Monday, February 13, 2006

L'Affaire Benjamin

Dear Mr Aaronovitch,
This is a reluctant post. I had hoped one of the other chaps who post here would do this one, but they've all very sensibly taken a step back and found better things to do.
I've been shamed into this by Mike Power.
Now, you have been better than most at handling comments. You've been better than any other professional journalist at handling comments. Andrew Sullivan blogs professionally* and his pieces look like extracts from one email after another (anonymously cited, of course). The plebs contribute to the gay Gary Bushell lookalike's blog, but only on his terms.
So I rather admire your attitude so far. Mike quotes you:

I'll tolerate dispute, some kinds of abuse, violent disagreement, people proving that I am wrong -- anything that adds to the life of this blog.

And you actually "got blogs" in an early post -- Welcome to my slightly extended world.

Them's me reasons, and the big question concerns keeping the thing going -- and that's about reading. There's a comments facility, which I hope will be a kind of debating area. But I will kill trolls -- there is something dispiriting in having a good discussion hijacked by a people of ill-will. Otherwise it's be Liberty Hall.

you also moderates comments yourself:

Just so that you know, I do it myself. I try not to delete posts just because they are critical or even a bit weird. What I can't stand, though, is a kind of deliberate sabotaging of discussion. But I haven't had much of that yet (said Pollyanna).

Censorship is always going to be a difficult area. The best I can say is that, IMO, this is not censorship. If someone who is a guest in your home takes it upon themselves to denounce you, asking them to leave is not censorship. If you edit a newspaper and a correspondent questions the sexual proclivities and dietary preferences of your staff, tossing the letter in the bin is not censorship. And you used to be active in the NUS (according to your Wikipedia profile; I'm sure you were President). I remember the tactics of certain far-left groups at the time. They basically consisted of "Debate is a discredited practice of the running dogs of the bourgeoisie (as we know; the're our mums and dads). If we make enough noise, and throw things if necessary, we will wreck your middle-class ways. All together now, Tarquin, Petronella. For the working class!" This is an embarrassing admission, but Oliver Kamm has a particularly trenchant comment on one such party at Harry's Place and David T of H'sP has some sharp comments on another.
In short, I understand your position. And if you stuck to the letter of it, I'd support you.
I'll let Mike Power speak next:

Benji's achievement is to be someone slightly more irritating than the average Harry's Place commenter, which is no mean feat in my opinion ...

Now Wikipedia defines Internet troll as:

In Internet terminology, a troll is a person who posts rude or offensive messages on the Internet, such as on online discussion forums, to disrupt discussion or to upset its participants.

I find Benjamin borderline in this. His comments are not rude (beyond the odd "Up yours too" type thing) and they're not offensively phrased. They lean to "You're wrong ..." I also don't think that his intention is to "disrupt discussion or to upset [other] participants." On the other hand, I won't argue with H'sP's Brownie:

He treats other people's blogs like his own personal graffiti wall.

As Mike says:

Benji may be irritating but I don't understand what has he done to upset Aaronovitch quite so much:

Meaning this bit:
In centre-left circles the most ubiquitous troll is Benjamin. He works in Hong Kong, I think. God knows what as, since he has the mentality of a moderately clever, but destructive, nine-year old. Here are his first (and last) contributions to this blog, posted simultaneously.

Mike wonders what he missed. The first comment:

1. Subject: My Dad was a Communist
Post: Thankfully my dad was never a communist.

is simply inane to me. The second

2. Subject: Iran
Post: "Anyone know of a good, broad-based solidarity group?" Guffaw. This is said like a man looking for pasta at Sainsburys.

is actually witty. OK, not that witty, but certainly falls inside "I try not to delete posts just because they are critical or even a bit weird." (Unless that "or" precludes "and".)
Mike quotes a couple of other commenters, including a namesake:

I would like to commend David Aaronovitch for taking the very courageous and sensible decision not to allow Benjamin to comment on this blog.

Why is it "courageous"? Because I'm about to get stuck in, as expected. It doesn't really matter what I say here, any possible critics stopped reading some time ago. So I won't bother saying very much.
If you moderate comments, that's fine. If you turn those comments into the Politburo, that's cool too: it's your blog. But you'll find the useful corrections of intelligent critics stop showing up, and the opinions expressed become uglier. And I don't care if you find Benjamin stupid, inane, irrelevant, malicious, or whatever would cause you to ignore his contributions. He won't be the only one, especially if you post on subjects like race and religion as I hope you continue to do.
Like Mike, I think "Benjamin, fairly obviously, is a waste of psychic space" is just a step too far. Yes, you scored many supportive comments, and, yes, his emails to you and your editor (in this post) which, among other things, made him identifiable not as "Benjamin" but as "Benjamin Mackie" were ill-considered. But who is the former President of the NUS, the former leader writer, the supposedly-sensible bloke here?
I think you've made an error of taste. And if you really are a decent person, you'll apologise for the personal abuse.

we use pseudonyms here, but this post is my opinion, and my opinion only,
Dave Weeden

PS Apologies for any solecisms in this post. It was originally written in the third person and moved itself into the second. I've tried to catch grammatical changes, but I've found one error always slips through.
Update 11pm. I forgot to mention Bloggers4Labour's contribution, which I find intelligent and wise.
*Now there's a thing. Typing that felt like writing "And people pay to watch you pick your nose?"
Update 2: Tuesday, 5pm. Evil BB asked in the comments to this post why there were no recent comments on DA's blog. The answer is, as previously advertised, our man has gone "back to Pritikin for another waist shave" and he's blogging from Miami. He has allowed another comment through, so he's clearly not giving up on that just yet. Sigh, it's this one. I'm lost for words.


Anonymous evil bruschettaboy whose first name begins with D said...

I am the other bruschettaboy (Aaro knows my name because it was on the London Marathon donation, but I am not quite yet ready to give up pseudonymity) and I endorse this 100% (I was also the bruschettaboy who commented on the original thread to the effect that it was a bit unethical).

I also notice that AFAICT there hasn't been a single new comment on aaroblog in the last 48 hours. Is this a moderation holiday, the creeping disappearance of comments or something more innocent?

2/13/2006 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I am taking this up with the Times.

What Mr. Aaronovitch has to remember is that he is not writing on a personal blog, he is writing on the website of a national newspaper.The Times blogs are fully integrated into that site, and are owned by the Times, his employer, and not him.

Launching abusive and personal attacks on people he does not know without provocation is something he can do on a personal blog owned by himself.

It is entirely inappropriate for him to revelling in abusing others on the Times website.

I am very rarely personally abusive to anyone. I have certainly never personally abused Mr. Aaronovitch, let alone got up to the antics he has got up to on the website of a national newspaper.

2/14/2006 12:17:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I thank Aaronovitch Watch, Dave Weeden for their (qualified) support.

2/14/2006 12:37:00 AM  
Blogger Sonic said...

My 2c, for what is worth.

I don't think anyone has a "right" to post anywhere. I've banned a couple of people from my blog for racist comments, and another couple because they just annoyed me and were not taking the debate (what there is of it) forward. So I'm not going to get on my high horse. My attitude tends to be "it's my ball and I'll decide what we are playing" and I can understand anyone else taking the same line.

On the other hand it's interesting, as part of the wider study of Decentism, to look at who gets banned from Aaronovich's latest and also from it's online sibling HP. When you look it's always the left who get banned, trashed and insulted, while the extreme right (the LGF wing) are tolerated. Of course if they overstep the mark they may be mildly corrected in a more in sorrow not in anger kind of way, but that's about it.

Still I realised a while ago that posting on hp was pointless. There is no debate there any more just howls of rage towards whoever is the enemy of the day. So far Aaronovich's site seems better, however my advice to Benjamin is why bother going to a party where no-one wants you?

2/14/2006 01:15:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Good question, Sonic, good question. Partly because I'm a creature of habit I suppose, partly becuase I can't resist arguing with New Lab and the Decents. Underneath it all is a genuine anger I feel about war. On hearing the utterances of Bush, Blair and co, sometimes you have to pinch yourself: can they really say that with a straight face?

But, yeah, I take your point.

2/14/2006 01:45:00 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

When you look it's always the left who get banned, trashed and insulted, while the extreme right (the LGF wing) are tolerated.

To be fair, David T did once ban 'Old Peculier' and 'Logan3' for about half an hour. But otherwise, yeah. Harry in particular only makes his annoyance public with the lefties, while appearing to happily tolerate the horrendous bigots who now constitute the 'regulars' in his comments section.

I realised it wasn't worth bothering with when Logan3 accused someone else of being a 'troll' and no-one sniggered.

2/14/2006 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Cohen's latest:

Yobbos charge on without paying most days, frightening attractive young women and the old and the nervous of both sexes and all ages.

Lucky old unattractive young women. 'Even Kate Winslet' gets parking tickets, as we know.

2/16/2006 12:18:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home