Why I block

Yesterday, the anti-trans group For Women Scotland accused publisher Laura Waddell of running a “misogynist blocklist” to prevent Twitter users from reading and replying to her posts. Like other claims the group makes – this is the same organisation that accused a cat of sectarianism a few weeks back – it wasn’t true. Like many people on Twitter, Waddell manually blocks individual accounts when she can no longer be arsed with their bullshit. Their account was one of them after previous interactions on the social network.

Blocking people can be crucial on Twitter. If you don’t do it, your feed can quickly fill with awful people trying to ruin your day. I block thousands of people, bigots and trolls of all stripes, using an automated list of known offenders – racist abusers, anti-trans bigots, sea lions (people who pretend to be arguing in good faith but just waste enormous amounts of time) and so on.

Sea lions are among the worst, because they’re the midges of social media: individually insignificant but hugely annoying in groups. Here’s a good cartoon about them.

I’m sure some perfectly nice people are also blocked by accident but I have neither the time nor the inclination to manually go through a list of thousands of people. Unfortunately accidental blocks are the collateral damage caused by bigots and trolls’ online abuse. If Twitter actually enforced its own rules against abuse, hate speech and harassment there’d be no need for a block feature at all.

Yesterday the Equality Network posted a tweet about gender recognition and was quickly piled on by the anti-trans crowd. As the organisation posted today:

We firmly believe that the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act can be done without affecting the rights of women or others, and we are happy to see that genuinely discussed and to engage. However some of the responses to our tweet [yesterday] illustrate a different agenda…

The important word here is “genuinely”. Many of the people who pile on trans people and trans allies online are not looking for a genuine discussion; they are coming with a script of pre-decided talking points and have absolutely no interest in the answers. They aren’t coming for a debate. They believe they are waging a war.

This graphic has been doing the rounds on Twitter lately. It’s the “I don’t hate minority X, but…” bingo card, designed to show the patterns that appear again and again and again online. “I don’t hate black/trans/gay people, but we need to protect our children from predators”. “Asian/Trans/women are just too easily offended.” “Black/trans/gay people are erasing us”. “I believe in equality but this lot have gone too far”.

Bear in mind that these aren’t just the odd tweet. People from minority groups and their allies can be on the receiving end of dozens, sometimes hundreds of messages all saying the same thing: I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG DEBATE ME NOW COWARD.

What’s a girl to do?

To take the current example over gender recognition reform, many people are completely wrong about the law. They conflate the Gender Recognition Act with the Equality Act, are unaware of the context within human rights legislation, have no understanding of what self-ID actually means, are unaware of the medical, scientific and legal status of trans people and so on.

Some people believe things that aren’t true because they’ve been misled by bad actors. They think trans children are given surgery (they aren’t), that they’re fast-tracked and forced to identify as trans (nope), that puberty blockers are new, experimental drugs (nope) or that children are prescribed cross-sex hormones (nope again).

If they are willing to discuss these things, to look at the evidence, then of course you can have a worthwhile debate. But if they’re just going to shout “fake news”, accuse trans women of being predatory, violent men and call you a handmaiden of the patriarchy (or worse) because someone on the internet told them to, they’re a complete waste of your time, energy and oxygen. You cannot have a legitimate, constructive or useful debate with somebody who is acting in bad faith.

Some people on the internet are stupid. Some are wicked. Some are both. You have no obligation to put up with their bullshit.

Unless you’re operating it on behalf of an organisation, your Twitter feed (or any other social media presence) is yours, and you decide what you want in it. Think of it as a table in a pub: you’re there talking to your pals. If a bunch of people were to come over and loudly demand you debate them right here, right now, you’d tell them to fuck off. And that’s pretty much what blocking does. It doesn’t censor people. It just stops them from being able to annoy you.

In the case of trans issues, if someone refuses to accept that trans people are not mentally ill, they are no different from flat-earthers. If they refuse to accept that biology is more complicated than they learned in primary school, they are no different from climate change deniers. If they claim that protecting trans people from discrimination will erase women, they are no different from the racists who peddle the “white genocide” conspiracy theory. If they claim trans people are being funded by George Soros, they are no different from any other anti-semite.

These people may deserve your pity, but they do not deserve your attention.

Sell your kids for clicks

There’s a deeply worrying article in The Guardian about the rise of child labour on the internet.

Making videos of your kids might not seem like work, but it is: as one interviewee puts it, “it’s not play if you’re making money”. Child performers are subject to laws designed to protect them from exploitation not just by employers but by their parents. Online, those laws are being evaded or avoided.

Money made online by children, and that money can be significant, goes directly to their parents, because children can’t have social media accounts on the likes of YouTube or Facebook.

We’re easily seduced by technology, and that seduction often blinds us to the distinctly old-fashioned things that technology enables: union-busting, unethical practices and “disruption” not just of industries but of the laws designed to protect individuals from rapacious employers and greedy parents alike. YouTube may be relatively new, but children being exploited by the people behind the cameras is not.


The problem isn’t us. It’s them

It’s interesting to compare the media’s treatment of extremely rich far-right ideologues who want to watch the whole world burn – reasonable people with legitimate concerns, as the papers might put it – with environmental protesters trying to raise awareness of the very real and present dangers of climate change. They’re loonies, terrorists, privileged middle-class sandal-wearers who ought to get a real job.

One of the familiar allegations repeatedly thrown at this week’s Extinction Rebellion protestors is that they’re hypocrites: some plastic water bottles have been spotted and Emma Thomson was in a plane, therefore their entire argument is bunk.

On Twitter, Rosie Swayne explores that argument.

[they] are NOT protesting about individual consumer behaviour, so however satisfying it feels to point out they prob drive cars/their superglue is prob not vegan/weed lamps are prob CO2 intense etc etc, it’s not actually relevant to their objective.

The whole point of the protests is to raise awareness of the way in which the media and successive governments have painted climate change as something only individual actions can fix – so there’s no need to regulate big business until every one of us rides a bike and drinks only from containers made from hemp.

Whereas the reality is that individual action is utterly meaningless for as long as giant corporations continue to trash the planet without fear of consequence. Just 100 companies are responsible for nearly three-quarters of global carbon emissions. Whether you or I drive cars or ride bikes is irrelevant in that context. It’s better if you cycle, of course, but the problem isn’t us. It’s them.

As Swayne says, the protests are about “GOVERNMENT inaction on climate change. Carping at personal habits has been the RW [right-wing] tactic against environmentalists for over 30 years.”

Enviro/ist: global warming will kill us
RW: ahh! but your Citroën 2CV runs on PETROL so your point is INVALID!

The newspapers picking on environmental protesters aren’t exposing hypocrisy. They’re defending corporations’ rights to put profits over human lives.

This isn’t a dog whistle. It’s a fog horn

Channel 4 has been uncovering some truly despicable behaviour by the Leave.EU campaign. First, there were the videos:

The pro-Brexit campaign group, Leave.EU, faked a viral video and appear to have staged photos of “migrants”, shortly before the EU referendum.

An investigation by Channel 4 News found that images purporting to show “migrants” attacking young women in London seem to have been staged.

Then, advertising specifically targeted at racists.

Leave.EU paid for Facebook adverts targeted at supporters of the National Front, the BNP, Britain First and the EDL.

The number of recorded hate crimes in England and Wales spiked after the Brexit referendum. The Home Office specifically mentions the increase in xenophobic hate crimes.

We already know that Leave.EU was involved in illegal election activity, but this is a whole new level of wickedness. In any sane country this would be a national scandal and we’d be putting heads on spikes.

“Stop Pretending the Murdochs Are in the News Business”

Writing in The Nation, Eric Alterman isn’t pulling any punches.

one family has been able to use the power of the press to subvert democratic norms, misinform citizens, undermine governments, and fill our national debates with lies, misogyny, racism, and ethnocentrism while calling it news.

Nothing in the article is particularly new: Murdoch’s power over politicians in his native Australia and in the UK is well-known and well documented. But in the age of Brexit and Trump that power is becoming even more malign – and it is power aided by the actions of a group of people who rarely get named in articles about Murdoch’s malevolence.

…the greatest shame of this story goes to people who receive no mention at all. It belongs to the journalists who, against all evidence and to the detriment of their profession and their nations’ democracies, continue to participate in the charade that what the Murdochs do is journalism and that, therefore, their dishonesty, provocation, and propaganda deserve to be taken seriously as news.

If it walks like a fascist and talks like a fascist…

MP David Lammy is being lambasted by the right-wing press for comparing the Brexit-pushing European Research Group to Nazis and suggesting that the Brexit debate has helped spread far-right hatred. You can probably write the articles yourself: leftie commie, traitor to Britain, etc.

Except he’s right. And he’s not the only politician saying so. Here’s that infamous commie, former Tory PM Michael Heseltine:

But you can’t escape this chilling thought: the extremes of the ’30s were born of economic stress, and the thing that is driving the extremism today is the fact that since 2008 we have had frozen living standards and people are looking for alibis.

And if you put together the bureaucrats of Brussels, the immigrants and the foreigners and the elite … all that sort of stuff … it has a sort of basic, chilling appeal for people who are desperately looking for an alternative.

Here’s FT commentator David Allen Green on Twitter.

Those who do not think the rising threats of political violence, strident nationalism, attempts to bypass parliamentary institutions and increasing nastiness towards minorities do *not* indicate the beginning of a turn towards fascism must ask themselves…

…what would?

He continues:

The way fascism manifested itself in the 1920s and 1930s was not the only way it can manifest itself.

Fascism does not only exist in black and white photos and Pathe news reels.

The nastiness adapts to new promising environments.

Think, for example, of the independent institutions which extreme “will of the people” Brexiters have sought to trash:

– parliamentary “saboteurs”
– judicial “enemies of the people”
– civil service “traitors”

Even demanding letters to universities.

This cannot be healthy.

…And look at the routine casual insults and nastiness regarding Jewish people, Muslims, trans people.

Attacks on LGBT education.

And recall the first books to be burned: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institut_f%C3%BCr_Sexualwissenschaft#Nazi_era

Lots of “others” to be de-humanised, despised, mocked.

We all know where 1930s fascism ended, but it seems that many of us have forgotten or choose to forget how it began.

Playing with fire

This is from BBC Question Time this week: the question was pre-vetted, selected for broadcast and posted on social media to get publicity for the show.

Is it morally right for the nation’s broadcaster to imply that “LGBT issues” may be immoral?

If you don’t have your thesaurus handy, here are some synonyms for immoral: Wicked. Evil. Depraved. Vile. Villainous. Degenerate. Perverted.

Whether by accident or design, this is letting a handful of religious extremists set the terms of discussion (and it really is a handful: while this is being reported in the papers as muslims being intolerant, over in Germany every single muslim MP voted for equal marriage this week; in the UK in the same week, a whole bunch of Christian MPs voted against teaching inclusive sex and relationship education).

It’s suggesting that there’s something inherently shameful about discussion of LGBT people, that children have to be protected from the very notion. The use of the word “exposed” in much of the so-called debate is telling, because there’s no positive connotation to the word. You’re exposed to unpleasantness, to sickness, to perversion. Nobody talks about people being exposed to family values.

A reminder: you can’t catch being gay, or trans. If social attitudes could influence sexuality or gender identity there would be no gay or trans people. The only difference social attitudes make is to whether people feel it’s safe to be themselves.

Another reminder: every school will have LGBT pupils and parents, and probably teachers too.

This isn’t about an informed debate. It’s about a small bunch of intolerant yahoos trying to drag other people’s children back to the Stone Age. Some people out there think the world is flat, but we don’t have debates on whether we should stop exposing children to the fact that the Earth is a sphere.

To adopt the position of bigots once would seem careless. To do it again and again… here’s Woman’s Hour.

This tweet demonstrates another too-common occurrence: the so-called debate is about LGBT people and without LGBT people. That’s like running a piece on racism and only featuring the voices of white people (which happens a lot too). Woman’s Hour has been doing this for a couple of years now with trans people.

Here’s the Today programme, also on Radio 4.

We put the hateful Section 28 legislation to bed just under two decades ago, but thanks to right-wing fundamentalists and social media rabble-rousers there’s a concerted attempt to re-open a “debate” that was settled a long time ago: LGBT rights are human rights.

I’m not the only person who thinks this. The BBC’s own journalists are appalled.

BBC Breakfast presenter Ben Thompson said he had concerns with the phrasing of the question: “LGBT ‘issues’? Like what? That we exist? One of them, RIGHT HERE, is on your TV every morning … Would you ask if it’s ‘morally right’ to learn about gender/race/religion/disability ‘issues’?”

BBC News senior foreign producer Tony Brown added: “Replace LGBT with black or Jewish and this question would never have been asked on national TV.”

One on-screen BBC journalist said there was growing concern among the corporation’s LGBT employees about how the BBC debates such issues: “We are supposed to set things in context – but that doesn’t mean accepting a position that is wrong, or failing to call it out as offensive. We wouldn’t ask ‘Is terrorism morally justified?’

“I look at the care we take over our other reporting and this leaves me totally confused. We are meant to educate as well as inform.”

There is something deeply wrong in that part of the BBC: it’s the same thinking that invites neo-Nazi group Generation Identity on to discuss the Christchurch massacre, the same thinking that enables former EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, to portray himself as a free speech martyr instead of a vicious, hateful racist. Not all views are equal. We don’t invite the KKK on to talk about racism. Or at least, we don’t just yet.

It strikes me that a big part of the problem is that the people making the decisions don’t have to live with the consequences. If, say, Jenni Murray pontificates on whether trans people are human, she isn’t going to suffer from the increase in hate crime that we’ve seen since mainstream media started echoing anti-trans bigots’ talking points. If Newsnight features former EDL people fanning hatred, their producers don’t need to worry about getting their heads kicked in on the way home. This applies to other media, of course, but the BBC is the organisation that sets much of the news agenda and frames much of mainstream political debate.

Writing in The Guardian today, Owen Jones puts it very well:

too many of those working in the British press act as hatemongers who play with matches then express horror as the flames reach ever higher

God’s money moves in mysterious ways

OpenDemocracy previously reported the dark money being used by US evangelists to finance “grassroots” pressure groups. But the story is much, much bigger.

US Christian right ‘fundamentalists’ linked to the Trump administration and Steve Bannon are among a dozen American groups that have poured at least $50 million of ‘dark money’ into Europe over the last decade, openDemocracy can reveal today.

Between them, these groups have backed ‘armies’ of ultra-conservative lawyers and political activists, as well as ‘family values’ campaigns against LGBT rights, sex education and abortion – and a number appear to have increasing links with Europe’s far right.

We’re talking in some cases about bona fide hate groups using money to push their agenda globally.

The SPLC explains that “viewing homosexuality as unbiblical or simply opposing same-sex marriage” is not enough to be categorised as a “hate group”. Groups on this list go further – claiming that homosexuality is dangerous, linked to paedophilia and should be criminalised, disseminating “disparaging ‘facts’ about LGBT people that are simply untrue”

This is, says SPLC, “no different to how white supremacists and nativist extremists propagate lies about black people and immigrants to make these communities seem like a danger to society”

OpenDemocracy hasn’t traced the dark money to UK anti-LGBT groups yet, but it’s there: it’s a key reason we’re suddenly debating LGBT rights again.

Joss Prior connects the dots between US fundamentalists’ dark money and UK anti-trans groups.

All the anti-trans groups and agitators in the uk, have at some time or another set-up crowdfunders and raised thousands overnight. Quite often filled with significant anonymous donations of 100s or 1000’s.

Ever wonder why there is a moral panic about trans people using toilets and sex-segregated spaces, even though trans people have had these freedoms since 2010?
Its because the argument is lifted from a different legal landscape, and people are earning by sharing regardless.

Back to the OpenDemocracy piece:

“This is dark money coming into Europe to threaten human rights, and we’re not doing anything about it”, warned Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development, describing the amounts of money involved as “staggering”.

“It took the Christian right 30 years to get to where they are now in the White House,” he said. “We knew a similar effort was happening in Europe, but this should be a wake-up call that this is happening even faster and on a grander scale than many experts could have ever imagined.”

A new axis of evil

The Christchurch killer wrote about “the great replacement”, a racist conspiracy theory that effectively says the other – in this case, Muslims – intend to take over the world by having so many children they outnumber the white Christians.

According to this theory, feminists are part of the problem: they aren’t doing their duty to the white race by submitting to their men and popping out babies to counter the brown ones.

Nellie Bowles, writing in the NYT:

As far-right groups have grown across the world, many of their members have insisted that the most pressing concern is falling birthrates. That concern, which they see as an existential threat, has led to arguments about how women are working instead of raising families. The groups blame feminism, giving rise to questions that were unheard-of a decade ago — like, whether women should have the right to work and vote at all.

…The birthrate conversation — and the question that goes with it, of women’s continued freedom — has become a key recruitment tool for white supremacists. It is often the first political point of agreement a white supremacist recruiter online will find with a target, especially with young people.

…Once a group of people in an online forum agree that declining white birthrates are an existential threat, then the conversation turns to policies. In some cases the response is that nonwhites should be killed. Often the response is white women need to be re-educated.

Re-education means the removal of women’s rights, of their reproductive choices, and of their right to vote.

As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, here’s Rewire News on US politicians’ and hate groups’ support for that ideology in Hungary.

Trump administration officials and prominent anti-choice activists appeared at a conference hosted by the Hungarian Embassy earlier this month designed to promote government policies to encourage women to have more babies.

…Tony Perkins, president of the anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, also spoke at the event, as did representatives from the Heritage Foundation and Concerned Women for America. Perkins praised Hungary’s commitment to what he called “pro-family” policies in a blog post the day after the event, though he noted that the United States isn’t likely to support direct subsidies to increase the birth rate.

…According to a Christian Post report, Orbán’s plan is designed to boost the country’s birth rate to “replacement level,” the fertility rate at which a population sustains itself, without taking a more open approach to immigration policy.

This is the true face of supposed family values organisations: racism, xenophobia and a plan to take women’s rights back to the Stone Age. And yet rather than fight against this pernicious, hateful, lethal ideology, some supposed feminists ally with these groups because they hate trans people. That makes them useful idiots at best, collaborators at worst. The women they harm may not care about the difference.

When human lives are an optional extra

Boeing’s 737 Max: is safety an optional extra?

Two very different but equally shocking stories in the papers today: The New York Times reports on the safety features missing from two Boeing 737 Max plans that crashed, killing dozens, while The Guardian publishes an extract from Beth Gardiner’s book about “dieselgate”, the car emissions scandal. 

The stories do have a common thread: corporations putting profits above human lives. In dieselgate, car firms deliberately cheated on their vehicles’ emissions tests, putting God knows how many lives at risk from very damaging air pollution (the emissions from diesels, if not dealt with properly, are particularly dangerous).

With the 737 Max, Boeing withheld crucial safety features, making them an optional extra. The planes that crashed didn’t have them.

The NYT:

For Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the practice of charging to upgrade a standard plane can be lucrative. Top airlines around the world must pay handsomely to have the jets they order fitted with customized add-ons.

Sometimes these optional features involve aesthetics or comfort, like premium seating, fancy lighting or extra bathrooms. But other features involve communication, navigation or safety systems, and are more fundamental to the plane’s operations.

Many airlines, especially low-cost carriers like Indonesia’s Lion Air, have opted not to buy them — and regulators don’t require them.

There appears to be a significant problem with sensors on the 737 Max, and those problems can make the planes crash. Boeing has a fix for that problem, but it’s not included as standard when an airline buys a 737 Max.

Multiple informed sources claim that the problem is structural: the way the 737 Max has been designed makes it much more prone to stalling. Its software makes corrections to try and stop that from happening, but it’s dependent on a single sensor. According to AviationCV.com, if that sensor fails “you’re essentially doomed”: the software doesn’t get data from other sensors and there’s no backup.

Back to the NYT, describing the safety measures that would prevent these planes from crashing:

“They’re critical, and cost almost nothing for the airlines to install,” said Bjorn Fehrm, an analyst at the aviation consultancy Leeham. “Boeing charges for them because it can. But they’re vital for safety.”

Horrific, isn’t it? And yet these examples of corporate wickedness pale into insignificance against the firms spending huge sums battling climate change regulation. Plane crashes kill a few hundred people a year; diesel emissions are believed to kill around 5,000 people a year in Europe. Climate change has the potential to kill millions.

That isn’t stopping fossil fuel firms from trying to stop regulation as they expand their operations. Such firms are spending millions on advertising and social media campaigns designed to undermine, delay and block attempts to clean up our energy sources.

The largest five stock market listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m (£153m) a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change, according to a new report.

Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil were the main companies leading the field in direct lobbying to push against a climate policy to tackle global warming, the report said.

One of the firms, ExxonMobil, faces a ban from the EU parliament over allegations that it is funding and spreading climate change denial.

This is not new – think of cigarette companies selling proven carcinogens, suppressing the evidence of their ill-effects and battling regulation for decades – but the danger is on an even greater scale. The one cost the world’s biggest companies don’t want to consider is the human cost of what they do.