06 December 2009

The Great Navelgaze Continues

So the blogosphere still finds itself turning inward: it seemed like normal service (or something like it) was about to resume, but then Subrosa opted to pack up for a time, citing the possibility that she was going to be the next to be outed. Fortunately, she's still active to a limited degree, but her blog has gone the way of Bruce and Mark's.

Now, I've said before that I'm instantly sceptical of any conspiracy theory. This is because the participants are ordinary human beings like the rest of us, and as we know, humans have these things called egos, which, sooner or later, will cause them to blab. The person they blab to will then blab to someone else and as quickly as it took to say "I know something you don't know," the conspiracy will unravel. Of course, David Icke's fear that everyone in charge is part of a race of twelve-foot lizard people neatly elides this, but let's be honest, if you were a twelve-foot lizard person, you'd have no reason to keep yourself secret and achieve control on the sly - you could just come out in your true form, roar, "I'm a twelve-foot lizard person, tremble before my might" and that would be that - you'd achieve total domination and the very obvious enslavement of the human race, mission accomplished, Bob's your uncle. Or at least he would be if twelve-foot lizard people have names like "Bob".

But I digress. The point I'm trying to make is that even the most hardened conspiracy-cynic such as myself must surely have noticed that, with bloggers being 'outed' (and in some cases, having their story dragged through the MSM), it really is open season on the Scottish blogosphere, and one anonymous commenter on my previous post about all this notes blatant hostility to the blogosphere on the part of the Murdoch press, something which, frankly, should surprise no one.

But the basic point is this: yes, we are under the microscope now, and as I keep saying, we have three choices. We can pack up and go home - some of us will (or have already been) forced to do that, but I don't see that as an option for the rest of us; we can fight hostility with hostility, rail against the conspiracy and descend into a dungeon of rage and inverted snobbery; or we can raise our game, answer the charges with the positive, celebrate the good things we get up to and in so doing, make the critics look like muppets, simply by proving them wrong. It's obvious, I think, which one I'd go for.

But while we consider our own reaction, let's also take a look at how this tale is moving from the scandal section to the opinion column. On the one hand, we have Iain Macwhirter, who is entirely right to say:

No problem with people ranting away in space if that's what they want to do - in private. But people need to remember that this is a published medium - just like newspapers. Anonymity is no longer a way of concealing identity, and it is certainly no defence in the law. Increasingly, you have to be absolutely sure not only that what you are saying is legal, but also that you can stand by it when it is public - and it almost certainly will be made public - because it is out there FOREVER.

But he undermines his point by preceding it with this:

And it's no use citing other blogs like Guido Fawkes in Mark's defence. That just makes the case. The standard of debate on the internet is dire and deeply depressing. This is the main reason that people have turned away from blogging and taken to social networking sites like Facebook where they can avoid being abused by anonymous idiots. Many people I know don't put comments on blogs that they read because they just don't want to be part of the slime.

As this blog has pointed out before - and has even demonstrated in practice - there is an inbuilt bias on the blogosphere toward vituperation. It is written into the very architecture of the web. The surest way to get noticed on the internet - to generate traffic, attract links, get ranked on Google - is to attack people in the most offensive way possible. It makes blogs come alive. Most blogs aren't really there to be read, they're there to be reacted to.

Again, that may be true on some blogs but not others, and this seems like a reprise of the points he made in the Spring which were so easily rebutted by the blogosphere simply doing what it does best. Macwhirter has, I suspect, formed his opinion of the blogosphere from two sources: the news reports tracking Drapergate and the like, and the comments after his posts on the newspaper sites. Now the scandals happened, but most bloggers were and are embarrassed by them themselves and are willing to criticise when others mess up. In that way, there is accountability: not self-policing, but mutual policing. As for the second source, well, there's some overlap between the bottom of the news pages and the blogosphere. Frankly, anyone who's spent time studying the blogosphere would have picked up on this, would have spotted the rigorous levels of analysis that can be seen and noted the generally cordial tone used by most bloggers to each other. This leads me to suspect that our friend in the Herald has come into this with a bucketload of pre-conceptions, then gone looking for the proof, rather than the full story.

Now, he has found some evidence, but there's plenty out there that challenges his assumptions and he's not quite so willing to publicly take that on board. You can tell that even when he's venturing onto his own blog, he's very wary of getting involved to any major extent, even to the degree of thinking of Now and Then as an 'anti-blog'.

Compare and contrast his approach with that of Joan McAlpine. She's thrown herself into the new media and describes it as a "learning experience" - and a positive one at that. She's concerned herself less with the likes of Comment is Free and gone straight for Twitter and an actual separate, free-standing blog of her own. Having engaged with the wider blogosphere, she's takes a broader view:

Scotland is different in that our bloggers are highly individualised. They often link to each other’s sites, even when they are on opposite sides of the political fence. So you can access Scottish Tory Boy and Soapbox, by Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, from Jeff Breslin’s SNP Tactical Voting, the most widely read political blog in Scotland. Yousuf Hamid, a loyal Labour activist in Glasgow who blogs as Yapping Yousuf, regularly allowed comments by the now maligned Wardog, the nationalist supporter who hung up his keyboard after calling the secretary of state for Scotland, Jim Murphy, a rude name.

The lack of a Slugger-type forum means it is up to individual bloggers to police themselves and anyone commenting on their site. Many take this responsibility seriously, warning that abusive and offensive comments will not appear. But it depends on what you regard as offensive. Our mainstream media culture is pretty crass these days. Jonathan Ross, who yelled obscenities into the answering machine of a grandfather, is prime-time Saturday night entertainment and enjoys a generous salary paid by the taxpayer.

And vicious personal insults are hardly new in politics. It’s almost three decades since the former US President, Lyndon Johnson, commented of the future Republican president Gerald Ford: “He’s a nice guy but he played too much football with his helmet off.”

And that's the difference. Despite being in league with that feared Murdoch press at the Sunday Times, Joan has dived right in, found out about the rest of us, and she's impressed with what she sees. Accordingly, she's able to celebrate the strengths with us and look at the reality of the problems, concluding that, when you think about it, it's not that much worse than real life (if anything, a number of bloggers - myself included - have been harsher on others than she has). Conversely, Iain sees a bunch of guys in Donnie Darko masks raging at each other.

Maybe it's another case of people seeing what they want to see. But if we're going to look at ourselves and how we do this, I'd rather we lived up to Joan's vision that lived down to Iain's. And you know what? I think we're all more than capable of doing just that.


subrosa said...

Don't wave aside conspiracy theories Will, sometimes they are not too far short of the truth.

Now where's your weekly whip? Far more important. Forgive me if I've missed it I've had other people on my computer.

Will said...

Well, perhaps not, Subrosa, but I always believe that the truth will out with or without a theory...

And the Whip is the post before this one, so it's available for your delectation and delight - great to see you're still taking part when you can, by the way!

Trident said...

Will, I don't think there are too many 12 foot lizards, armed to the teeth, and gunning for bloggers - but how cool would that be?

One thing the last few weeks has demonstrated to me, and I am privy to quite a bit of information on this now, is that there are serious attempts being made to silence bloggers - and in Scotland the Nationalist bloggers have borne the brunt of this. There are also misguided individuals who are attempting to self aggrandise by association with this, nutjobs who clearly self-identify with the righteousness of the MSM.

The MSM hypocrisy pours down the walls as they beat themselves into a lather over pseudonymous (not anonymous) UK bloggers; as Joan pointed out writing under a pseudonym has many precedents. Drumlanrig (not a real name I presume) was quick to applaud the demise of SNP anonymous bloggers today - do they not see the glaring inconsistency in that?

We support the right to a blogger's privacy in countries we consider oppresive, whilst trading with them, but cannot do the same for UK bloggers? Many, including myself, consider the UK to be a wasteland of oppression and totalitarianism, where is my right to anonymity? Who will defend it? I won't count on the partners in glove with the corrupt state - the fourth estate. The MSM press have no moral high ground from which to criticise anybody, that went a long time ago...

We all have a right to privacy and an equal right to express ourselves - where else should we go?

I personally will defend those rights with every last fibre of my being, even if I disagree with you.

I don't though, well sometimes, erm - you know what I mean, I didn't mean you personally it was a generalisation.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alison, your next!

J. R. Tomlin said...

The problem is when it comes to Scotland there have been plenty of PROVEN conspiracies which some people seem eager to forget. FOI documents prove that it has happened time after time. Press eavesdropping isn't exactly in the distant past.

Nationalists are amazingly frightened of looking paranoid or like conspiracists. *shrug*

Of course, there are people who want to shut up nationalist bloggers since it is the only media really open TO nationalists. They'd be more than a bit stupid not to.

I have a big issue with your contention that satire, sarcasm and criticism has no place on blogs. Just as Guido Fawkes has proven, it is the most effective form of blogging out there and not for just building hits.

But anyone who does satire and criticism had better be ready to take the heat because heat there is likely to be.

Alan Smart said...


"satire, sarcasm and criticism" id suggest is the very essence of blogging.

But crude abuse, expltives etc aint satire. Cheese and Wardgog were great at satire - effective. It when they resorted to basic abuse - in anger I suggest - that they got themseves in trouble and handed the unionists a big stick to beat us all with.

Surely this is the main lesson of it all?

And I see Subrosa is now gladly back in business. An abuse free blog - and all the more effective for it.

As ever a good blog Mr McNumpty, a man not shrt of satire....and still going!

Will said...

Polaris, all good points and an issue worth highlighting - that anonymity/pseudonymity in and of itself is neither bad nor new - it's what we do in our alternate guise that counts.

Jeanne, I'd have trouble in a blogosphere that didn't use sarcasm/satire/criticism as I myself use all three - that's why I'm not contending that we stay away from them. Rather, I'm arguing that we should make sure that they're going somewhere, that they have a point and that we can make a positive case for the things we do believe in as well as take an unimpressed look at the things we don't support. Aye We Can! basically said it for me.

Quinie frae Angus said...

Very interesting post, J Arthur, as are the the comments thereafter.

If you look at the blogs and comment threads of the posters here, you will see that there has indeed been something very unsavoury going on over the weekend which thankfully Polaris seems to have got to the bottom of, or is getting there at least.
Thank goodness for her integrity and tenacity.

Also, if you go back and pay another visit to Iain MacW's blog, you'll find that he has written a very contrite second piece, clearly eating some humble pie (obviously in response to the pelters he must have got from some offended bloggers), and acknowledging that he may not have been across the depths of the bloggysphere as he might have been. I found it quite a touching piece, actually - I think you will too. All due respect to him for his honesty.

And since then, of course, we have had Joan MacAlpine's much-needed piece which has thrown the whole thing into the spotlight again, and probably attracted several hundred more curious readers and browsers into this strange but fascinating new world that I have only just begun to inhabit.

I'm torn between the standpoint of Joan and the standpoint of AWC, personally. But really glad that both these views are being aired and read by interested parties.

All of this can only help us do as you hope for, which is to raise our game, maximise our opportunity for in-depth high quality debate - complete with satire and humour (!) - and show the MSM what they are missing - and indeed, what they are depriving the general reading public of.

Trebles all round! (Credit to Private Eye for that one, obviously).