The Times: transphobia is bad (except when we do it)

The Times has carried out an investigation into Twitter.

References to child sex abuse, taunting of rape victims, disturbing messages from stalkers, homophobia and transphobia all stayed on the site after Twitter reviewed the content and decided that none of it breached its terms.

Examples of the hate speech include attempts to link LGBT people with paedophilia and the deliberate abuse of trans women.

This, from a newspaper whose UK edition repeatedly runs articles claiming that trans people are ‘sacrificing our children”, that trans women are predatory men, that the LGBT “lobby” is abusing children.

Maybe the Irish edition didn’t get the memo: abusing minorities sells newspapers.

Lies, damned lies

Even by the Daily Mail’s low standards this is shocking, disgraceful stuff.

Accuracy is important in any kind of journalism, of course, but it’s particularly important when you’re covering topics such as race relations and immigration.

According to this furious Twitter thread by Marwan Muhammad, hardly anything in Malone’s article is true. It starts with confusion between a city and a province, pulls in completely invented statistics from far-right websites and prints outright lies. If Muhammad is correct, and his detailed, source-quoting thread suggest that he is, the whole thing is more like a racist pamphlet than anything you could call journalism.

As I’ve said before, if a newspaper is lying to you about something so easily fact-checked – what else are they lying to you about?

Update, 6/8: Mail Online has taken down the article and the author has suspended his Twitter account.

Be more Buzz

Just when you thought mainstream media couldn’t get any more stupid…

Sarah Cruddas is a science journalist. Today, she was asked to take part in a TV debate about whether or not we landed on the moon.

As she put it on Twitter: “It is not okay to debate science fact.”

There is no debate about whether or not we landed on the moon. There is the fact that we landed on the moon, and there is the fact that a handful of tinfoil-hatted fuckwits who shouldn’t be left alone with sharp objects post stupid shit on the internet. The existence of the latter in no way casts any doubt on the former.

The way to deal with these people isn’t to give them airtime. It’s to give them Buzz Aldrin. You may recall that when moon-conspiracy documentary maker Bart Sibrel approached the astronaut back in 2002 with allegations of fakery, Aldrin punched him.

Other science facts it’s not okay to debate include whether climate change is real, whether people of colour are physically or genetically inferior, whether vaccines cause autism, whether the world is flat and whether trans people are legitimate. If you’re commissioning “debates” on those issues or others like them, you’re a disgrace to your profession.

Mobile phones still don’t cause cancer

No it can’t.

When it comes to conspiracy theories, there are two kinds of theorists: the batshit insane, and the people who genuinely believe they’ve stumbled on a conspiracy.

There was a good example of what I assume is the latter last week in The Observer, which published an astonishing piece about the link between mobile phones and cancer. It turns out that mobile phones really do cause cancer, and there’s a global conspiracy to cover it up.

No they don’t, and no there isn’t.

This is something I know a fair bit about, because I’ve covered the subject a lot over the last two decades. Whether it’s phones or wireless networks, every now and then someone comes along and misunderstands the science to conclude that our brains are being cooked and there’s a conspiracy to cover it up.

Part of the problem is the word “radiation”. We assume that all radiation is ionising radiation, the kind that gives you skin cancer. But radiation also includes the radio waves that bring you Radio Scotland and the light waves coming from your light bulbs.

The radiation from phones and wireless routers is very low powered, non-ionising radiation. As far as science is aware, there is no possible way the radiation from these devices can cause cancer.

The Observer has run a follow-up piece this week, this time by somebody who knows the science. It gives the authors of the previous article a very polite but very thorough kicking.

That the authors attribute this lack of evidence for their claims to the machinations of a nebulous big telecoms is indicative of a mindset more conspiratorial than sceptical… Scaremongering narratives may be more alluring than the less sensational, scientific findings, but they are not harmless. We need only look at any vaccine panic to see the cost in human life when superstition outpaces science. In an age where misinformation can perpetuate rapidly, it can be difficult to parse fact from fiction, but it’s imperative that we hone our scientific scepticism rather than succumb to baseless panics – our very wellbeing depends on it.

If you’re a journalist considering writing an “ordinary thing causes cancer!” piece it’s worth applying Occam’s Razor, which suggests that the simplest explanation is the most likely. Which is more likely: a) there’s a global conspiracy that’s willingly sacrificing thousands or even millions of lives and which has operated for decades without leaving any evidence whatsoever, or b) you’ve got it wrong?

A journalist’s job is to report what the evidence says, not to cherry-pick the evidence to support the story the journalist wants to tell.

The right words matter

Dr Louise Raw on Twitter:

Every time @DailyMirror reports a domestic violence murder I have to @ them about their repugnant coverage.

A FLING DID NOT DESTROY THIS FAMILY. A FLING DID NOT KILL ANNE SEARLE. HER HUSBAND DID.  A woman died in terror- this is a tragedy, not a sexy romp.

This is an example of something that’s very common in newspaper reports, especially reports of domestic violence and other violence against women. These are real examples:

BBQ dad “killed 6 over wife’s affair” (The Sun)

Breakup Ignited Dad’s Deadly Rage (Seattle Times)

Dad Killed 5 Kids Because Wife Was Leaving (Yahoo News)

and from BBC Scotland News today:

Jealous Kilmarnock husband’s ‘frenzied knife attack’ on wife

These are just randomly chosen examples, but they all have the same thing in common: the implication that if it weren’t for the woman’s behaviour or decisions, the crimes wouldn’t have happened. Similarly in the Mirror example above, the implication is that if the wife hadn’t had a “fling”, her husband wouldn’t have killed her.

You’ll see similar headlines about rape, where the crime is framed in terms of the victim’s behaviour, dress or sobriety. And you’ll often find the subtext carried across to the body copy, which goes into great detail about what a nice guy the man was.

The reality is that very many abusers and murderers are nice guys. The majority of violence against women is perpetrated by their current or former partners. The majority of abuse of children is perpetrated by relatives or step-relatives.

We don’t want to think of our neighbours, our cousins, our partners as potential criminals because it’s too terrifying – so when it is a perfectly ordinary guy, we attempt to explain it away instead. There are some fascinating studies into this, and the concept of the “ideal criminal” as a complete stranger.

Jane Gilmore’s #FixedIt campaign attempts to highlight the problem. She corrects “Belfast man to spend three years on probation for Lagan Towpath Sex Assault” to “…for sexually assaulting a woman”; “staff subjected to abuse” becomes “man chokes woman”; man “planning sex with 2yo” is corrected to “planning rape and sexual abuse of 2yo”, because of course raping a toddler isn’t sex.

Gilmore is a journalist, and she wants her peers to do better.

…it is not our job to erase the truth so our audience is not made to feel uncomfortable. Our job is to describe what is happening in our society. And the sad truth is that around 90 percent of violent crimes are committed by men. Avoiding this fact doesn’t make it less true but it does make it much more difficult to address the underlying cause.

Brace yourself for the backlash

The UK government publishes its new LGBT strategy today. Part of the strategy includes publishing the findings of a survey that show – surprise! – life is often really shit for LGBT people.

The plans include improved hate crime protection, a ban on dangerous quackery such as conversion therapy (aka “pray the gay away” cures for being gay or trans), reform of the Gender Recognition Act to make things less bureaucratic and other positive things.

Much of the strategy only applies to England, as a lot of LGBT-related issues are covered by devolved legislation. But the anti-LGBT backlash we’ll see online and in the media will affect the entire UK and beyond.

I don’t envy equalities minister Penny Mordaunt, who’s trying to improve things and reform the Gender Recognition Act in a climate where just 13% of Conservative voters think the GRA should be reformed (coincidentally, the vast majority of anti-trans misinformation and outright falsehoods about GRA reform is printed in newspapers and periodicals read primarily by Conservative voters; The Guardian and New Statesman do their best to compete, but their circulations are tiny by comparison):

The current process doesn’t work for people. It’s overly bureaucratic and it’s highly medicalized with people making decisions about you who have never met you.

There’s also huge inconsistencies throughout the process – you have one identification document in one sex and another in another.

It doesn’t work, it needs to be radically improved, and that’s why we’re going to consult on that. Really the outcome we’re looking for is that people are supported through that process… it is a challenging enough thing to go through without the state and its bureaucracy adding to people’s stresses.

We will get the best results from this consultation if it is done in that environment with people being sensible, people looking at the facts and not making things up, and ensuring people are respected.

There hasn’t been much in the way of facts or respect so far.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think the next couple of months are going to see some really shameful reporting of LGBT issues and more demonisation of trans people in supposedly respectable publications, as well as online. Some of it will have the dread hand of religious evangelism behind it; some will be from people building personal media brands by stepping on vulnerable people; all of it will be damaging.

Knowing that the perpetrators are on the wrong side of history doesn’t make the present any easier to live through.

If you would like to better understand the truth about being LGBT in the UK, the Government has published its full survey online. It’s available here in PDF format.

Words and weapons

Another day, another mass killing in America by a man who – surprise! – has a history of troubling behaviour towards women.

The target, the Capital Gazette newspaper, had previously reported the shooter’s online harassment of a woman; he tried and failed to sue them. So three years later, he picked up a gun instead.

The shooter, Jarrod Ramos, appears to be a Trump supporter.

President Trump has previously said of journalists: “I would never kill them, but I do hate them.” This week, he once again referred to mainstream news journalists as “the enemy of the people”, a claim he’s been making for two years now. Also this week, alt-right darling and thoroughly reprehensible troll Milo Yiannopoulous said he couldn’t wait for “vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”

You don’t need to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.

No, the government hasn’t said it’s okay to discriminate

Imagine I started a petition claiming that the government was going to ban bees and demanding that it didn’t.

“We’re not going to ban bees,” the government would respond. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

How would you report that? Would you:

(a) Conclude that ‘arseholes create petition about imaginary problem’ wasn’t newsworthy in the first place?

(b) Write a brief story noting that some arseholes created a petition and that the government told them to get stuffed?

Or (c) Run the story with the headline “Bee friends force government into humiliating climbdown”?

If you chose (c), you’re probably writing about trans issues for national newspapers.

(I have a more mature version of this going live on Metro today, where I’m not allowed to call people “arseholes” or say “fuck”).

Over the weekend, multiple newspapers ran a story that the government said trans people can be banned from toilets, changing rooms and other single-sex spaces.

That isn’t true. Doing so is illegal.

Here’s what actually happened.

  • Anti-trans activists created a petition demanding the government consults them before changing existing equality legislation;
  • The government politely told them to fuck off on the grounds that they aren’t considering changing existing equality legislation.

To see that presented as a victory for anti-trans campaigners is quite something.

Here’s how the law works. Under the Equality Act, which has been in force for eight years now, you cannot discriminate against trans people. In very specific circumstances, such as women’s refuges, you can exclude trans people provided that doing so is legitimate and proportionate.

Over to you, Stonewall:

The exemptions in the law (which the Government referred to) only apply where services can demonstrate that excluding a trans person is absolutely necessary, for example, if inclusion would put that trans person at risk. However, these exemptions are rarely used and in almost all situations trans people are treated equally as is required by our equality laws.

…This kind of reporting also doesn’t reflect reality; trans people can and have been using toilets that match their gender for years without issue. This is another media-generated ‘debate’, and it’s actually having a negative effect on many people who aren’t trans too; people whose appearance doesn’t fit the stereotypes of male or female are increasingly being challenged for simply going into a public loo.

This lazy and/or wilful misreporting is dangerous. It completely misrepresents the law, and it’s contributing to a culture that’s already seen cisgender (ie, not trans) women chased out of bathrooms for not looking feminine enough. Trans people are victims, and newspapers repeatedly take the side of the bullies.

If you’re regurgitating press releases from pressure groups and failing to check even the simplest facts, you shouldn’t be in journalism.


Words as weapons

The Onion has had to publish its article again:

This week’s school shooting is in Texas where – surprise! – the shooter is a straight white man who hates women.

The Texas school shooter killed a girl who turned down his advances and rejected him in front of class before massacring seven more classmates and two teachers, it’s been revealed…

Shana Fisher, who turned 16 just days before she died in the attack, had been fending off advances from Pagourtzis for months.

It’s the same old story. Boy meets girl. Boy won’t take no for an answer. Boy murders girl, classmates and teachers with assault weapons.

We’ll have the usual post-event analysis where various people try to blame everything other than violent men with easy access to military weaponry (although one post on Twitter really nailed it: in response to “What will it take to change the laws to prevent more killings like this?” he replied, “One shooting by a black student”).

But this is really simple. Some men believe they are entitled to women’s bodies, and they become furious if they don’t get their way. In a culture where easy access to weaponry is seen by many as a basic human right, that results in mass shootings.

The media is complicit in this. Not just in its gun fetishism, but in supposedly intelligent titles lauding the likes of Jordan Peterson – who this weekend was arguing in favour of “enforced monogamy” as the cure for male violence against women –  and debating whether men have a right to sex.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis certainly thought he had a right to sex, and when the woman he wanted to have sex with said no – not just once, but repeatedly, over several months – he slaughtered nine people.

All ideas are not equal. Some are dangerous. And media has a responsibility to consider that. And yet all too often we get pieces that read like “Hooray for the blackshirts”, the Daily Mail’s 1930s ode to the rise of fascism.

Still, it wouldn’t happen now, would it?

This is from yesterday’s Sunday Times on Twitter. The print piece was headed “Heil Hipsters”.

The article itself may have been reasoned and rational, although as it was by noted fantasist Andrew Gilligan I doubt it. But as one Twitter user posted in response:

What the fuck are you playing at?

The Times’ original tweet has now been deleted, but it shouldn’t have been posted in the first place. As British Future director Sunder Katwala responded:

While @thesundaytimes can report on the very fringe middle-class professional banker seeking to relegitimise racism for a better spoken far right, its perhaps best not to tweet it out like its some celebrity fashion shoot.

As he points out, the “breathless national reporting about [the] rise of hipster racists” lacks context. These are extremists, a tiny minority, but their views are dangerous. And their mission is to normalise racism. Presenting them as normal people is exactly what they want.