Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Code of conduct

Justin from ChickYog is asking for further translation on this. Happy to oblige.

I would say that it is pretty uncontestible that it is not always a good thing when bloggers spread unsubstantiated and damaging rumours about public figures? Agreed so far? Someone who doesn't really understand how the blogosphere works has raised this. Justin has responded in the tone of a sulky consumer of politics (that is how I believe Justin positions himself here).

Having been looking at ChickYog for some time now, I'd say that it aims to be a fairly progressive blog. My argument is that, no matter how progressive someone thinks they are, if they adopt a world-weary and cynical apporach to public life, they will always prove to be the objective allies of reactionaries. A certain Old Man would agree, I'm glad to say (see the comments here).

Being world-weary about public affairs is, for some reason, perversely attractive in some quarters. Using a blog to be rude to public figures is, of course, deeply satisfying. And there are no shortage of blogs that do both of these things.

However, there is also no shortage of similar voices in the MSM either. This herd of independent minds are, I would argue, turning up the volume on the dialogue of the deaf between active citizenry and the political establishment. And this is not a good thing.

I would also argue that - cynics aside, the blogosphere is unwittingly offering an antidote to this negativism. A quick reading of this article on The Long Tail would be appropriate here - the argument that big media (and even uber-bloggers) will not continue to dominate, and that they are already being replaced by a more diverse dialogue. This should tell any politician that the blogosphere is a bit different - and in many ways potentially better - than the MSM.

Guido, The Monkey and Iain may get plenty of traffic from political obsessives, but more people spend more time than ever before reading the more relevant, nuanced and diverse range of opinions that make up most online page-impressions. This negativity and pessimism can / is only leading us towards nihilism and disengagement. No wonder most people think that politics is boring and irrelevant. It is because it is boring and irrelevant.

But, thankfully, the negativists are not representative of the whole - or even, possibly, the majority - of the blogosphere. Blogs are actually helping the public route around the tedious newspapers and professional cynics in some ways.

What elected representatives need to do is to understand that this is an opportunity - not a threat. The more self-promoting bloggers are the ones you hear about. Cynicism and negativism get noticed. But every politician knows that elections aren't decided by local loudmouths. The public are more sophisticated than the audience on Question Time. The same is probably true of the blogosphere.


Returning to the question of the 'code of conduct'. anyone who has worked in politics will tell you that rumour and innuendo can prove hugely damaging - indeed, a willingness to lie about political rivals is an important part of the armoury of every successful politician. Deniable lying in private, of course. Lying 'off the record'.

But, at least in the public domain, this isn't as simple as it seems. Most of the comment has worked on the assumption that the blogger is the little man, and The Man is... well .... The Man.

This hippy simplification won't stand much scrutiny though. Devil's Kitchen, for example, offers a convoluted argument saying that there is already a code of conduct called libel law - and that it is one that already provides the powerful with all of the advantage they need over bloggers anyway. I'm not sure whether he thinks that the libel law is flawed-but-adequate, or that people don't need any protection from malicious gossip.

Either way, the libel laws are largely irrelevant here anyway. Newspapers may have massive resources to defend actions, but the powerful would be less likely to sue a blogger than a newspaper because bloggers are mostly 'shoeless'. Libel action would accelerate the distribution of the libel anyway.

And libel action usually comes too late in the day anyway. A rumour can be published and rapidly withdrawn by a blogger. It gets more of an audience this way than the perennial nasty gossip that is always circulating in Westminster.

So rumour-mongering bloggers have the remarkable achievement under their belts. They have actually managed to make court politics even more poisonous than it was. Yay! Go team!

There are other constraints on politicians. They have various codes of conduct that they have to sign. There is the poxy Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

Councillors, in particular, are gagged in about nine ways. And they have the odious Standards Board to contend with as well.

David Milliband may have dug into the public purse to pay for his blog, but the constipators are out in force there, stopping him from saying anything very interesting. Indeed, the constipators are everywhere these days, it seems.

So instead of this narcissistic spitting, perhaps we bloggers could ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Does our ability to spread malicious gossip make the world a poorer place? Probably.
  • Do we need a code of conduct? Probably not. There are other ways to skin this particular cat.
  • Would it work anyway? Definitely not.
  • Could we be contributing to the quality of public life more than we are? Yes. Certainly.
  • How? Ah! Now there's a question. Why didn't you ask that one instead of all of this bollocks about a code of conduct?
And if your answer to the penultimate question (above) is that you couldn't care less about the quality of public life, and that it is not the job of bloggers to fix a political culture that is fraying at the edges, then please.... please.... just fuck off. I've heard it all before and I'll delete your tedious comments if you decide to leave any.

That's my code of conduct.


Devil's Kitchen said...

I pretty much agree with you here.

However, I do think that many bloggers do try to improve public life in one crucial way: we do attempt to suggest solutions.

The frustration with politicians, amongst libertarian bloggers at least, is less about their sordid personal lives or all-too-frequent venality, but more aimed at their inability to consider any approach to an individual problem that does not involve more control by the state.

It is the -- not entirely erroneous -- perception that our rulers wish to control the lives of the citizenry and mould them to the politicos' often badly researched beliefs (the whole issue of Green taxes would be a prize example of this) that leads, more than anything else, to the contempt with which the political class are treated.


Justin said...

An excellent, thoughtful post, Paulie. Thanks for taking the time. I though your initial post was ad hominem in nature which is why I bit in they way I did. I thought it was a cheap point and so responded in kind.

Anyway. I took the time in the post that started all this by attempting to isolate Guido Fawkes from the main body of bloggerdom. He's not representative and any attempt to paint him as such is wrong and damaging to the medium, if you ask me. If actually think he's safely ignored and I wish more people would ignore him.

I also wonder if painting the likes of me as 'negativists' is entirely fair. You describe my blog yourself as 'fairly progressive'. I do have aspirations for society at large and *yes!* optimism. I'm humanitarian in outlook - the bottom line of my blog has always been the human impact of politics. Unfortunately, looking at British politics and see the damage done by the likes Alastair Campbell, I don't see a vehicle for my aspirations and optimism.

You might find this laughable but my blog is largely about an attempt at engagement via non-mainstream methods. I've formed friendships with both those who do and do not hold with my views.

I get involved in activism in a small way whenever I can. You call me a 'consumer' of politics but I'd argue I'm less passive than that. I don't like politics as it is practices right now and fail to see how this puts me in alliance with reactionaries.

You tick me off for for calling Campbell names but don't seem to address the reason as to why I would want to, other than putting it down to some baseless cynicism. That cynicism didn't fall out of thin air. If I felt blogging's house needed keeping in order (apart from one or two bottom-feeders without grace or manners, I don't think it does) I would say so, I just object to taking a lecture about it from someone like Campbell. I'm fairly surprised that you've reserved your ire on this occasion for those without their hands on the levers of power.

(Also, I enjoy writing. I enjoy metaphor and wordplay, scabrous if necessary. Sometime the style of the piece is more satisfying than the point I'm making. I like jokes and satire and would like to think I produce them sometimes. And yes, sometimes I'm self-righteous and Manichean in outlook - I don't see a lot of opportunity for nuancing 655,000 dead Iraqis, for example.)

At the end of the day, blogging is about people writing and thinking *for pleasure*. As long as it stays within boundaries of legality, who really is getting hurt? Like I said in my original post, if you don't like a blog, *don't read it*. This pond is plentiful in its variety.

I also wonder if you don't over-estimate the power of blogging, as much as that pains me to say it. We're all just gnats biting the elephant at the end of the day, even the mighty Guido. I suspect if he was half as influential as he thought he was (beyond providing a popular talking shop for homophobes and racists), someone would have done something about him by now.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


"anyone who has worked in politics will tell you that rumour and innuendo can prove hugely damaging - indeed, a willingness to lie about political rivals is an important part of the armoury of every successful politician. Deniable lying in private, of course. Lying 'off the record'."

Quite so: even if these lies are largely short-lived, they do have a permanence: they will show up in the press cuttings when the target gets a promotion - they never really go away.

This is why the generally-accepted behaviour of the generally-accepted blogosphere - those bloggers that actually have a reputation that might matter - is far, far stronger than the PCC currently enforces upon the MSM.

Have a look at my post here for a comparison of behaviour and outcomes.

Antipholus Papps said...

You complain that political bloggers have a tendency to be cynical and world-weary? Well, for crying out loud man where have you been for the past five years?

We have a government that has lied to us in order plan and wage aggressive war! Not only that, but our Prime Minister conspired with a foreign power to deceive us. He is a traitor. The rights and freedoms that our ancestors fought and died for have been completely decimated and all we can do is shrug our shoulders and amble off to the nearest shopping centre, eyes agog at all the new consumer durables that we can buy at the same shops in any other identikit high street. We have a government that has attempted to legalise evidence extracted under a torture. A government that steals our DNA and compiles databases whose true purpose remains unclear. I'm beyond cynical, I'm fucking furious, and utterly ashamed of this pisshole tin-pot country.

Paulie said...

Antipholus Papps:

I feel your pain. There are many countries in which no such cynicism or corruption exist, and this is clearly the most important issue that any of us can contemplate.

It is our highest calling. I'm completely convinced by your argument.

However, I don't feel that it you are being fair to yourself in making yourself live here. You should emigrate.

The sooner the better, for everyone.

With Sympathy


Larry Teabag said...

That's a weak response to a perfectly reasonable comment by Antipholus Papps.

You're conflating "a world-weary and cynical apporach to public life" with "angry protest".

Many of the most important issues of the day are the bad actions of our government, and the most worthwhile thing we can do is say loudly, clearly, and often: "No. Stop. Don't invade that country. Don't rip up Habeus Corpus. Don't assist in torture, or extraordinary rendition. Don't pass Bills abolishing parliament. Don't turn Britain into a database-state." etc. etc.

Your suggestion that anyone who devotes their time to saying such things is a "negativist" or a "professional cynic" is insulting nonsense.

Paulie said...

Ok Larry,

You're not a negativist, OK? I've just popped over to your blog, and I found dozens of posts explaining what you are against.

You are against The War On Terror (or TWAT as you wittily describe it) and you're against anything that anyone who is for it is in favour of. I think that's a reasonable account, don't you?

The thing is, I couldn't find anything that you had written where you offered your readers a petard to hoist you on, so to speak.

No proposals, really. Just objections to actions of the people who you think have power.

I'd be interested to read more blogs that spend at least as much time saying "this is what I think should be done." Then your counterproposals (to those of The Man) can be contrasted.

A level playing-field, so to speak.

And, reading your blog, and your comments, I suspect that you think that corruption and political mendacity are the biggest problem that we face, and the issue that we need to dedicate the most energy to solving.

If that's what you think, I don't agree with you. As you're probably new to this blog, you can't be expected to know this. But look around a bit, if you have time.

In the meantime, I still think that you and Antipholus are negativists. I think that your concerns are over-inflated, shrill and boring.

So there.

Larry Teabag said...

I still think that you and Antipholus are negativists. I think that your concerns are over-inflated, shrill and boring.

And it's us who are responsible for the low-level of political dialogue, right? Not you with your ad-hominem insults of anyone who doesn't share your priorities, am I right?

See, I was crystal clear that in my view some of the most important issues of the day are to stop our government doing bad things - so I don't feel too caught out by your going to my blog and discovering that I was telling the truth.

On the other hand:

you're against anything that anyone who is for [warring on terror] is in favour of. I think that's a reasonable account, don't you?

So you're saying that all my opinions are half-baked knee-jerk trantruming, are you? You're saying that I'm basically an imbecile, incapable of independent thought, is that it? Oh! What a high level of debate around here! How you do lead by example Paulie!

And nor do I think it's necessary to provide a "counterproposal" to the invasion of Iraq, or the abolition of parliament, other than maybe "don't invade Iraq" and "don't abolish parliament". In fact I think the suggestion that one is needed is at best idiotic, and at worst a disingenuous debating-tactic to allay awkward criticism.

But you know what they say: never trust a hypocrite.

Paulie said...

"And nor do I think it's necessary to provide a "counterproposal" to the invasion of Iraq, or the abolition of parliament, other than maybe "don't invade Iraq" and "don't abolish parliament". In fact I think the suggestion that one is needed is at best idiotic, and at worst a disingenuous debating-tactic to allay awkward criticism."

Further conversation with anyone who thinks that this is a useful argument is superfluous.

There are plenty of other weblogs for solipsists. You'd be happier reading them.

See ya Larry.

Will said...

Larry and his ilk are nothing but egotists. Egotists with big stupid gobs. And a well paid job. And lots of time on their hands. And an abundance of 'knowledge' that they want to inflict on everybody else (by any means necessary). Mostly amounting to some sort of Platonic corporatist scenario whereby all the 'stupid people' are rounded up and placed into camps so all the clever dicks can reap the rewards.

Go fuck yersells yer Tory and Liberal wankers.

Antipholus Papps said...

What some call hypocrisy, I call freedom of spirit!

Will said...

"What some call hypocrisy, I call freedom of spirit!"

Hegelian-idealist shit.

will said...


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