Facebook’s Beacon

I tried out Beacon, the Facebook software which sends your activities on Facebook-affiliated sites to your mini-feed, effectively advertising 3rd party services to your friends.

So I set up an account at Epicurious, the foody site. Then I logged into Facebook. Then I saved a recipe to my Epicurious Recipe Box. A pop-up told me that the action would be sent to my Facebook feed and gave me my first chance to deny access.

Then I had a look at my Facebook profile, but nothing had happened so I logged out of Facebook, went back to Epicurious and saved another recipe. Unsurprisingly but reassuringly, no pop-up this time.

Went back to Facebook, logged in and at that stage was notified that Facebook was about to write the first Epicurious recipe I’d saved to my feed, along with my second option to opt out, including a link straight to my settings which would allow me to turn all or selected affiliate sites off in my profile for good.

Under the circumstances – the type of organisations Facebook is affiliated to, the clear and multiple chances to opt out, I just can’t get worked up about Beacon, mainly because I don’t get all that worked up about advertising. Not on principle, anyway. I mean I find ads for wrinkle cream, whitening toothpaste and the stuff that depends on you feeling bad about yourself absolutely treacherous, but the ones for Tango, The Guardian, holidays in Turkey, or Ford I don’t have a problem with over and above my problems with capitalism per se.

I realise that whole paragraph consists of qualified statements. There are reasons for that.

Extravagant curtsey to Radiant Core.

Irving and Griffin at the Oxford Union (4) – what was said

Further to my previous three posts. Irving and Griffin at the Oxford Union is yesterday’s news and unsurprisingly reports of what was actually said are thin on the ground in the mainstream media. The actual debate was the litmus test of my free speech stance on this particular debate, but it’s been neglected in favour of reporting the antics of the anti-fascists and the crumbling of the no-platform policy.

A blogsearch unearths some eyewitness accounts.

Jonny Wright, LibDem and Oxford Uni JSoc member, arrived with a friend and speeches, and heard Irving:

Irving was up next. I have to say that I was very surprised by him. I expected an angry diatribe from a stern-looking hatemonger. Irving comes across far more like an academic, with a clipped and slightly soft accent, very English. He spoke quite calmly. He started off by thanking the Union for the chance to speak – this was his seventh invitation, and the only one that hadn’t been cancelled. He expressed his hope that the demonstrations were largely aimed at Nick Griffin rather than himself.

He began his argument with the words “I’m not a Holocaust denier – but you’ve never had the chance to find that out.” He insisted time and time again that he published what he believed to be the truth, and that he was being victimised because his view didn’t correspond to the orthodox one. He peppered his speech with references to the Holocaust, and it sounded as if he was doing it rather self-consciously, almost defensively. He paraphrased Animal Farm, claiming that he was “less equal than other historians”.

At this point, the two demonstrators from Exeter who were sitting near me got up, and stomped out of the hall in disgust.

Irving then went on a bit of a general rant about free speech. I felt extremely uncomfortable as I found myself agreeing with much of his rhetoric on the subject, although I was well aware that in every sense, he had utterly failed to live up to what he was preaching. He said “freedom of speech means the right to be wrong sometimes” – I doubt he’s admitting that his views are wrong, but in truth, it shouldn’t be a crime to lie (or, more likely, to delude oneself) about historical facts.

His parting shot should be a serious warning to the anti-fascist demonstrators: “Every time I’m banned from another country, I regard it as a victory … it means there’s no-one there who can debate against me!”

Predictably most of the questions went to Irving.

Wasn’t he a hypocrite to defend free speech when he had sued Lipstadt in order to silence her? No, he said, he had agonised for a long time over whether or not to take legal action, but did so ultimately because “she had amassed a landslide against me”, and because “free speech doesn’t mean a licence to smear”. He did, however, agree that “it looks hypocritical”. There was, apparently, a “fine line”.

He also said that the trial took place seven years ago, and that if anyone accused him nowadays of being an active Holocaust denier, they were slandering him: “I don’t buy the whole package, that’s all – but it doesn’t make me a denier.” No jeers – people reluctantly obeyed Tryl’s request – but there were hisses, muffled expletives, and very audible intakes of breath.

Micah got his hand in, and asked about Irving’s infamous racist poem, which he’d written for his young daughter:

I am a Baby Aryan
Not Jewish or Sectarian
I have no plans to marry an
Ape or Rastafarian

The reply wasn’t very edifying. Irving admitted to writing it, told us how it had been used against him in his trial, and pointed out that it was only 19 words long, and was found after people had trawled through hundreds of thousands of words of his diaries. “Whatever that poem represents, it’s a very small percentage of who I am … I told that to the judge, and he wasn’t impressed.” Nor were any of us, and the under-the-breath hisses told it all.

He says that Irving’s views were shown up and strongly challenged by students in the Union.

There’s a recording of Griffin with the demontration quite audible in the background. Jerome Taylor reported from the Griffin room (the two were split up for some reason):

“There was a fantastic moment where a floppy-haired student who described himself as a “integrated British Asian” stood up and told Mr Griffin that he would have no intention of “going home” were the BNP to ever take power. Why? Because home is Britain.

Confronted by this eloquent and educated student who walked and talked like someone from Middle England the only response the BNP leader could muster was, “Well stay then.”

Not a bad policy climbdown from the leader of a party that wants to see 2 million immigrants deported from the UK.”

And in The Independent:

Never one to shy away from bold statements, the BNP leader’s speech was littered with the sort of soundbites that have made him such a controversial figure – but a method to his arguing was hard to come by.

From supporting the rights of indigenous people living in the rainforest to “cut off the heads and stick on poles” those loggers and miners who would steal their natural resources, to stating that immigration was bad for the environment – “Every time someone from Africa comes over here, think of the carbon footprint” – Mr Griffin’s arguments verged on the obscure.

But the one area where he could not help but win grudging agreement from his audience was on the subject he was asked to defend – the fundamental right to free speech. “The moment you have an establishment or an elite saying ‘This is wrong’ your heading towards a totalitarian state. Every generation has its sacred cows, its certainties, but very often they are wrong,” he said.

It was an argument the audience spent little time trying to defeat. Instead they concentrated on dismantling the BNP, which Mr Griffin had a much harder job defending. Told by a self-confessed “integrated British Asian” that he would have no intention of “going home” were the BNP to win an election and try to force him to, Mr Griffin simply stuttered: “Well stay then.”

Unlike most debates at the Oxford Union, however, there was no official motion and therefore no vote. The union decided to label last nights debate a Free Speech Forum and, while the discussions took all the forms of a debate, there was no way for the audience to express whether they liked what Mr Griffin had to say.

Interestingly, the anti-fascists came out of it pretty badly – they intimidated the audience and allowed Griffin and Irving to come across as very civilised in comparison. That said, the crisis did unite the Islamic and Jewish Societies around a common cause, and the demonstrators were said to be very diverse.

So what did BNP and Irving make of the experience?

On the BNP site the first victory claimed is the opportunity to address 200 Oxford students. Then there is some incoherent self-contratulation:

Intellectually, physically and morally the BNP has demonstrated to the British people once again that we will not be pushed around or intimidated. We won the battle of Oxford last night, quite simply, because we passionately believe that what we say and what we do is the right thing.”

He didn’t win anything. There was no vote and he arrived in a taxi.

Nothing from Irving, that I can find.

So the central plank of my argument – that they should stick to free speech and be prevented from diverging from it – is rotten. Even if the organisers or speakers had been serious about that, the thing was a forum and naturally students wanted to engage with them on their views and take them apart. As Deborah Lipstadt said:

“The President of the Union has claimed that they are not being invited to spout their views. What then is there for them to say? That they have been denied the right to speak? Griffin has a platform anytime he wants it and David Irving used and abused your courts as a platform to spew his distortions of history.”

From what I can gather this wasn’t a debate about free speech at all, but an exercise in academic freedom and self-promotion. It was Oxford Union students deciding to give themselves a bit of publicity and incidentally the opportunity to take Griffin and Irving apart. Though of course what the media noted was not this but rather the crumbling of the no-platform policy and the startling alignment of anti-fascists against free speech defenders. It really shouldn’t have been that way.

Anyway, silly old Flesh – taking Tryl’s pledge so seriously. I’ll know for next time. My free speech stance appears to still be to ask whether there is any other person equipped speak on the topic and if not and if the invited speakers are a threat to other people, then campaign for a proper debate where opposition to their views will be heard.

Irving and Griffin at the Oxford Union (3)

This is the last. Managed to watch Tatchell interviewing Tryl and O’Neill at 18 Doughty St (nod to Spiked.) Both advocate free speech with minimal restrictions.Tryl is practical. He points to the BNP’s 50 seats as evidence that the no-platform policy isn’t working. He thinks that they become stronger when they can say they are being gagged. He also thinks that extremists have a place in a debate about free speech. I wasn’t convinced by his contention that not inviting Irving and Griffin would constitute ‘latent censorship’ and that the distinction between not inviting them and banning them is false. This clearly isn’t true – people are entitled to set up their own meetings and speak at these, but there is a limited number of slots at the Oxford Union and an active choice to fill two of them with active racists. And if not inviting somebody is effectively censoring them then what is the role of the chair in the debate? I accept the point that we have to oppose people whose ideas threaten us in the open – but Tryl also dropped in that it had been difficult to find heavy-weight speakers to oppose Irving and Griffin because so many of them refused to share a platform. Like Peter Sanderson, I would only invite those two to my debate if I were pretty sure they weren’t going to get the upper hand.

O’Neill is theoretical. As any reader of that strange astygmatic ‘phenomenon’ that is Spiked would expect, he is very concerned about free speech and very laid back about the threat of violence*. And as usual he is not without a point. He criticises the ‘flabby’ incitement laws which have diverged from their origins where there had to be a close relationship between words and something violent happening as a result. He argues against organising our legislation round a disordered minority of people who we fear would be verbally persuaded to act irrationally. He criticises the wholesale abandonment of principles of free speech by the left, leaving them to be appropriated by the far right, people like Griffin who have no love or commitment to free speech but who have no scruples about presenting themselves as free speech martyrs. He also points out the habit of fascists for bursting onto the scene without respect for legalities, and then without foundation surmised that stringent holocaust-denial law in Austria and Germany was responsible for the high number of neo-nazis there.

Other than the film, Peter Sanderson, writing yesterday, differentiates between Stop the War Coalition’s invitation to Mousawi and the Oxford Union’s invitation to Griffin and Irving. He makes some good points – I’d add that the nature of the platform at the two events is very different. Nobody from StWC has taken the opportunity to reassure us that Mousawi will be opposed on his. And StWC’s boycott of Israel will make it hard for them to use the free speech argument for inviting Mousawi. Sanderson is waiting for responses to his inquiries about who paid for his ticket and whether there will be opportunities to oppose him at the conference.

In the event, Tryl says:

“At the end of that David Irving came out looking pathetic … I said in my introduction that I found his views repugnant and abhorrent because I wanted that on record … I think the principle has been proved,”

OK, that’s enough about Irving and Griffin now. Maybe I dare take a look at Annapolis. In my feed reader I can see among other things Annapolis pieces from Tabsir, The Arabist, OpenDemocracy, Jerusalem Post, the Palestine Chronicle, Ha’artez, and Philosemitism, which presents another of Ben Heine’s droppings – Abbas squatting at the buttocks of a naked Olmert with his tongue out.

*Interestingly, O’Neill brings up the Living Marxism trial in which Mick Hume et al were sued for their insistence in the face of all evidence that concentration camps in Bosnia were a media fabrication. I think this sheds some light on Spiked, the current home of Hume and O’Neill. Spiked writers like to come across as a super-rational bunch and are violently allergic to anything emotional, moving, relating to sentiment. With the exception of scorn and derision, emotion seems to be the one thing Spiked absolutely cannot stand. My 2p – maybe Hume recoiled from the emaciated figures behind barbed wire and undertook to find an explanation which would allow his faith in human nature, the crux of his libertarian politics, to remain intact.

Campbell, D. (2002). Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia – the case of ITN versus Living Marxism, Part 1. Journal of Human Rights;1(1)1-33.)

Irving and Griffin at the Oxford Union (2)

Further to my previous post, I watched Newsnight.

Luke Tryl was interviewed and said that censorship wasn’t working and we needed to give Irving and Griffin a platform so that their views could be opposed. This is not what he said before – he said they would not be given a platform “to extol their views”. But how can a set of views which are not extolled be opposed? Either everyone limits themselves to talking about free speech, or Irving and Griffin are muzzled while Evan Harris and Ann Atkins take pot shots at them for their racist views, or Irving and Griffin get to extol their racist views after all. I’m sure Luke Tryl was flustered – there were a lot of fascist-smashers baying at his door, but he gave the impression of a man who has made a bad mistake.

There was a good turn-out of fascist-smashers and one of them made the best point in defence of a no-platform policy – how nonsensical it is to host a debate with people who want to end debate with gay people, immigrants, Jews etc. Even George Galloway took the opportunity to turn up and be ostentatiously concerned that Jews might get their hats knocked off and Muslim women their hijab ripped, but considering everybody knows that he deliberately ignores racism not of the jackbooted hook-cross insignia variety, and there’s more than a bit of homophobia in his Respect Renewal, it was a bit panto. The president of the Oxford Student Union condemned the decision to give Irving and Griffin a platform. But nobody tried to point out that they were supposed to be talking about something else.

The reporter said she had spoken to Griffin earlier and he had been “delighted” to have landed a slot at the Oxford Union.

The protesters disrupted things to the extent that Griffin and Irving were split and had to speak in different rooms to different groups. What happened to Harris and fourth panellist Ann Atkins is anybody’s guess.

Nobody at all seemed to be trying to say that the debate itself was about free speech.

My question is still whether they were boosted or refuted.

More tomorrow, I dare say. Meanwhile, the Guardian scrambled something.

Irving and Griffin at the Oxford Union

The Oxford Union Debating Society has voted two to one to go ahead and offer a platform to David Irving and Nick Griffin to debate free speech, and that will happen tonight. Those who voted in favour decided not to let concerns for groups who have been the objects of Irving’s and Griffin’s hatred for so many years trump their desire to hear from them on the subject of freedom of speech. I think they made the right decision.

David Irving famously lost the libel case he initiated against Deborah Irving – she had referred to him in her book Denying the Holocaust as a holocaust denier, he tried to legally oppose her free expression, lost and was confirmed by the judge as an antisemitic holocaust denier. Unremorseful, he attributed his defeat* to “having explained myself with insufficient clarity” in the face of people he identified as Jewish leaders with “bottomless pockets” who had decided to “destroy the bastard”. Consequently, maybe because he inadvertantly reminded Austria that he was in breach of their National Socialism Law, next time he was there he was apprehended, convicted and imprisoned under their Prohibition of National Socialism Act**.

Nick Griffin is the leader of the British National Party. In 2005, after among other things calling Islam a “wicked, vicious faith” he was arrested and charged under section 18 of the Public Order Act which outlaws incitement to racial hatred. He was eventually cleared, triggering a call for a review of the law by Government ministers. In 1998 he had received a two-year suspended sentence for the same crime, but relating to materials denying the Holocaust, which he has rubbished as an “orthodox opinion“. He’s a thug in a suit.

People are making a good case that it is always wrong, because irresponsible, to give a platform to fascists. Conservative MP Julian Lewis resigned from the Oxford Union over the decision, saying:

“Nothing which happens in Monday’s debate can possibly offset the boost you are giving to a couple of scoundrels who can put up with anything except being ignored.”

The concern is that fascists forfeit their legitimacy to speak publicly on any other subject because any invitation from polite society will be interpreted as a “boost” to their fascist views.

I don’t know if the Oxford Union members are being deliberately controversial or inadvertantly naive in inviting Irving and Griffin, but I think there is a case for doing so. My premises are:

  1. The debate about free speech in Britain is important.
  2. A high-calibre panel debating free speech should include pariahs who have first hand experience at the boundaries of what is lawful.
  3. It is wrong to give a platform to fascists which gives their fascist views credibility.
  4. Inviting a fascist to debate free speech does not in itself boost their views

1) is uncontroversial. It promises to be a very interesting debate. The criminalisation of Holocaust denial will almost inevitably come up, as will what constitutes inciting racial hatred or religious hatred, and the travesty of our libel laws where the defendant is so likely to lose that you only have to wave the prospect of a libel case to make its object retract and slink away. ‘No platform’ policies in universities will probably come up too.

2) is dicey and difficult to defend – I may be wrong about it. Firstly though, if it’s free speech pariahs we want then Irving and Griffin are exemplary. Trying to think of alternative panellists you begin to realise (though without being complacent) how much freedom of speech we actually have in this country and in the EU (the right to freedom of expression is ratified in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights). If we want to hear from a pariah I don’t think there’s much to choose between speakers who repesent the types of expression that are outlawed – incitement to terrorism, or religious or racial hatred. I don’t think anybody would argue that Abu Hamza al-Masri were any better, for example.

But – a related question – are Irving and Griffin, as pariahs, necessarily the best advocates for free speech? Wouldn’t vocal libertarians such as Brendan O’Neill, who are not themselves pariahs, be better? I don’t know – I’d be surprised if the embattled politician and historian weren’t able and articulate advocates for free speech and they will have a powerful and focussing immediacy. I don’t see why O’Neill should replace rather than accompany them on the panel (Evan Harris MP is one of the other panellists and I’m not sure who the fourth is – I hope it is O’Neill). The problem is that as far as I can tell nobody is dealing with the question of Irving’s and Griffin’s ability to speak on free speech – people are understandably preoccupied with their facism.

3) if Irving and Griffin had been invited to discuss, respectively, approaches to Holocaust education or multiculturalism, then an invitation would indeed dignify their views and either would be an appalling choice of panellist. A bit like Hesbollah’s Ibrahim Mousawi being invited to speak at the Stop the War Coalition’s “international peace conference” unchallenged (there couldn’t be an Israeli speaker because the Stop the War Coalition is boycotting Israel). But they weren’t – Oxford Union president Luke Tryl assures us they’re “not being given a platform to extol their views”, they’ll be debating freedom of speech with other panellists with opposing views.

4) Will David Irving or Nick Griffin, invited to speak not about their specialist subject, but about the restrictions on it, really be or feel ‘boosted’? Isn’t it clear that the invitation is a direct result of their having abused free speech? I don’t see that thi particular platform in any way edifies them.

I do have reservations. One is whether Irving and Griffin will exploit the subject of the debate to peddle the views they are known for. I don’t mean blurting things out like Dr Strangelove – I’m worried about insinuations and associations which are not unlawful themselves but contribute to a climate of hate or suspicion. I’m wondering whether the chair and the other panellists will have the perspicuity, inclination or presence of mind to flag and analyse these to stop Irving and Griffin subtlely hijacking their platform if they decide to.

A big anti-facist demonstration is planned for the evening of the debate and I salute everybody who turns up. It’s a very good response to fascists exercising their freedom of speech and private organisations exercising their freedom to host who they like in questionable ways. Speak louder and more persuasively until the fascists are ashamed or ground down and stop, or failing that, until normal people understand enough to be ashamed of them.

* The Institute for Historical Review on the end of that link is a Holocaust denial organisation.

** Austria is sluggish with their public prosecutions. Karl Pfeifer’s ordeal is harrowing to even read about, good outcome nothwithstanding.

Respect Demolition. Good. Stop The War next? SWP is the kiss of death.

Galloway said it himself – a coalition of Socialists and Muslims was always going to be like “porcupines making love“.

Duelling conferences today marked the end of the Respect Coalition. By way of background: the SWP acted scurrilously and passed resolutions after a meeting had finished; Galloway spat his dummy with the immortal ejaculation “Go on, fuck off – fuck off, the lot of you”; Galloway’s lot changed the locks on the Respect headquarters so the SWP couldn’t get in; the SWP kept control of the Web site; a councillor who split from Galloway got a kicking (well, people did say it would end in violence). You can read all about the run-up to this happy disaster on Harry’s Place.

The SWP ran this year’s campaign for an academic boycott of Israel. I’m glad their coalition has fallen around their ears and look forward to witnessing the same with their repulsive Stop The War Coalition which hosts Hesbollah media man Ibrahim Mousawi and produces “We Are All Hesbollah Now” placards. Their war on the War on Terror involves cuddling terrorists. Literally, the SWP is hateful.
That said, who in their right mind would even consider Galloway as an alternative? His wedges from the SWP are:

  1. God
  2. being anti-abortion
  3. being anti gay-rights
  4. being conservative in a Jamaat, MAB kind of way
  5. being pro-Israel*

So when we hear from PM (BBC Radio 4, Saturday 17th Nov) that:

“You’ve got George Galloway and quite a lot of the Muslim groups going off in one direction and you’ve got the more white – let’s be frank about this – Socialist Workers Party going off in another direction, and the split has gone so deep that even one group changed the locks on the party headquarters so the other lot couldn’t get in about two weeks ago.”

and look at the pictures of the assembly which confirm the PM report to some extent (no pics from the SWP faction’s Respect conference yet) you have to put two and two together and surmise that Galloway has indeed been forced to assume a new role as the useful face of Jamaat-i-Islami (a.k.a. Muslim Brotherhood). This sect will surely be the final resting place of his British political career. He’ll only attract extremists now. I predict that by 2010 he’ll have emigrated to Iran.

It’s good that Jamaat is now in a state of conspicuous isolation. Anti-gay. Anti-women. Anti-Jewish. Into God. Conservative. All that remains is to shun them (and also keep an eye on them).
Oh – according to the SWP our real enemies are still New Labour and the Right Wing. Nice to know they’ve sorted their priorities out to take account of global developments. Internationalist my arse. What a bunch of clefts.
Anyway, Harry’s Place will do this more justice, so go there and find it all out.

* Haha.