Monday, March 24, 2008

Criticism, hyperbole and censorship - why being a liberal blogger isn't so easy

One of the difficulties with blogging is fighting the urge to control debate. As a liberal, I believe in the concept of freedom to publish. On the other hand, there is a responsibility to protect the wider society where hurt or offence may ensue. As a publisher, I want to propagate my views and, by attracting favourable supporting comments, gain greater credibility for them. This, in turn, creates a larger audience and thus a virtuous circle is created.

Liberal Democrats tend to be keen to debate, partly because liberalism tends to balance the needs of individuals against those of the community, however defined. That said, discussion within the Lib Dem blogosphere usually remains courteous. Those among us with a reputation for 'edge' generally aim their invective at the opposition. However, when an argument becomes heated, we like to see it unfold. Censorship of public disagreements is frowned upon, as long as criticism is open, and not hidden beneath a cloak of anonymity.

We also tend to dislike hyperbole. Exaggerating your case to the point of ridicule will attract... ridicule...

It looks as though one of my fellow bloggers has overlooked this. Like Bernard Salmon, I read Bob Shaw's comparison of the 1933 Enabling Act with efforts by the Catholic Church to influence the debate on embryo research, and thought that it was an absurd exaggeration of the case. Unlike Bernard, however, I took the viewpoint that Bob was demonstrating his lack of a sense of history and of perspective and left it at that.

Bernard felt more strongly, and chose to comment. Bob's response appears to have been to play the man rather than the ball, resorting to invective. After an exchange of views, Bob then seems to have decided that the exchange shows him in a bad light and removed it.

Sorry Bob, but that's rather foolish. Now that you've been outed as someone who censors merely to protect his own reputation, it is clear that engaging with you is futile, and that comments posted on your blog must agree with your line. In short, what credibility you have is damaged, and credibility is much easier lost than won.

And before anyone gets too excited, I freely admit to censoring comments posted to my blog. Anonymous comments attacking third parties are banned, unless they contain coherent, logical and verifiable argument. I don't believe that anonymity should be encouraged except in very limited circumstances. Otherwise, I'm perfectly happy to publish comments critical of me or my positions on whatever issue I have blogged about.


Anonymous said...

Well said Mark.

I think the root of the problem is that people type a lot faster than they can think. So they end up writing something and pressing send whereas they would never say the same thing face-to-face or in the old days where they would have to take the time and trouble to write a letter and take it to a post box.

Anonymous said...

I read what you had to say with interest Mark. Needless to say I disagree almost entirely with what you had to say. The comment you make about my 'censoring' comments is a fair one - I did it, I don't care that I did it, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest what people think of me for doing it. To quote Mrs T again; "If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing." No hard feelings I hope. Bob

Mark Valladares said...

Hi Bob, it's good to see that you're willing to respond to honest criticism. And no, I have no hard feelings about the fact that you don't agree. Frankly, I hardly considered the prospect of you suddenly exclaiming, "My God, Mark, you're absolutely right, I will change my ways forthwith!".

I am intrigued by your Margaret Thatcher quotation, however. Stating that, effectively, you know you behaved illiberallyand you don't care that you behaved illiberally, is an odd defence. Going on to say that you don't care what people think is somewhat contradicted by your apparent need to respond to a blog entry by a minor Party bureaucrat.

The positions that you take vary from precious to discourteous, and I'm sure that Jeremy Browne's opponents enjoy reading your statements. However, those of us who believe that honest debate does not preclude courtesy, decency and integrity, are disappointed that you just don't get it.

Carry on Bob, by all means, but you'll be better off respected than the alternative.

Alasdair W said...

Some very good points.
What is great about blogging with the liberal democrats is people will express their opinions when you say something they disagree with. It means we can understand their views, or strengthen our owns. Debate is essential in a party it actually makes us stronger, in labour and the tories you have people who are simply silenced.

Anonymous said...

Mark, who, pray tell, said I craved respect? Not I! Like I said point taken.