On Political Venom, Part II

Mike Brock e-mailed me late Sunday night, after a little confusion regarding comments trapped in a spam filter (more on that later. If I hadn't gotten his note, at least one other legitimate comment, to this post, would have fallen through unnoticed. This is getting frustrating). And with his permission, I'm posting the e-mail here, in full and unedited, so I can address the points it raises. Here goes:

The reason why I am e-mailing you is to attempt to give you my side of the story, because you seem like a reasonable guy.

Firstly, I want to apologize for accusing you a partisan. I also made this apology in a comment, which you did not approve, so I will make it again.

Secondly, I think you are being someone unfair with your re-assessment of my ethics in the Don Beemer affair.

Under no circumstances, did I encourage, intend to encourage, the harassment of Don Beemer. Nor was it my intention to be willfully negligent in allowing third-parties to do so either.

I have deleted no less than three comments in the post in question, where commenters directly incited people to harass Mr. Beemer. In the case of one commenter, where the e-mail address appeared to be valid, I notified said commenter that I would be handing over their IP address to Mr. Beemer in the event that he experienced any harassment. If Mr. Beemer is harassed, in any way, as a result of this “outing”, then I will find the reprehensible, and participate in any investigation therein to expose those who have done it.

On the same bent, I have also requested Kate McMillan to delete similar comments from her post. She has complied, with notes to other commenters to avoid repeating that mistake.

Why did I expose Mr. Beemer's place of employment?

I did so because Mr. Beemer posted the comment from his place of employment. He did so with willful disregard to any consequence that could have for his employment, or the reputation of his company.

I would also note, that I had a terse e-mail exchange with Mr. Beemer, prior to the posting. I asked Mr. Beemer if he would confirm that he was the one who posted the said comment on my blog. At this point, it was not my intention to write a post “outing” him. However, Mr. Beemer replied to me within the span of less than an hour, simply stating “Threating [sic] me Mikey?”.

I replied to his e-mail with the following: “No. I just think, that when people chuck vulgar insults at me, that they should have the decency to reveal their true identity. Hiding behind the internet is bad form.”

He never replied to this.

I posted the said entry on my blog.

Understand that he knew that I was aware of his identity, he knew that I was aware he had posted the comment from his place of employment, and he made no attempt to retract, apologize, or explain himself.

I am not after Don's job, James. But he is the architect of his own destiny here.

To this, I would say, fair enough. I appreciate the statement that Don's place of employment should be separate from this discussion, and I appreciate Mike's efforts to stop such a response from taking place.

So, I would say that this case is now pretty much on the borderline for me. And I'm talking about tightrope walking on a pretty thin barbed wire fence.

On one hand, I think it is important to think through the potential consequences of one's actions here, and assess that against the harm involved. It's pretty easy to see that posting one's place of employment on a well-trafficked blog like Mike's could have consequences at Don's place of employment. And if serious consequences did occur, then is it reasonable punishment for the slight involved, or is it out of proportion with the offense?

I still have difficulty understanding what it was about Don's comment that triggered the search. Even though the search of an IP address was easy (and it is), it still seems a strong reaction when the delete button is right there. I've had idiot comments on this blog before. I just shrug them off. If the same individual commented repeatedly, I could understand this. If the abuse came off the schoolyard and became more serious, with threats or calls to my own employer, then I'd definitely be motivated to investigate. The Anonalogue saga described over at Stageleft is a good example of a troll getting completely out of control. He is definitely an individual I would have liked see exposed, and possibly disciplined at his workplace. Purchasing domain names which are similar to the domain names of your political opponents and redirecting them to offensive sites is a similar form of harassment that calls for a public airing. But calling one a “c———sucker”? Best ignored.

I still feel, however, that Don's position in the Liberal party makes the comment noteworthy. But that's as far as it should have gone, in my opinion. The comment is relevant in this case in that it shows a Liberals' considerable disrespect to a bunch of voters. It should be held up as an example of that disrespect within the Liberal Party so that the Liberal Party can make changes. The place of employment, if it wasn't the Liberal Party, should have been left out.

Yes, if Don used a company computer in order to post his comment, he took a risk. More bloggers should be a lot more careful about where, when and what they post. Never say anything on a blog that you wouldn't be comfortable saying at full volume in a crowded cafe with tape recorders present. The subconscious sense that you are alone in your cubicle, just you and your computer and no other real people present, is just an illusion. You are walking down a street full of invisible men and women and somebody, somewhere, can remember everything you say.

But we had a similar call for an outing a couple of years ago, as a prominent Liberal blogger got angry at the persistent critical posts of a Conservative-supporting blogger (another Don, coincidentally) and tried to gain information about the individual's family and place of employment. Now nothing came of this, as (I hope) cooler heads prevailed, but I thought this was even more clearly wrong than what we saw here. Conservative Don was posting criticism, not trolling material. Yes, it was of a nature that affected the Liberal blogger personally, but that was no excuse. Worse, the Conservative blogger was not an official in the Conservative party. He was just a blogger; an average Canadian with a young family.

Recently, there has been a spate of threats of retribution between the more partisan corners of this blogosphere, all for slights which are primarily political and textual in nature. This sort of activity suggests that we're losing perspective on the purpose of politics in a democracy. We're here for the exchange of ideas, not the conflict of them. And even if ideas come into conflict, we should be attacking the ideas, not the people behind them.

Once we start to see real-life retribution, people being fired from jobs because of their activities as Liberal or Conservative supporters, we're very close to people being fired because they are Liberal or Conservative supporters, and that's not a country I want to live in, or a blogosphere I want to write in.

So chill out, everyone. Take a good look at yourselves and get a grip.

Writing and Webwork News

I'm fairly deeply ensconced in my second Science Solves It commission, a draft of which is due this Friday. This book is about endangered plants and animals, and the challenge here is less the research, and more culling the mass of stuff you find into a format that's still readable, interesting, and can fit within 32 pages and 3,500 words. I'm over halfway done, though, and a good push on Wednesday should get me over the top.

I've also finished another web commission, this one for Jason Cherniak, who asked for a site to promote his legal practise. It was a quick job, easily accomplished through Movable Type 4.1, a program that can make web developers out of us all.

Finally, I rushed to finish an application for the Toronto Dominion Canadian Children's Book Week 2008 Book Tour. This is where 26 authors are taken out of province for a week in November to tour schools and libraries and raise enthusiasm among students for reading. I would love to go on this, especially if they sent me to a particularly remote place, like Labrador or Nunavut (Nunavut or the Northwest Territories would be so cool, as I've yet to go north of Sudbury). Anyway, it's a very popular program as you can well imagine, and competition is intense, even though the Canadian Children's Book Centre tries to spread the joy around by disqualifying those who have already toured for Book Week within the last two years. So, cross your fingers for me and wish me luck!

Oh, and one more thing: The Dream King's Daughter now rests at 33,714 words. Dare I hope that I hit 40,000 by the end of the month?

blog comments powered by Disqus