Monday, 18 October 2021

Mourning as Tawdry Self-Interest

I can't think of a Member of Parliament less suited to deliver a lecture on decency in public life than Mark Francois, but such is the state of politics in 2021. Speaking in the Commons this afternoon as MPs paid tribute to David Amess, he argued we - as in honourable members - must clampdown on social media thanks to their "toxic" character that sees public figures "systematically vilified". I think the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford forgot he might have an interest to declare.

One thing has united both sides of the House since Amess's murder, and that's shameless opportunism. As noted on Friday, Chris Bryant was first out the gate calling for an end to social media anonymity. Despite there being zero suggestion that back and forth on Twitter and Facebook, our MPs' platforms of choice, have any bearing on this case. But never let a crisis go to waste. If there are opportunities for politicians to hold the public to account as opposed to facilitating the reverse, they'll take it.

Consider Francois's miserable contribution. Having the chutzpah to promote social media curbs as "David's Law", he attacked the CEOs for their "inaction", implying the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are somehow responsible for what happened to his colleague. He said,
So let’s put, if I may be so presumptuous, David’s law onto the statute book, the essence of which would be that while people in public life must remain open to legitimate criticism, they can no longer be vilified or their families subject to the most horrendous abuse, especially from people who hide behind a cloak of anonymity with the connivance of the social media companies for profit.
Pretty gross, but MPs are pushing at an open door. According to polling data from July, 78% of punters believe anonymous accounts should not be allowed, with either one's identity displayed on a profile or at least disclosed to the operating platform. Unsurprisingly there's a clear age gradient to the numbers, with those least likely to be on or understand social media most enthusiastic about the measure while those using it the most, i.e. the young, are much less keen. Despite them being many more times, and particularly for young women, likely to be on the receiving end of the abuse and anonymous trolling Francois was wailing about.

How serious are MPs about be-kind-online provisions? They've shown no interest in the hate the press stir up. We're not necessarily talking about the hit jobs done on usual suspect leftwing MPs, above all Jeremy Corbyn, for example. But others too who've earned the Tory papers' ire, such as erstwhile Conservative MPs. This, as even the dogs in the street know, is nothing compared to the violent language and hate stirred up against the usual tabloid targets and scapegoats: single mums, black people, the unemployed, Muslims, travellers, refugees, trans people. Entirely coincidentally, according to Jim Waterson the press have negotiated an opt out from the forthcoming Tory Online Harms Bill, ensuring their anonymous contributors to comments aren't governed by the same provisions. Of course they have. And yet with galloping LGBTQ hate crime stats against a backdrop of vilification of trans people and their allies, it's rare to see concerns voiced about the linkage between press hate and violence on the green benches. Particularly on the government's side.

We should have no shame for saying what this is. MPs, including the self-declared "best friend" of the deceased, are using a murder of one of their own to build a head of steam for more authoritarian legislation. If passed it won't curb abuse, most of which comes from easily identifiable accounts anyway, but it will drive marginalised people who have very good reasons to conceal their identities - a point so obvious that even Labour are making it. But what it will do is increase the costs of social media doing business while protecting the press - among the Tories' chief institutional supports - from the same standards. In other words, it's a move designed to attack the free-floating exchange of ideas, opinion, and yes fruity language and sharp irreverence they (rightly) believe is undermining their foundations, and buttress those who buttress them 90% of the time. For all the talk of propriety and respect, there's few things more disrespectful than exploiting a murdered MP for tawdry self-interest.

Image Credit


Blissex said...

«anonymous accounts should not be allowed, with either one's identity displayed on a profile or at least disclosed to the operating platform»

It is probably possible but very difficult to create anonymous accounts, as a rule they are pseudonymous: the security services know who is the real owner of every account, or they can easily find out. Most marketing companies also know or can easily find out for most accounts, because of the numerous tracking bits in web pages and their ability to correlate them across sites. The value of pseudonymous accounts is to shield the owner from the "disapproval" of bosses, landlords, spouses, coworkers, neighbours ... Of course there are people who believe that those who write "deviant/unbritish" opionions *should* be accountable for them to their bosses, landlords, ...
"A second version of this Act deprived these outed ministers of the right of trial by jury, and empowered any justice of the peace to convict them on the oath of a single informer, who was to be rewarded with a third of all fines levied. Large numbers of nonconformists were put in jail. Pepys, in his diary of August 7, 1664, observes: 'I saw several poor creatures carried by, by constables, for being at conventicles ... I would to God they would conform.'"

Blissex said...

Apart from realizing that the deaths of MPs, not just women and blacks killed by police, are especially newsworthy, there is a curious aspect of this story, apart from being an example of "hard cases make bad law" (a principle that is very welcomed by many people who like bad laws).

It is that *so far* there as been no claim from any organization for this killing, no apparent political angle, just the act of some kind of individual, it is not even clear that the killer was aware the victim was an MP; this despite the police and security service no doubt trying their hardest to find a link.

And regardless of this lack of claims or links, or much information at all, it is being treated by a huge press campaign as an assault on democracy.

BCFG said...

But haven't woke hystericals, like you, been calling for more power to the authoritarian state due to 'online abuse', which more often than not is nothing but foul mouthed criticism, that most ordinary people can treat like water off a ducks back?

Haven't woke hystericals been calling for more power to the authoritarian state, due to extremely rare events, such as unbelievably rare murder of Sarah Everard?

Won't woke hystericals be celebrating the fact that politicians have finally given into their hysteria, following a remarkably rare killing of a politician who seemed to take great pleasure in sticking it to the poor?

And won't woke hystericals be calling for further powers to the authoritarian state to protect people from this so called 'abuse'?

And furthermore, woke hystericals will never tire of calling for more power to the authoritarian state, it is their raison d'etre and their modus operandi.

Anonymous said...

So man walks into politician’s surgery, and kills him with a knife, and the whole establishment goes to war with social media. You just can’t beat opportunism like this! I have been wondering these past 10 years why every other story on the BBC is around online ‘bullying’, ‘harassment’ and ‘abuse’.

Social media will become a sanitised and corporate space, which was its direction anyway.

We live in a world of mass inequality, mass iniquity, a place of winners and losers and the winners basically want to silence the losers. This is the modern equivalent of cutting out the tongues of the dissenters.

There are those, we see this all the time around the pc brigade, who want all the privileges and wealth that society has to offer but do not want sight of any of the downsides which inevitably come along. These people want to have their cake and eat it, and want harmony imposed from on high, which in this system is the only way it can be delivered.

For me, rage and anger are legitimate responses to the civil violence of polite society, I say let us have an annual day of rage against people who wish to sanitise this grotesque world.

Blissex said...

«a politician who seemed to take great pleasure in sticking it to the poor?»

Even if that were true that does not mean he deserved a stabbing.
Regardless, Conservative MPs broadly speaking don't care much about the poor either way, or may have even have some sympathies for them, but they democratically represent the will of their constituents that is to avoid being forced by the state to pay to help them. The average conservatives does not hate the poor, they just wish to avoid giving money to them, and many of them wish that someone else paid for help to the poor.

Does not-giving your money to the poor make you a bad person? If so, what about those UK people who don't give most to their income to help the poor of Zaire or Moldova or Uzbekistan? Are they really "sticking it to the poor"?

Blissex said...

«they democratically represent the will of their constituents that is to avoid being forced by the state to pay to help them.»

The usual quote:
«An old mining MP called Bill Stone, who used to sit in the corner of the Strangers' Bar drinking pints of Federation ale to dull the pain of his pneumoconiosis.
He was eavesdropping on a conversation at the bar, where someone said exasperatedly about the Commons: "The trouble with this place is, it's full of c*nts!"
Bill put down his pint, wiped the foam from his lip and said: "They's plenty of c*nts in the country, and they deserve some representation." (To get the full effect, say it aloud in a broad northern accent.)
As a description of parliamentary democracy, that strikes me as unbeatable.

Blissex said...

As to politics, rather than posturing, some of the tributes to Amess MP highlight inadvertently a deep political issue, which our blogger also mentioned years ago when referring to his work in the office of Tristram Hunt MP:
Dedicated and tireless, David Amess was a paragon of a good constituency MP [...] The tributes paid to him have all shown his work in a remarkably domestic light. One constituent could not get a school bus; another’s council tax was wrong; another could not find her mother a care visitor; one needed help with a homeless charity. Amess would drop everything to help people like this – and to support the local church choir, the fire brigade, a cancer charity.

In a well run state none of these things would be part of the activities of an MP, as they end up being personal favours to specific people. There would be funding and organization so that most of these problems would not arise, or to have dedicated "ombudsman" offices and internal state processes to deal with them without the "magic hand" of a constituency MP distributing favours.

In particular that Conservative or New Labour (or LibDem) MPs end up having to work around state malfunctions is largely due to the same Conservative or New Labour (or LibDem) MPs voting to defund the state (central or local).

In particular given a fixed and too low budget every intervention of a constituency MP in favour of voter X inevitably is at the expense of some other voter Y. For example when Amess found a care visitor for a constituent's mother, that care visitor would have to skip visiting someone else.

Of course when state resources are spread thin and it takes the intervention of a constituency MP to divert them to specific requestors denying them to other constituents that gives even well-intentioned constituency MPs a great deal of petty power, But that does not always work, because some politicians know better:

Stephen Bush "Politics" 2018-03-16 (NEW STATESMAN)
One Tory minister in a safe seat told me that when she used to ask Osborne for something, he would first ask her how big her majority was — and then reply, with a smile, that it was too large for her enquiry to be worth considering.

Anonymous said...

To the person that advocates an 'annual day of rage'- Always one silly response to even the best of articles.

BCFG said...

An emotional defence of Tory Austerity and the Tory mindset Blissex, you almost brought a tear to my eye. Suffice to say I disagree with you wholeheartedly, I still always learn stuff from your contributions though, so thanks for that!

But can I just make something crystal clear, i never said that he deserved a stabbing. He did not! I am not a vindictive person, I didn’t even party when Thatcher died. What happened to the MP gives me no pleasure at all.

My point was how remarkably rare these events are, and yet how, with remarkable predictability, the opportunists leap onto these events, blow them out of all proportion, in order to hand power to the authoritarian state.

As for MP’s, from my vantage point, I really don’t see the point of them. Is there a good book where their exact usefulness to us is laid out?

Steve CU said...


I have done some volunteer work with refugees and the homeless, which are often one and the same thing.

What strikes you when working with these people is the high levels of mental illness, which are often very severe in nature. It also striking that this mental illness deteriorates significantly once the refugee is in the UK. The combination of a hostile and alien environment seems to be a high contributory factor.

Given what I said, the MP’s could have used this tragic incident to debate the mental health of refugees and how that can be addressed. But, they instead took the illiberal route of punishment. Imagine the headlines in the tabloids if politicians had taken a liberal approach of debating mental health issues - pinko liberals, the worlds gone mad etc etc!

The MP’s took the macho, tough approach and flexed their muscles by debating social media. This is an illiberal approach in my opinion and reflects how rotten our political discourse has become.

The political class are rotten to the core as far as I can see.

Blissex said...

«want all the privileges and wealth that society has to offer but do not want sight of any of the downsides which inevitably come along»

A billionaire resident of San Francisco wrote a few years ago:

The residents of this amazing city no longer feel safe. I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.

BCFG said...

Let us have 2 internets. One that is sponsored by Coca Cola and McDonalds and where rich people share likes of their swimming pools, where everyone tells politicians how much great work they are doing, and everyone agrees what a fab job Steve Bruce did at Newcastle United, and where there is no porn except that approved by woke moderators.

The other is where you can say what the fuck you like, when you like and where the porn is absolutely filthy and where abuse is guaranteed.

Then let us see which option is the most popular!

Here is my guess, within six months the vast majority are on the second option and before long Coke and McDonalds are hopping over desperate to sponsor it all. Eventually the politicians come over, then they start moaning at all the ‘abuse’ they are receiving, someone says something nasty about that hideous creature Laura Kuenssberg, and the whole thing starts over again!

Man does not make his own tea let alone his own history said...

“within six months the vast majority are on the second option and before long Coke and McDonalds are hopping over desperate to sponsor it all. Eventually the politicians come over, then they start moaning at all the ‘abuse’ they are receiving, someone says something nasty about that hideous creature Laura Kuenssberg,”

And there is the history of the internet right there!