore and splatter.
However Disney’s unorthodox choice of film and director seemed to pay off when Guardians of the Galaxy received glowing reviews from critics and raked in over $770m at the box office. He followed this up with a sequel, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2” which brought in a further $860m for Disney so it was no surprise when he was given the chance to complete the trilogy with Guardians 3 due to be released in 2020.
However Disney are now looking for a new director for that project after firing Gunn over offensive tweets he made in 2008-2009.
It should be said James Gunn was in his forties when he made these tweets so they can’t be written off as youthful indiscretions, and the content of the tweets are pretty vulgar and reference rape, pedophilia and transphobia. However they do read as jokes, albeit sick ones, and I’m not sure anyone reading them would really think Gunn is advocating these things.
Firing Gunn does seem a bit hypocritical from Disney who produced the film “Powder” in 1995 with a convicted child molester as Director, it seems Disney takes jokes about pedophilia more seriously than actual pedophilia. They have also continued to work with actors such as Terrence Howard and Johnny Depp despite allegations of domestic violence.
The decision from Disney also seems a bit strange as they must’ve been aware of these tweets, as Gunn publicly addressed this issue in 2012 and apologised for them. The reason this issue has arisen again now is due to Gunn’s political views.
James Gunn is a critic of Donald Trump and has been very vocal on twitter in his criticism of the Great White Dope. This has drawn the ire of Trump’s Alt-Right minions who are responsible for circulating these tweets. This is what political assassination looks like in the digital age and the chief assassin is Alt-Right activist Mike Cernovich.
Cernovich is a “Men’s Rights” activist who spends his time promoting fake news and conspiracy theories. Make no mistake Cernovich was not motivated by any sense of decency having penned articles encouraging men to masturbate in front of women and claiming date-rape does not exist.
Disney’s actions have handed the Alt-Right a win and will undoubtedly cause other high profile individuals to pause before speaking out against their friend in the Whitehouse.
Ungagged asked me to expand a bit on a recent twitter thread on social media abuse and I’m happy to do so. I emphasise these are just my personal views but I hope they are helpful. I have made all the mistakes over the years so you don’t have to.
I have been on twitter since 2010. I’ve seen it get bigger and uglier and been through various stages of trying to handle abuse from challenging it, to RTing it, to blocking it and finally muting it. For me, muting it is the best solution. I’ll tell you why.
Challenging it is pointless. Someone abusing you on twitter knows they’re being horrible so there’s no point in telling them that, they want to upset you and make you angry. If you challenge them they will only get worse. The same goes for RTing abuse. I know people sometimes do this to highlight it, but this simply invites other users to join in and participate in a nasty squalid fight that will just leave you drained and depressed.
Blocking people can also make them worse, I’ve had people set up new accounts so they can continue to have a go at me because I blocked them. I do block people in some circumstances but I find muting people is much better at just getting rid of them from my timeline and mentions.
I’ve muted many hundreds of people and twitter is much better for that. I have muted people on the No side and I have muted people on the Yes side. In my opinion a lot of nonsense is talked about the relationship between political positioning and social media abuse. The fact is you get toxic people across the board. Twitter gives you the option to mute them, so use that option. Mute them, forget about them. If they really cross the line, block and report them. And remember – on your twitter you decide what the line is.
If someone threatens you or another person don’t hesitate to go to the police. It may not result in action being taken there and then but you are still providing intelligence which may enable action to be taken at a future point if the perpetrator is following a pattern of behaviour.
I have also thought about my own use of twitter. Quote-tweeting is something I do less and less now due to the way it can instigate pile-ons if you have an above-average number of followers. I realised I was guilty of that after I quote-tweeted what I thought was a particularly silly comment from a political journalist, poking fun at him. My tweet wasn’t malicious or intended to be. I was just taking the piss. But a lot of the replies to my tweet copied in the journalist, were quite abusive and it just went on and on and on.
Coincidentally there was a recent discussion on twitter about why a well-known unionist blogger had been blocked by a large number of SNP MPs. I had blocked this chap myself after he RTd me, leading to a stream of nasties in my mentions. (If you want to stop someone being able to RT you directly, you need to block them).
Probably the blogger didn’t intend to set the flying monkeys on me – any more than I had intended to set them on the journalist – but just didn’t really think about it before quote-tweeting something he saw as silly. We all need to learn that lesson. If you instigate pile-ons, either wittingly or unwittingly, people are entitled to block you. And, for the avoidance of doubt, MPs are people.
I also have to mention twitter clyping in this context – this describes the situation where someone tweets a comment about another person and a different user replies @ing that person in. If the original tweeter wanted to @ the person into their tweet they would have done so. Don’t do it for them because it can result in a confrontation they don’t want.
Inevitably we come to the vexed subject of misogyny. There has been a great deal written about the level of sexual abuse and threats sent to women so I won’t add too much to it. It’s ugly stuff. And the more high-profile a woman is, the worse it gets.
Some may think that high-profile twitter targets never actually have to read the abuse directed at them but they (or people around them) do have to, because they need to assess if they contain any credible threats. The recent Westminster Hall debate which allowed women MPs to talk about the horrific abuse they received was, I hope, an eye opener for some. And, as in life, it’s worse if you are a black woman, a lesbian, a Jew, because misogynists are so often bigots too.
Plus, for all women, twitter tends to have the same double standards as you get in real life – men are assertive, women are aggressive, men are confident, women are arrogant, men are witty, women are silly and childish. And be careful about telling jokes – some men really don’t like it!
So why do I stay on this hellsite? Well, for one thing I rather enjoy being silly and childish on twitter. Twitter at its best is joyous, I have had so many good laughs over the years. For another, I have genuinely made some good pals who I would miss if I left – and that applies to people on both sides of the constitutional divide. So I’m sticking around with my mute button at the ready. Otherwise I’d have to go back to facebook and that would be a fate worse than death.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the UK and Scottish media is mainly hostile towards the SNP. But that hasn’t stopped the SNP. The media doesn’t decide who wins elections in Scotland, the people do.
Since the SNP won power the media environment in Scotland has become marginally more favourable. But at the same time distrust of the media from SNP and Yes supporters has grown stronger.
There are some who think the answer to media bias is for the SNP to simply disengage from the MSM. They should consider what the consequence would be. It wouldn’t end the phenomenon known as #SNPBad. Rather, it would mean there was nothing but #SNPBad as our point of view wouldn’t be heard at all. I can’t see how that would be an improvement.
And sometimes I find myself reading a story described as #SNPBad and thinking hold on a minute, there’s a valid point here. The job of any government will never be complete, there will always be problems that need fixed and it’s perfectly legitimate for journalists to highlight them.
Many journalists see their job as holding the powerful to account and the SNP is in power. But the fact that we’re in power in a UK context makes it a wee bit tricky. We’re both in power and not in power, in control yet not in control. It’s more layered and complex than many journalists acknowledge and, perhaps unsurprisingly, lines become blurred and readers become enraged instead of engaged.
We do need to recognise the media is not a single entity. There are good journalists and bad journalists. There are a few who are essentially professional trolls. And there are many journalists who write stories which are good for the SNP and also write stories which are bad for the SNP. That’s just the nature of journalism.
None of this means I don’t understand and share the frustration of people infuriated by sloppy, one-dimensional inaccurate stories about the SNP or Scottish Government in the media. I do.
We should always highlight falsehoods and make sure as many people as possible are made aware of them. And we should also do as much as we can to support new Scottish media.
But I still think SNP supporters can ascribe to the MSM a power it doesn’t have. We are not victims. We are in government and we should have more confidence in ourselves.
Equally, I think Scottish journalists and editors ought to reflect on the fact that a large chunk of the population feels marginalised and alienated from a media which should encompass the diversity of opinion in Scotland. That is not healthy or sustainable.
A degree of scepticism from readers is healthy, however, and should be encouraged. I’d like to see all of us apply the same healthy scepticism we bring to our own media to all media. If you believe the BBC is institutionally programmed to promote the interests of the British Establishment – as I do – then that is even more true of broadcasters like RT. Let’s apply the same critical analysis to their output.
The current debate around fake news, social media and tribal epistemology (which describes the situation where the perceived truth or falseness of a statement depends entirely on who is making it) is not only pertinent for journalists and commentators, it’s very pertinent for us too. I believe that understanding the danger of this phenomenon is crucial for the Yes movement as we gear up to make a renewed case for independence.
Many people in Scotland still feel that the world has gone a bit bonkers and that it’s difficult to know who and what to believe. That condition applies to people who voted Yes and No alike. They are nervous about the future.
In my view that makes it even more vital that the case for independence is made in a rational, calm and evidence-based way. We need to persuade undecided voters – to earn their trust, not scare them away. Rather than absorbing a tribal approach to politics we need to recognise tribalism is our enemy.
I think that means we need to be careful with the language we use when discussing the media. It doesn’t mean we need to be less critical of inaccurate reports but if you find yourself railing against the failing biased phoney fake news media you should probably stop and have a wee lie-down.
The next Yes campaign really needs to be a serious affair, in contrast to the political pantomime of the past few years in the UK. It needs to offer complex solutions to complex problems, it needs to be pluralist, it needs to be diverse, it needs to be inclusive, it needs to be rigorous, it needs to be honest, above all it needs to be grown-up.
In an ideal world a grown-up campaign would be covered by a grown-up media. I’m not holding my breath on that one. But the fact we can’t control how the media will cover it doesn’t change the way we need to campaign. And we need to campaign that way now.
By Laura Martin
On the 13th April the High Court in England and Wales ruled on two legal actions brought against Google for failing to remove search results relating to the historical criminal convictions of two businessmen. The case of NT1 & NT2 vs Google is described as a landmark ruling being the first time that the English Courts have tested the principles of the ‘right to be forgotten’.
The decision of Justice Warby is controversial and re-ignites the debate about the purposes of the ‘right to be forgotten’. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in May 2014 that data appearing in online search results which were inadequate, irrelevant, excessive or outdated be subject to erasure upon request to the search engine operator. This ‘right to be forgotten’ is underpinned by our fundamental Charter rights of data protection and our human right to privacy.
The CJEU ruled that the ‘right to be forgotten’ is not absolute and can be denied when the request conflicts with other rights (like speech) and interests (accessing accurate information). There is much concern over whether the High Court struck an appropriate balance between the fundamental rights of the businessmen, the interests of Google, and the wider public interest.
Internet search engines play a key role in the dissemination of information and facilitating communication. The ability to request erasure of data can be seen as impeding the critical function of search engines whilst unduly impacting our fundamental right to freedom of expression. Despite accusations to the contrary, the ‘right to be forgotten’ does not enable individuals to “re-write history”, it only enables individual to request their data be de-listed or hidden from search engine results. The information itself remained both on the Web, in Google’s index, and is available via the many other possible searches. Google also have an economic interest in maintaining complete search engine results. If the press had discovered that a private search engine operator had removed details of criminal convictions, there would be public outcry and backlash.
The businessmen’s data protection and privacy rights were also considered. The anonymous businessmen, NT1 and NT2argued that the search results were inaccurate and outdated contrary to data protection principles and disproportionately impacting on their ability to develop personal and business relations which are protected under the fundamental right of privacy.
Public interest considerations are vital when ruling whether the ‘right to be forgotten’ should be granted. Justice Warby afforded significant deliberation to the nature and scope of the public interest in having access to search results on the criminal convictions of the businessmen. NT1 and NT2 had been convicted of criminal offences over a decade ago and their convictions had been considered as “spent” under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
Despite the purposes of criminal law being served, does there remain a public interest in the Google search results? Justice Warby believed so. The judge suggested that the public interest was heightened as NT1 failed to accept his guilt and show remorse in relation to his convictions. This reasoning undermines the purposes of criminal law and is unfair as both NT1 and NT2 were accepted as being rehabilitated. The existence of the search results subjected the businessmen to some form of additional punishment not prescribed by the State.
But some will point to the heinous crimes committed by individuals and argue that they deserve all forms of punishment and should not be afforded to hide their criminality. Rightly so, and the ‘right to be forgotten’ accepts that the public interest in maintaining search results fluctuates depending upon a variety of factors. The ‘right to be forgotten’ requires a case-by-case assessment of the public interest, allowing for the peculiarities and nature of crime to be considered. In this case, both businessmen had committed generally low level crime and cannot be considered as dangerous individuals. NT1 was convicted of conspiracy to account falsely whereas NT2 was convicted for conspiracy to intercept communications. The majority of requests are made in relation to low level crime committed by individuals in their youth.
Others have argued that by virtue of breaking the law, individuals should carry all the consequences of their misdeeds. Why should offenders be afforded the same rights and liberties as upstanding citizens? The reality is that criminal activity is inextricably linked with social depravation. Blanket denial of all ‘right to be forgotten’ requests of offenders, will disproportionately impact the lower class who make up the majority of requests for criminal convictions to be removed. Public policy and social justice considerations must be taken into account when individuals argue for blanket denial of this right to all offenders. Although these circumstances do not relate to NT1 and NT2 who can afford to challenge Google anonymously, denying the ‘right to be forgotten’ to all offenders who have spent their convictions will not only undermine the purposes of criminal law and affect the purposes of rehabilitation but would also disproportionately impact the poor.
NT2 won his legal action against Google with the High Court accepting that his data protection and privacy rights trumped competing interests. NT1 was denied his ‘right to be forgotten’ as his crime was regarded as “more serious” with his failure to show remorse amplified the public interest against de-linking the search results. The application of the ‘right to be forgotten’ to criminal convictions remains controversial. It requires much more than balancing freedom of expression, the right to privacy and data protection, and the public interest (which will always be difficult to identify). The case of NT1 and NT2 also engages public policy concerns and requires consideration of the underpinning purposes of criminal law when deciding whether an ex-criminal should be afforded ‘the right to be forgotten’.
Reading Time: 8 minutesHow Victoria Pearson, a writer in Bedfordshire who works for Scottish Pro-Indy podcast Ungagged, ended up being trolled as a result of being caught in the crossfire of the twitter storm about all male panels.
I often think of twitter as a big noisy pub. Your mates are all in there, but so are loads of people you don’t know. You’ve got really interesting, passionate and important conversations going on in some corners, people snogging in others, people playing music or showing off what they had for tea, arguing over who would win in a fight between The Hulk and Mr Hyde. It’s a big pub, I’ll give you that, and it can be rough at times, despite the champagne guzzlers in the corner, trying to seem “authentic” and down with the crowd, but I’ve always felt very much at home there.
This weekend I learned that, much like in the pub, there are times when a snatch of conversation can be overheard, misinterpreted, and spread through Chinese whispers until it is totally divorced from any of its original meaning. Unlike the pub, where it can all be sorted with some yelling, a bit of shoving, an admission that I love you really and a kebab on the way home, twitter can quickly spill over into real life, and cause real and lasting damage.
By now anyone who is reading this has probably heard about the event in East Kilbride, that had an all male panel. They got a lot of flak for it, perhaps, to be fair, disproportionately so, given they had featured an all female panel not too long before. During the backlash though, the people running the EKsaysYES twitter account, who were running/promoting the event, decided to give a masterclass in how not to respond to critics, becoming increasingly irate and aggressive with women asking why they weren’t represented.
As anyone who runs a business or community group account knows, the best way to deal with any criticism – even if you personally disagree with it – is to thank your complainant for their input, take it on board, and say you’ll do better. It stops things running out of hand. But I digress.
My involvement in the furore was periphery at best, but the blowback was staggering, and is still ongoing. A dear friend, valued colleague and comrade was involved in the conversation, mentioning that she hadn’t seen a call by EK Yes for female speakers – that she was surprised by that since she is in many Indy groups and women’s groups online, as well as a follower of the group itself’s page. She said if she had seen the call, she would have rallied her friends and acquaintances and gotten them some female speakers.
Instead of replying with “Thanks for the offer, we’d love your help for next time” they – rather condescendingly, in my opinion — responded “But what groups or parties would they represent? Remember we are looking for independent media specialists.”
This is where I came in. No knowledge of the background or what’s going on at all, I’m responding purely to that tweet. I ask if they mean to imply there are no female independent media specialists? Because in my experience, they are the creative driving force behind the alt-media industry.
Someone else responded with “And you’d know this by virtue of the fact you’re a woman?” and the EKsaysYES account liked the response, which shocked me. It seemed unnecessarily aggressive, and an odd tweet for a professional to endorse. But I responded that no, my knowledge was based on being a woman in the independent media industry, and being lucky enough to work with hundreds of amazing women as a result. I went off to make a cuppa, thinking my part in it was done.
When I returned to my keyboard 2 minutes later, I had 4 responses from EKsaysYes, each more aggressive in tone than the last, all demanding I go and speak for them in February.
I’m a professional writer, and I was utterly shocked at being approached in such an unprofessional manner. Not only was I being yelled at in a thread with over 15 other people tagged in, the person demanding I speak for them had clearly not even looked at my profile first. You see, I’m English, I live in South East England, I’ve never set foot in Scotland in my life. There were dozens of Scottish women – who have put far more hours into Independence than I have– literally in EK’s mentions saying they’d like to be heard, but instead they chose to demand that I speak, to a Scottish group about Scottish Independence, a round trip of over 600miles away. My professional information is not at all hidden, just googling my name would bring all of this info up instantly. I was staggered.
So I replied in a way that I thought was blatantly obviously sarcasm with “DM me and I’ll send you my fee list.”
From the reaction, you’d think I stripped off naked in the high street and started skinning puppies in the name of Nuggan.
EK responded along the lines that they doubt I even know what I’m talking about (they were asked later, by someone else, if they thought that due to my gender, my nationality, or simply because they didn’t like my attitude, but they declined to respond) and their friend from earlier in the thread started to go through my blog, ridiculing me because I once wrote a single article about menstrual cups as an alternative to tampons and sanitary towels for people who didn’t want to give money to prolife organisations through the tampon tax – all the while demanding to know who I thought I was, and who I worked for.
I told them Google is their friend, because honestly why should I trouble myself to present my credentials to people who can’t be bothered to look me up for themselves? Had they scrolled back through my timeline just a tiny bit, they’d have seen that a few days before I tweeted how much I love working on the Pro-Independence podcast and alt-media org Ungagged, tagging in many of the people who also work there, as well as the Ungagged twitter account itself.
I was laughing at the time, because, had they clicked on the ‘about me’ section on the blog they were trashing, they’d have seen my bio, where I clearly state that I will write, speak, or give social media advice for food and that my rates go up the ruder you are.
The other link on my twitter bio leads to my Amazon page, which states “Victoria Pearson lives behind a keyboard in rural Bedfordshire.” This information is not hard to find, and, as someone who has had to gather speakers for events myself, I think it’s pretty basic to click links in someone’s bio information before inviting them to speak.
The fury unleashed by my very much tongue in cheek comment (believe me, if I charged a pound for every hour I put into Scottish Independence in my role as Web Producer for Ungagged, I wouldn’t be in the bottom 6% of uk earners[listen from 1 hr 7min mark]) has been completely disproportionate, and quite frightening.
Another person in the thread – who had been on the panel – took my words as a personal attack on him (I still don’t understand why, as I wasn’t criticising the panel or event at all) and became infuriated with me – scarily so. He berated me for hours over it, saying that he would never charge to speak for independence, that he had had to give up his time, time with his partner, etc to speak.
I’m guessing he wouldn’t have had to find childcare for 4 children or have his partner lose 2 days wages to travel a 620 mile, 18 hour round trip and spend around £800 to get there and back either, but that really is beside the point.
He eventually accused me of bullying him. Somewhat ironic given he was helping to fan the flames of a witchhunt against me, but I still immediately told him it definitely wasn’t my intention to be unkind, that I had no issue with him and if he could please show me where I had been rude, I’d gladly apologise. He stopped replying, because I hadn’t been rude, unkind, or displayed bullying behaviour once.
I then went to bed early, ready to take my four children out the next day. I assumed my part in this melodrama was done. I came home the next evening , tired but happy from taking my youngest to see Santa for the very first time, to find all hell had broken loose on my timeline in my absence.
EK had deleted tweets, breaking the thread so that casual readers couldn’t see the many tweets I followed my fee tweet up with, clarifying that had I wanted to speak – which I do not- at best I would’ve asked for a sandwich and help crowdfunding my train fare. They then screenshotted what was left, making it seem like they had asked me to speak and I demanded a fee without any other interaction. They were telling people that I had asked to speak and then demanded money.
I want it made crystal clear that I did not and would not ask to speak to a Scottish audience about Independence. I’ve repeatedly said for the last two years that I refuse, point blank, to Britsplain Independence to Scottish people. The very last thing anyone in Scotland needs or wants is yet another English voice telling them what to do. I’ve been a writer for 15 years, and I’ve written about independence once, for Ungagged, entirely from an outsiders point of view. I very much see my role in the fight for Independence as providing a boost and a platform for voices within the movement who don’t usually get a chance to be heard – whether that’s because of class, race, gender, disability or sexuality or any other barrier. I work very hard to do that. I do not speak for people, I pass them the microphone.
What should have been no more than a twitter spat that should have blown over in a day at most had turned into huge accounts sharing that screenshot with demands to find out where I live, and who I work for. Screenshots of my account posted with the caption “A liar.”
The threads spawning from them were vile and filled with paranoid fantasies that would be more at home on conspiracy websites than coming out of the mouths of supposedly serious commentators. I’m mi5, I’m a “media agent from the BBC”, a Russian bot, a Unionist, Momentum, RISE. I’m deliberately harming the Independence movement. I should’ve been grateful to be asked. I should pay them for the privilege of speaking. I’m a liar. I’m trying to build a cosy career for myself off the back of Independence.
An actual article appeared in The Herald, conflating several points and muddying the waters still further, underlining the idea that I’m profiteering even more. The hornets nest, just starting to calm, was kicked again, starting the cycle afresh, leading a certain writer with a twitter following of over 12 thousand people to spend an entire day making snide comments about me without using my name, and retweeting nasty comments about my supposed motivations.
This has led me to feeling very unsafe. My twitter account is public, my profile picture is my face, my handle my full name. My full name appears several times in my cover photo. The fact I have 4 children is in my bio.
Being so open on twitter is a doubled edged sword. On the one hand, it has made the veiled threats of doxing and the threat that implies very frightening, not just from a perspective of my own personal safety, but that of my husband and children, and my other relatives and friends who may be caught up in crossfire by association. After all, the people attacking me clearly don’t value getting all of the facts before jumping in feet first.
On the other hand, the best of the Indy movement, who know me well online, have come out in my defence, knowing as they do that the picture painted of me is inaccurate, unfair and damaging. The Yes movement I know – the inclusive, outward looking, socially aware movement that wants an independent country in order to make it better for everyone – have been amazing, setting the record straight where they can and urging others to do their research. Unfortunately this has led to blowback for a lot of them and for that I’m truly sorry. Their solidarity should not cost them in that way.
So what can we learn from this? I’m not sure. I am certain this behaviour is not representative of the East Kilbride Yes community group. I refuse to believe people working so hard for the good of others would condone the harassment, abuse and stalking behaviour incited by the person behind their twitter account. This kind of bullying is not only bad for their group, but the movement as a whole. If they’d like to apologise, delete their defamatory tweets and ask their followers to stop attacking me, I’ll gladly accept and move forward for the sake of the movement I believe strongly in.
I know the people calling for my blood are not representative of this wonderful movement in any way. But something does have to be done about the toxicity of the narrative here. This kind of behaviour is not ok. And for the very first time in my 8 years on twitter, I’m considering taking legal action.
I was really proud of this podcast this week. When our collective found out that two pensioners, Brian Quail and Angela Zelter, had been jailed for protesting at the nuclear weapon storage and dispatch facility at Coulport here in Scotland, we decided to do something that an online collective can. We wrote a letter to the two prisoners for peace. And we asked people to sign it. The response in the short time frame was phenomenal. People from across the political world asked to sign. You can find the letter here.
Then, the day after we sent the letter, the Trident two were released. We are over the moon!
Their act, described by Brian as “infinitesimally small” was an act that touched thousands of people across Scotland and indeed the world. I was shocked after my friend Kevin Gibney at Independence Livestream asked me to do an impromptu interview in their studio about the case that on checking as soon as we came off air, 17000 people had tuned in and watched me stammer and stutter what information I could give to people. 17000 people in a few minutes either found out about, or were reminded about, Brian and Angela, and I know they wont mind me saying, the infinitesimally bigger issue of nuclear weapons themselves.
And that made me think. I am an advocate of the left using the internet in ways that forward our cause and the issues we agree with. I wrote an article for Red Pepper a good few years ago about, at the time, how leaders on the left really didn’t take the internet seriously enough. Although in the last ten years that has changed, especially as younger people find themselves as part of the leaderships of these organisations; younger people who are cyber-natives; I feel the internet and its power is still thought of with suspicion by lots of campaigning lefties and organisations. The left, for the most part, is represented by individuals. And this is a pity. For many reasons… not least the fact that a huge amount of people find a political narrative from events and issues nowadays on social media.
And without really informed people getting properly involved, either as collectives using central accounts, for example a shared facebook page or group, or a shared twitter account, then we allow this space to be taken over by reactionaries who can divert good people from the truth.
I say this just after reading one of the weirdest twitter timelines I’ve seen for a while.
Twitter, for many years, was seen as dominated by the left. Narratives surrounding political events and issues were mostly left wing narratives when you checked into twitter. This wasn’t a coordinated narrative… it was mostly just left wing people posting links and commentary on these issues. This, of course, was not balanced. But it meant that the left could challenge the dominance of the right in the main stream media and through the rights dominance on facebook etc.
This is changing; and the timeline I just read sums up this change. I am not going to name any of the twitter accounts I read the series of tweets on – nor am I going to directly quote – I really don’t want the twitter account to get any publicity. The account has a blue tick beside it, and it is the account of a good looking young man. The fact that he was retweeted by a left wing twitter account had my alarm bells ringing.
So the narrative of this timeline went like this. He has a pinned tweet that states, basically, that he no longer believes in some of the things that are resurfacing from his past. He doesn’t believe – any longer – in naziism. He doesn’t believe any longer in holocaust denial. He doesn’t believe any longer in racist opinions he used to held about inferior races and he ends this with a quote from the bible about casting the first stone.
Now – as I said he is a young guy. And I am so relieved that twitter – or any social media – didn’t exist through my teenage years and early twenties as I am sure there would be plenty to cast up about me. But holocaust denial? Racism? Naziism? Lets give him the benefit of the doubt that he really does regret those views. When I look back, I think of my own – continuing – education I understand with the perspective of time, that there is always new knowledge, different sides to a story and sometimes hidden narratives in everything I read, hear or see. This is why the teaching of a love for history; analysing texts and the media etc is hugely important. And always understanding that what we know is never the whole story.
So, I looked at the tweet my left wing friend had rt’d. It was of the young man, who describes himself as a journalist, being escorted from “reporting” at a port in Sicily. Now, the tweet seemed to be about freedom of speech. Journalists should always be allowed to go about their business without hampering. At present the narrative on the harassment and the hampering of journalists seems to belong to Donald Trump, but press freedom can of course be hampered here in the uk by D notices and confiscation of source material etc. And those things have happened in recent years when wikileaks have released material to newspapes like the guardian and others. And as revealed by Seamus Milne over te years, in northern Ireland and during the miners strike. Thatcher hated a free press.
But, I thought, is this guy who he says he is? I was suspicious because of his pinned tweet and then seeing that his being allegedly censored, was not really censorship. He was there to harangue those who work on ships and NGOs who had rescued immigrants and refugees. He had been harassing people portside and was asked to leave. In fact the port authorities feared for the safety of the refugees and immigrants and workers on board the ship and kept them there until he was removed. A further investigation of his timeline shows that far from ditching his racist views, he still holds them. And it is peppered with tweets and RTs from other right wing sources on rapes and violence allegedly carried out by immigrants.
Now, I was able to process this all in around two minutes. I knew what to look for, I know what is unreasonable, and I know what is dressed up racism and indeed neo-fascism. But my friend on twitter, who could have seen the tweet, read it quickly, agreed that the press should not be in any way hindered, RT’d it to show solidarity. And this fascist view, like that of Mail journalist Kati Hopkins, is read by more followers and his awful narrative of keeping refugees from refuge, is perpetuated.
See how it works?
What do we do? Do we ignore this? Do we allow the right wing to take over?
Another narrative I saw today regarding the new right wing surge on twitter was the absolutely reasonable debate and discussion that is going on about the abuse and threats public figures suffer online. The racist, violent and vile abuse, for example, Diane Abbott receives – especially when she was ill during the last general election – was beyond the pale. But, and here is the rub, Simon Hart, a tory MP, who I don’t doubt has suffered uncalled for abuse, blamed it on wait for it, unions and Momentum in particular. Then on the same BBC magazine programme, a Liberal Democrat MP blamed it on the Yes campaign in Scotland. And just to kick that ball right into the park… a Labour mp came on to also blame Momentum and some of the left.
Now here’s the thing. I don’t doubt these people have had abuse. I too have had online abuse. But this abuse originates from the left and the independence movement in Scotland? Really? Did they ask Katie Hopkins and John Mcternan to write their scripts today?
I don’t usually quote Stu Campbell, who is well known up here in Scotland as Wings over Scotland, I find his social media presence abrasive and it negates a lot of the good stuff he does in many ways, but he is taking the Scottish Labour leader to court over alleged defamation of character after a remark she made about him -she called him homophobic. People I respect have taken up his cause. And I don’t doubt he was defamed – I don’t follow him, or read his stuff very often, so don’t know all of the ins and outs.
He says on his site,
“For the last six years, the supporters of independence have been relentlessly abused, smeared and vilified by the Unionist parties and the media. We’ve been called Nazis, bullies, terrorists, fascists, Stalinists, thugs, viruses, racists, human sewers and just about every other slur under the sun. The most innocuous remarks have been blown up into shock-horror hysteria, and on the occasions when there haven’t even been any innocuous remarks they’ve simply been invented.”
And in these sentences, I agree with him. The dreadful onslaught of the mainstream media against the Yes campaign was horrendous (one newspaper even presented us as swastika wielding thugs – the only swastika wielding thugs I saw during and after the independence campaign were right wing unionists parading in George Square – and on the Friday night after the referendum, seig heiling and beating up people on the streets of Glasgow). The narrative of the history of the Yes campaign is still being attacked and slandered and dragged over the coals by the Tory and Tory-hugging No campaign. Project fear continues to attack what was, from what I witnessed and took part in, a peaceful, positive celebration of difference and equality. In all my campaigning days I have not taken part in anything more positive. But the narrative is being hijacked. And eroded.
Stu Campbell may be someone some of us don’t like. I’ve never met him, and to be honest, lots of his misdemeanours have been ones reported to me. When I was the online person for a political party, we ensured our team steered away, just in case. But in those sentences he wrote that I’ve quoted, and at least in the spirit of his case (because I don’t know the ins and outs of it) I support him. Defamation is a serious thing, and I watch with interest. He is one individual, supported by funding, who is at least, challenging a narrative. But is he challenging abuse? Abuse that more often than not is misogynist, homophobic and racist abuse?
As for Momentum, well, I have friends in Momentum. Wonderful, thoughtful, hopeful fighters for equality. None of my friends tweet nasty threats to Tories. They disagree wholeheartedly with the Conservative ideology, and yes, sometimes post strong tweets about Tory policy and its supporters, but abuse? In the way that the house of commons politicos abuse each other? In the way the Mail journalist Katie Hopkins abuses? In the way Kelvin Mackenzie abused a city and families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster? In the way the Dowlers were abused by the press, Chris Jeffries? Rebecca Leighton? Sara Payne?
The right wing by far, control the narrative of the main stream media. In my opinion there is a concerted campaign to own the narrative on twitter and social media. Social media has been the bane of the right in the past few years after all.
Independence livestream understand that. Some groups understand that, but are in danger of being made to look as if they are poisonous when they launch legitimate campaigns. And Ungagged understand that. That’s why our podcast is one that is an across the left podcast – one that has podcasters from across the left who don’t always agree. Not agreeing is a positive thing. It’s where we learn from each other. And there lies the fear of older generation left leaders. Previous left groups had to have the discipline of a party. Some groups adopted a democratic centrist approach, where no one spoke out of turn outside the group. That way of organising no longer works. Why? Because we are all throwing huge amounts of data out there that is analysed and recored on servers across the world. And if you control your narrative so strongly that in the massive online conversation is drowned, well, you are invisible. You need to be there. You need to be discussing or arguing or debating, in order to be relevant nowadays. That is just a fact.
Holding a party line nowadays just silences a party. The left is complex. As complex as the right. The right don’t need a party line – they just have one goal – to make more profits. All else in and around the right – the thugs, the nationalism etc, are just ways to perpetuate that central tenet… that want to create more wealth for the already rich.
The left have a bigger goal – to change the world to ensure everyone has an equal share and equal access to the things this world has that enhance life. Everything else – from the organisation structures, through to the meetings about meetings – all are there to help the left to this goal. To me, Jeremy Corbyn and the corbynistas, and Nicola Sturgeon and the sturgeonettes have the same ultimate goal. As do the leaders of the smaller left parties and groups. I don’t agree with everything Corbyn and those around him say, nor do I agree with everything Sturgeon and those around her says. I don’t agree with everything the SSP say, or the Greens or Syriza – But I’ll listen to them. I know they are on the same journey as I am.
And that’s the ground I feel we must be walking on. Yes, disagreeing and debating. But always knowing it is a difference of opinion that could in the future disappear. Always knowing that the defeat of greed and intolerance is our aim.
So, do I defend Stu Campbell in the way I defend Brian Quail and Angela Zelter? Yes. Do we need to challenge the right wing people standing threateningly at quayside waiting to abuse refugees? Yes. Do we challenge people who are sexist, misogynist racist transphobic online? Yes. But lets do it together. Lets ensure we are in affinity groups that can help each other when we are attacked by online thugs. And lets use platforms created by people like Kevin Gibney at independence live stream to highlight injustices. And please, get in touch or give us a few pounds via paypal if you want to help develop Ungagged as a place we can safely debate, disagree, agree, (and listen to music!) and fight for a fair world.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.