So I was on TV! That’s the good news and the report can be seen here. I also recommend that people read Ophelia’s summary of Paul Mason from Newsnights report here as the comments are relevant to this post.
UK Libel Law is generally hated worldwide for good reason. More often than not it is used to suppress free speech (yes real free speech, not freeze peach) … I strongly recommend that people support the campaign for libel reform - they have already done a lot to improve the cesspit that is UK law in this regard.
You might wonder why I am bringing this up. Well it beggars belief but some fellow atheists and skeptics are threatening to sue the BBC for that report. Also it’s maybe just me, it’s not really clear, but given that I created the block bot mentioned then they think they have a shot. Now I have been laughing at the immense irony of this: A group that claims to hold free speech in such high regard that they are unwilling to support even the most basic improvements to Twitter’s abuse reporting or blocking to stop rape threats against women - and yet they are using the libel law to attack the BBC and myself for ridiculous reasons.
Just what are these reasons based on which they are claiming that legal action is needed? Well it boils down to the block bot putting them in a list that calls them “Mildly Mildewy; mostly just annoying” and at least for one being added to a list described as “Pesky Pittizens; assholes, anti-feminists and attention seekers“. To my knowledge, none of the people in Level one described as “Super Slimy; abusive spammers, d0x’ers, imposters and stalkers” have claimed the right to sue.
Despite it being clear that the description “attention seekers” fits them like a glove, they are convinced that the BBC program’s juxtaposition of the bot and level 1, which was discussed in the Newsnight report, gives them the right to sue for damages. At no point did the report state that ALL the people in the bot are abusers let alone those in Level 2 and Level 3. Anyone reading www.theblockbot.com or signing up here can see who is in what level and what the general opinion is of the members of those lists. So why am I deciding to take this even slightly seriously and write a blog post about it? Well I got some bad news, Santa thinks I’m on the naughty list -
— The Real Santa (@TheTomtomPiper) August 1, 2013
So when Santa is worried about the defamation of their character and willing to make UK libel law seem even more ridiculous than it does already, you know you have to take it seriously. So what basis for suing do these people have? I really have no idea other than their own over-inflated egos and lack of rational thought. So instead I’m going to tackle it from what my defense would be in the extreme unlikelihood that this gets to a court…
The UK defamation act of 2013 states -
Honest opinion: It is a defence for defamation, to show the statement complained of was a statement of opinion. That it indicated in general or specific terms, the basis of the opinion. That an honest person could have held the opinion on any fact which existed when the statement was published, including any fact in a privileged statement that was pre-published
Ignoring that there have been no statements of fact made in regard to any people on the lists that could be considered defamatory, I should share my honest opinion about the general state of the people who have threatened this libel action (Whom I know of, I’m not going to seek them all out)
So for the record, it is my honest opinion that Renee Hendricks (pseudonym, I won’t dox them) has engaged in victim shaming assholery and I have good reasons for holding that opinion. Not that I need them legally!
So for the record, it is my honest opinion that Jeremy Stangroom (real name, I think) is someone who has minimised the harassment of women in our community because of petty personal dislike while cheering on the bullying misogynists in our midst by making false equivalences and I have good reasons for holding that opinion. Not that I need them legally!
So for the record, it is my honest opinion that Sara Mayhew (real name, I think) is an ill-informed petty person who joins in with harassment campaigns against women in our community and does nothing to stop the misogynistic nasties from attacking their targets and I have good reasons for holding that opinion. Not that I need them legally!
*deep breath* The worst thing is that the three people above are mostly decent rational people – hard to believe, I know. Yet compared to the nasty misogynist trolls that threaten with rape and co-ordinate campaigns of hate against internet feminists these three are “nice people”…
But they, and many many more, are a much much bigger problem than the small minority of nasty trolls in my view. For a start there are more of them, always ready to pop up and tell women that they are “professional victims” or “hysterical” or “asking for it”. While doing exactly fuck all to tell the people who threaten violence and abuse that such behaviour is unacceptable. They refuse to put aside their petty differences to fight a much more important battle, they remain silent and worse: Often they encourage the abuse. Hence they are in the A+ Block Bot and they’ll stay there, in my honest opinion.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
So… That’s my very mild, British, polite opinion on these people threatening libel action. But whose opinion is actually reflected in their addition in the block list and is the only relevant opinion legally? Unless they want to sue me for my opinions above, they are welcome to try. Well this brings me to part two of my defense as while I have a poor opinion of those people I didn’t add them to the block bot. A very lovely American citizen who thought up the idea of the Block Bot added them (Won’t name here unless I get permission). So UK defamation law also states ->
Operators of websites: Action against a website operator, on a statement posted on the website, it is a defence to show that it was not the operator who posted the statement on the website. The defence is defeated if it was not possible for the claimant to identify the person who posted the statement, or the claimant gave the operator a notice of complaint and the operator failed to respond in accordance with regulations.
I provide a platform for a community of mostly anonymous blockers where they can add people to a block list, which resulted in those people appearing in a list. It is those blockers’ opinions that are the deciding factor on if they end up in Level 1/2/3 on the website, not mine. Unless I am acting as a blocker that is, and I didn’t in these cases. This is a moot point, however, as I’ve expressed the same opinion as the person that added them to the block list and I think that point is more than enough to defeat any legal action. If they do bring an action they’ll need to bring it against the US citizen who added them to the bot and prove it is not their honest opinion, too, that those added are assholes/annoying. This would be hard to do in a UK court as the courts here won’t broach libel tourism and have no jurisdiction to get damages from a US citizen anyway.
Finally here is an example of someone adding to the block bot and expressing their honest opinion that the person being added is a stalker – a pretty serious accusation but fine if its their honest opinion. Definitely not my liability as I just allowed them to add people.
— Renee Hendricks (@reneehendricks) March 21, 2013
So in conclusion, after legal advice, I feel I must refer any people considering legal action to Arkell v Pressdram (look it up, Private Eye is awesome and a great defender of free speech)