Bloggers are responsible for the comments they attract

I feel a deep debt of gratitude to Harry’s Place for reasons I set out in my last, and in more depth here, but basically I agree with Marko – Harry’s Place’s commenters are Harry’s Place’s problem. I’ve raised this – too mildly – in the past here and in messages.

I missed most of the examples Marko points readers to, but the Laurie Penny stuff particularly disheartened me – as well as being personal, it was aimless. I meant to say something, couldn’t quite grasp the nub of it, and I’m glad that Marko did. Following his experiences by reading the comments trails he links to is pretty dispiriting, too.

What is going on beneath the Harry’s Place posts – particularly those on Islamists – worries me, because British Jews need Harry’s Place, which is so vigilant about antisemitism, to be serious about anti-racism in its own back yard. Anti-Islamists need Harry’s Place to be serious about anti-racism. Anti-racists need Harry’s Place to be a serious opponent of the BNP, but I know at least one person who favours both.

Commenter Zkharya is broadly right I think:

“I like HP. I like the freedom. I like, by and large, the company. There is a problem with Islamophobia.

But if you like Israel, there aren’t too many internet forums to hang out that are vaguely as sociable or linked up to other issues.”

I’d qualify that. I think the gender mix on Harry’s Place is poor, and the linking to other issues has large gaps (environmentalism, a critically important movement which continues to harbour misanthropic and anti-industrial tendencies, needs Harry’s Place’s attention, for example).


“One point I’d say she [Laurie Penny] does have is her focus on bullying on HP. Under the banner of free speech, HP is happy to have and sometimes encourage a degree of entirely personality-based vilification and abuse of individuals on the basis of their opinions (as opposed to any political actions) which has nothing to do with politics with either a small or a large p.

There’s no problem in my view with ridiculing and satirising of political positions, including inconsistencies and shifts therein. But it does seem to me that HP is complacent about personalised bullying on the basis of assertions about opponents’ insanity, encouraging others to bully, advocate violence towards and/or ostracise opponents on account of that or of opposition to a declared favourite or personal arbitrary preference of one collective member or another.”

I wish that Harry’s Place bloggers would look to their own back yard. Below the posts it’s like a frat party (yes I’ve been to a few during a year in the US – rarely felt so lonely).

The thing is, there’s a difference between attracting aggressive, obscene and bigoted commenters who pile in because you have interfered with their world view and they feel the need to disagree with you, and attracting the same who basically support your blog and feel at home there. The first is inevitable – when you are courageous and stick your neck out like Harry’s Place bloggers, your wages will include opprobrious comments. But if the people approving of you, defending you, or just hanging out, are aggressive bigots, and you don’t put an end to it, then, yes, it’s yours. You host it. You can’t disown it. You will be known for it. And it’s not feasible, as one HP author tried to do, to suggest a division of labour where you, the author, ask your moderate readers to take responsibility for the comments. You can’t rely on volunteers who haven’t volunteered – it’s your blog, it’s on your head.

Here is what Laurie Penny said:

‘you condone bigotry by allowing hateful, misogynist, racist, Islamophobic comments to be published on your site, and allowing bigoted, ignorant trolls to control the debate. I don’t apologise for that assessment: it’s you that needs to step up and look at what your site has become.’

I will limit my agreement with her to that.

Marko, defending this and told by Harry’s Place author Brownie to withdraw his “slurs” or “fuck off”:

“Here at HP, Brownie, you’ve provided a site in which pretty much anyone can make any slurs they want against anybody else. Slurs that should not see the light of day receive wide publicity, thanks to HP. When you provide a forum in which this sort of filth appears in print, and when you make a point about refusing to delete it, then you are condoning that filth as something legitimate; with a right to be heard. You are harrassing and victimising innocent people by allowing anonymous psychos to defame and abuse them in the name of ‘freedom of speech’.

So I’m sorry, but you have no right to complain about being slurred, when you have provided a forum that enables the slurring of so many other people.

For the record, I don’t think that you, Marcus, David T, Brett or any of the other regular posters here are racists. I do, however, think that your comments moderation policy is an utter, utter disgrace, and that you should be ashamed of yourselves. And I say this as someone who likes you as people and who mostly agrees with your politics.

Right, now I’ll fuck off.”

Harry’s Place has a problem. Unlike HP blogger Neil, I don’t think Comment is F***** – plenty of blogs manage to attract conversations which are respectful of the person, even while trenchant in opposition of their views. See for example Bob From Brockley, a blog with interests that overlap with Harry’s Place.

I think a more purposeful approach is in order on the part of the authors to putting themselves on the opposite side of the Islamophobes and bullies. I think it’s generally true of campaigns and things like campaigns that to define your support you have to frame what you’re against in terms of what you’re for. If this could be embedded into every post I think that would probably be all that was required.

In the absence of that, a moderation policy backed up with time taken to moderate.
Otherwise, it may be time to turn off comments. But that would be an act of defeat.

Twitter at a conference

Any gathering of educationalists with a specialism in technology these days is an occasion to further explore the possibilities presented by Twitter. Twitter is an online microblogging platform – you post timestamped updates pared down to 140 characters or less, and you can follow the updates of other people, reply directly or even private message.

Up-to-date conference organisers will make known a hashtag (keyword) for the event, and participants can incorporate this into each update. Together, participants spontaneously build an informal record of the event. Of course, a conference such as this is attended by people who are well tooled up – many faces bathed in the glow of their notebooks and netbooks, others with smartphones, and more than a few with iTouches. You can have Twitter open and follow all posts with a given hashtag in real time. My setup allows me to post updates on that page.

The outcome is a para-conference (there must be a better word) which may include the following highly helpful types of update. Running commentary – good for navigating the podcasts later and helpful for people following the conference from their desks – particularly if some considerate soul notes when each session begins. Requests for clarification and responses (“Did he say ‘Videobeard’?”). Asides. Supplementary material – links, pictures, alternatives. Wonderings. Critique. Responses to wonderings and critique. The inclusion of folks-back-home – one learning technologist friend in another institution tweeted it was quiet in his office – he took a picture of himself with his finger to his lips, posted via TwitPic and hashtagged it with the conference tag. I was next to his colleague and I took a still of us doing the same pose with my webcam and posted it back. I didn’t tag it because it was the middle of a session. Another learning technologist we all know from yet another institution tweeted a response to us. The sense of connectedness and community was strong.

The first day I sat next to an organiser. After he’d done chairing his session, he was following Twitter.

The presenters noted Twitter but didn’t change their behaviour. I reckon something will have to give here. It is very positive for people to engage with your presentation. The back-channel contributions are manifestations of active participation in your session. But occasionally you want to make eye contact with your audience. Occasionally you may even want your audience’s undivided attention. The etiquette is still up in the air. Being educationalists, presenters are reluctant to dampen the hive of responses evidenced only by the light tapping of 100 quiet keyboards and downcast eyes. But sooner or later I predict somebody will empirically discover that if you attend the tweets of others during a presentation which is not accommodating Twitter, then in terms of concentration you may as well be attending while drunk, or having had no sleep.

We spontaneously and collaboratively ended up with pretty good notes for posterity with plenty of links out, questions, comments, and discussion points. Now we need a tool which inverts the posts so that they are in the correct chronological order rather than reverse chronological order. I have no doubt such a tool exists.

I went searching for other (non e-learning) conferences friends had attended recently. Were they twittering? Not so much as a “If you would like to, may we suggest this hashtag”. Imagine.

More on this from the OU.

“Copyright extension is the enemy of” creativity and learning. No to the EU extension on sound copyright.

Updates – scroll to the bottom.

This post contains arguments and resources on sound copyright to persuade you to write to your MEPs now (more at the bottom).

The EU votes on copyright extension on 23rd March. The big stakeholders in the music industry – namely the BPI (i.e. back catalogue owners) superstars and creators who think an extension will earn them more than it’s actually predicted to – have lobbied for an extension of sound copyright term (for disambiguation see this UK Copyright Service overview of current law for different media – and note that the licence they use is Creative Commons licensing) from 50 years to 95 years – that’s nearly double. The UK government is currently supporting 70 years. The evidence is against them. From Sound Copyright’s briefing:

“The Commission estimates the performers’ share of new sales revenues from the proposed extension at 10%. However, this conveniently ignores their own statement that redistribution will be highly skewed in favour of the top earning 20% of performers. From that 10% share “between 77% and 89.5% of all income … goes to the top 20% of earning performers”. For the vast majority of performers the projected extra sales income resulting from term extension is likely to be meagre: from as little as 50¢ each year in the first ten years, to as “much” as €26.79 each year.”

and moreover:

“Each major label would be expected to gain €8.2million—€163million over the 45 year term. That, in turn, works out at €205,000—€4.075m per label per year. This is a windfall for record labels.”

Or those who own the rights to the back catalogues. More evidence via the links towards the bottom.

I am not at all into IP, but don’t ask me for an alternative to safeguard creators against competition on an open market against behemoth corporations who take their stuff and undercut them. That’s one trouble with markets – they tend to bring out the realist in people. IP law introduces the principle of public interest into the two extremes – monopoly for the creator forever and a free-for-all in which the creator fails to earn a living at all. Basically, the public interest – access to cultural and scientific heritage – is expressed in the time-limitation of copyright. For more  about this see the Billy Bragg link at the bottom.

Last years Times letter – copyright extension is the enemy of innovation – fought convincingly on the ‘benefits to creators’ front*. Another more recent letter coordinated at the Centre for Intellectual Property and Policy at the University of Bournemouth, to Culture Minister David Lammy – this emphasises needless criminalisation of and growing unrest among the end users.

You can get the 2006 Gowers Review of Intellectual Property free of charge from Her Maj’s Treasury. It made a number of recommendations about intellectual property (IP) in a digital age, notably number 3 – for the European Commission to retain copyright at 50 years. The University of Amsterdam Institute for Information Law (in a study for the European Commission) also found the case for extension to be flimsy (p6-7 of that summary – not entirely comprehensible explanation but the sentiment is clear, see too this letter). However, there is every chance that the EU will be argued into ignoring these recommendations. The US offers much longer (there is mounting pressure against the bonkers copyright law in the form of an inspiring and gathering campaign for the scientific and cultural commons).

Still not convinced?

  • Watch The Open Rights Group short vid – How Copyright Extension Actually Works.
  • Watch Becky Hogge of the Open Rights Group at the Sound Copyright conference.
  • The most recent and most entertaining thing I’ve seen in the past week – watch and/or listen to James Boyle talking about his book (free download – on my iLiad – if youre getting an (e)reader, make sure you can do this with it) Public Domain – Enclosing the Commons of the Mind at the RSA.
  • The RSA is also behind the 2006 Adelphi Charter – a short and readable  position which seeks to balance innovation, creativity and IP in a digital age. It flags public interest and rights to education, health, employment and cultural life.
  • From the US, listen to Larry Lessig, founder of a place I wish I followed more closely, Stanford University’s Center for the Internet and Society and chair of the licence scheme for individual creators, Creative Commons.
  • Alternative revenue? The Nine Inch Nails business model is talked about.
  • Relevant (because he is in favour of copyright extension, and because while most people love the artists they love, they have little love for the record industry and will nick music if they think that paying for it mostly serves that industry) read and listen to Billy Bragg (in strangely-presented Register pieces) on the difference of interests between artists/performers and the industries who use them for revenue. He argues “don’t keep clobbering the end user” and he argues against “life of copyright” deals which deny artists revenue from recorded work and hike up the price. He has co-founded the Featured Artists Coalition to, among other things, make the case for royalties from work which is used by, say, Google, YouTube and Nokia. He wants a reconfiguration of the music industry around the artists rather than the companies. If he had his way already, the current debate about extending copyright would be very different because the predicted gains of the record companies would be vastly less as a proportion, and the debate would be straightforwardly about balancing artists’ interests with public interests without the public having to tactfully point out that the principle beneficiaries of copyright extension are the record companies and the superstars. But he doesn’t, and they won’t.

Contact your MEPs to turn up to the session* on 23rd March and vote against copyright extension and in favour access to our shared cultural heritage. I based my message round:

*One thing I’m not sure about is “the session”. I’d like to have given details, but they weren’t to hand.

Update 28 Mar 09

After a cooling on the extension, this from Music Week:

“The industry has been dealt a savage blow in Brussels today with the European Council throwing out a revised term proposal.”

On the midnight news last night they said that UK government, which favours the extension, swung round because there was no guarantee that the royalties would reach the artists (when did it ever not look like it was going to be a record company scoop?) I don’t fully understand the jargon “session fund” and “clean slate proposal” and no time to find out. But this is at least good news for now.

In other good news, the EU failed to pass a draconian 3 strikes and you’re banned from the Internet law against illegal downloaders.

It’s instant gratification. It’s like Twitter for music lovers. As well as tweeting, you also blip. There’s a great deal of music in their library. So I blipped.

Smash It Up, by The Damned

How To Fight Loneliness, by Wilco

Rattled By The Rush, by Pavement

A Certain Someone, by The Sundays

Been Caught Stealing, by Jane’s Addiction

and then Pets by Porno For Pyros

How Soon Is Now, by The Smiths

Harold and Joe, a rare late gem by The Cure.

And then I thought of you and set up a new account, fleshisgrass, and so lost the small but growing amount of kudos I’d accumulated.

Posted How Soon Is Now again. Couldn’t find any King of the Slums so made a quick lunge for Janie Jones by The Clash, had a little jump around to warm myself up (Matt is unhere) and went to bed.

Maybe see you on there?

Privacy: the Google balloon chucks a sandbag

But, but, but…? The Year of Respecting My Digital Rights ended on January 1st but it’s not so easy to switch off because – I told myself so – on 14th December, in the hope that we were already supine in a chocolate and whisky coma, Google casually announced that they were going to make our Reader shared items available to our Gmail contacts. There were complaints (see the comments).

I’ve always checked on Google, but at the back of my mind I thought Google was different. Wet-eared again, Flesh. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that Google is behaving like Facebook – they’re competing for the same social networkers and Facebook was dicking with us only the other month. But the announcement was very casual, with immediate effect and – probably most importantly, it was opt-out not opt-in. The arrogance is quite breathtaking.

Well, here we are. I like Gmail, I like Reader but I feel obliged to get rid of one of them because they are talking over my head and leaving me out.

Felipe Hoffa responds to each of Google’s defences. Elsewhere he links to a page on the Google Reader Blog which is reported to have said:

The bull has been freed, we are not taking it away, best get used to it. You should have seen the bull coming, any damages caused are your fault.

Astounding, if so. On Boxing Day they seem to have replaced that with a lukewarm apology:

We’d hoped that making it easier to share with the people you chat with often would be useful and interesting, but we underestimated the number of users who were using the Share button to send stories to a limited number of people.

Whatever. As Jack Schofield comments in the Guardian Unlimited, if they’d only made it opt-in nobody would have flinched. As it is I’m now actively looking for another feed reader because Google reneged on our agreement that it could have my data if it respected my privacy.

And Google, don’t think that I can’t live without Docs (there’s Zoho), Maps (it’s for drivers anyway – doesn’t show alleys and this pedestrian doesn’t travel at 3o mph or walk round one way systems), Gmail (I’ll miss it, not least Chat) and Search (there are other fish in the sea). As for single sign on, Open ID is coming. I don’t need your single sign on and I don’t need you.

(Why do I cast the bits of software I use as people I’m intimate with? That’s a bit yuck. Next anthropologist I bump into I’ll ask.)

Hands off our Facebook data

After an adventurous honeymoon with Facebook I now conduct relations in the missionary position – can’t remember the last time I added an App. I use Facebook to share pics and exchange the occasional pleasantry – events are handy, too, but that’s it.

Google and Facebook have both been touted as Personal Learning Environments, places which blend work and social lives. Like Yishay, Google’s my thing. I’d like to be more distributed but I’m not – I use Google for almost everything networked at the moment. I suppose if you are going to take part of your life online, there’s a case for keeping things with one organisation – at least you’ve got half a chance of keeping tabs on it. Some people are adamant that our only hope is to keep things distributed, though – although again with Open ID on the horizon (and that’s another initiative with privacy issues) maybe the difference between distributed and concentrated will disappear.

Anyway, OpenSocial is coming and Facebook CEO Zuckerberg must be anxious to raise some cash. He recently took the brazen step of allowing users’ data to be used to advertise the products they use to their friends. A series of sharp and painful tugs on Facebook’s lead by the privacy monitors is bound to follow. And hopefully some well-aimed and authoritative criticism will make everything alright as it did when CEO Zuckerberg bowed to pressure and added privacy settings last year.

I find Facebook, Google, Microsoft etc users’ attitude to privacy interesting. As a population it’s evident that we feel very secure in the tolerance and permissiveness of today’s liberal democracies. That’s a seriously wonderful thing and the intense indignation when Facebook reneges on privacy agreements – actual or assumed – might suggest that people recognise not to take it for granted. But at the same time there’s neglect which suggests our attitude to privacy is a mile wide and an inch deep – many of us happily trade away our privacy in return for goods and services. Loyalty cards, oyster cards, ISPs are all actively collecting data about us. In considering why we don’t mind Peter Fleischer (at a Google privacy event earlier this year) made an interesting point about norms – if everybody is letting it all hang out then it becomes acceptable to let it all hang out – maybe you even come under scrutiny for not letting it all hang out.

Fair enough, but then we must understand and take seriously that our online trail can tell anybody with access to it untold amounts about us, and that includes less benign governments than the one we have now. If Hitler or Stalin had inherited the networked data which exists now the clampdown would have been much quicker and much more thorough. You can’t always stop totalitarians coming to power, but you can avoid handing them their purge on a plate. But, as Bobbie Johnson pointed out (same event), people tend to underreact about data retention and abuse when the government’s doing it because “everybody hates the government anyway”. Something’s a bit wrong there… we have to feel as if we have a vested interest in keeping our privacies and liberties.

I’m not sure what Facebook’s recently-announced rival OpenSocial’s business model’s going to be but you can be pretty sure it will be based on our personal data. Time to start thinking seriously about where we want this to stop.

3D campuses on Google Earth

Oh wow. Somebody made the Stanford campus look like Ancient Rome (maybe it really does – ordinarily I’d be able to check the fidelity of the representation by clicking on the little camera icons, but there aren’t any in Stanford yet).

Some of the Purdue’s buildings looks like they’re clad in tartan. Do we have to settle for these graphics?

Unlike Stanford, Purdue opted to superimpose their campus on existing Google Earth satellite images of the ground so there’s an amusing mix of flat and 3D – love how they carefully modelled their fountain but balked at the adjacent trees and cars (which as a result still looks like different-coloured pancakes).

It would be good to see inside the buildings too. Maybe next month?

Great project. (Alter ego Slippery-Slope Flesh is nervy – this is clicks versus bricks and clicks are winning. Watch all our campuses get sold off – I give them 5 more years. Students and academics will never smell or touch each other again.)

Google-Adoring Flesh: on Google Earth my journey from Stanford to Purdue was a 4 second whisk over the curving globe.

Google 3D campus screen shot