Category Archives: media bollocks

A short twitter thread on “fake news” and how the media created it

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Dear NSPCC, please don’t debate child abuse

Content note: this post discusses child abuse and transphobia, mentions suicide

Update October 13th: They have cancelled the debate

I’ve sent a copy of this letter to NSPCC Press Office mediaoffice@nspcc.org.uk. Please feel free to send similar emails.

Dear NSPCC Press Office,

I was very concerned to see a tweet from you on 11th October, advertising a “debate” between Sarah Ditum and Kellie Maloney on transgender children.

I was under the impression that NSPCC stood against all forms of child abuse. Why, then, are you holding a debate which will essentially equate to, “is it all right to abuse some children?”

One of your speakers, Sarah Ditum, is an apologist for abuse of transgender children. In late 2014, the world was horrified as a trans teenage girl was abused into suicide by her parents. Ditum expressed empathy with the parents, rather than the young girl who was abused to death. I am highly concerned that you think it appropriate to host a debate where one of the speakers empathises with child abusers, and I strongly suspect you would not decide to debate any other forms of child abuse while platforming somebody who empathises with abuse.

There are also concerns about your other speaker, Kellie Maloney, who is a domestic abuser. I know the NSPCC as an organisation are concerned about children being exposed to domestic abuse, you’ve got a whole web page on it. I can only assume you went with Maloney because no other trans person was willing to share a platform with somebody whose sympathies lie with parents who abuse a trans child to death.

I’m asking you, NSPCC, to please, please rethink this debate. Do you really want the NSPCC brand to become synonymous with debating whether certain forms of child abuse are all right?

Please cancel this debate.

Update:

I received a reply. It feels very form-lettery and does not address my specific concerns?

Dear Zoe

Thank you for taking the time to contact us with your comments.

Children and young people are increasingly raising concerns about transgenderism and gender dysphoria. Issues that are of concern to children are of concern to us.

The NSPCC hosts a series of regular debates on matters that affect children and around current and sometimes controversial child protection issues.

The NSPCC’s role is to chair the debate. It is simply providing a platform for the issue to be discussed and awareness of it raised. It is not taking a view either way.

We chose speakers who are pertinent to the debate. Both are known to the media, have spoken publicly about their views on transgender, and have differing opinions which will enable a good discussion. They do not represent the views of the NSPCC.

Regards

NSPCC

Sadly, no answer as to whether they usually like to have a speaker in favour of child abuse, or not, but having googled their previous events, they don’t usually invite someone who reckons everyone’s being a bit mean to people who abused their child to death. There’s also no answer as to whether or not they think it’s acceptable to debate whether a bit of child abuse is all right. I’m a little surprised the NSPCC claims to have no view on whether or not child abuse is acceptable.

Absolutely unacceptable, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be donating to the NSPCC now they’ve become the sort of charity that thinks that abuse of vulnerable children is a topic for a fun little debate.

Further update, as of 6pm: Kellie Maloney has now pulled out, meaning the NSPCC’s “debate” is now literally just the bigot.

Further update, October 13th: They have cancelled the debate, and sorted out their language.

 


Shockingly bad science journalism in the Guardian

Content note: this post discusses mental illness, mentions self harm, suicide and sexual violence

It’s been a while since I’ve considered the Guardian a decent source of news, but sometimes things get egregious. Yesterday, an article entitled “Mental illness soars among young women in England – survey” was put out, and their reporting… wasn’t very good.

A study was released finding that young women aged 16-24 are at very high risk for mental illness, with more than a quarter of the group experiencing a condition, and almost 20% screening positive for PTSD symptoms. This has all risen since 2007: not just for young women, but across genders and age groups. What, according to the Guardian’s heavy focus of the article, is to blame?

Social media, apparently.

The Guardian’s reporting focuses heavily on how social media is to blame, selectively quoting researchers mentioning social media to the extent that I would love to see what questions they were asked (my personal favourite: “There are some studies that have found those who spend time on the internet or using social media are more likely to [experience] depression, but correlation doesn’t imply causality.”)

Then there’s the case study telling her story of her experience with PTSD and triggers. She talks a lot about film and TV, and the stress of university, and yet somehow her case study is titled “Social media makes it harder to tune out things that are traumatic”. She mentions it briefly in the last paragraph–while still mostly focusing on film and TV!

Now, the reason the Guardian’s twisting of this survey for their own ends is so particularly problematic is the importance of the research. You can download the whole report here, or read a summary here.

It’s quite a well-done survey, a very robust look at mental illness in England, and laying groups who are most at risk. You know me, and how quibbly I can get about published research. This one is actually good. However, it’s worth noting something they didn’t measure in the survey: social media use. This means, of course, it’s absolutely impossible to draw conclusions from the data about social media and mental illness from this research. The survey authors mention that their young cohort is the first to come of age in the social media age, which is true to a certain extent, although I am in an older cohort and came of age in a world where I constantly chatted to friends online, whether I knew them in the meatspace or not. Again, it would be nice if they’d consistently measured online behaviour across studies.

I’ll quote one of the other key research findings here, because again it’s crucial and if you read the Guardian you’d never know about them.

Most mental disorders were more common in people living alone, in poor physical health, and not employed. Claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit aimed at those unable to work due to poor health or disability, experienced particularly high rates of all the disorders assessed.

So. Let’s speculate with the results then. What else happened between 2007 and 2014 that might have had a negative impact on people, especially those who are on disability benefits.

I’ll give you a clue. It happened quite soon after 2007, and the young cohort would have come of age into this, as well as more people using Facebook.

One more clue: it rhymes with wobal winancial wisis wand wausterity.

These are young people who have grown into a world with no prospects, with a hugely gendered impact. Of course, once again, it’s just speculation, but it’s slightly more robust speculation than the Guardian’s because they measured benefit receipt and employment status.

As women, a lot of us would have chorused “no shit, Sherlock” upon seeing the results, and seeing how gendered the results are. We deal with more, and it’s even worse if we’re poor.

The Guardian has a bit of a hateboner for social media, and, unfortunately, this has completely blurred its analysis and reporting of what is an important survey that actually found some interesting trends over time, as well as a bleak snapshot of the current realities.


Is Theresa May A Feminist Icon? Listen to KILLJOY FM for why she really, really isn’t

My friend, feminist extraordinaire Ray Filar, has started a really good radio show, and they were kind enough to invite me on the inaugural episode, where we discussed the question, is Theresa May a feminist icon? Me, Ray, and migrant rights activist Antonia Bright of Movement For Justice all agree that she isn’t, and frankly an hour wasn’t long enough to cover all the reasons why (although we made some headway). Take a bit of time to listen to our conversation, covering May’s violences against migrant women, complicity in austerity, why “blue feminism” is a shivering pile of turds, and what feminism needs to be doing instead of cheering on a monster.

Content note: the discussion covers detention, FGM, violence against women and domestic violence.

Listen to KILLJOY FM every Wednesday on Resonance FM, online or on 104.4 in London.

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Theresa May as Prime Minister would be a disaster for women

Content note: this post discusses border violence, benefits violence, rape, violence against women

It is looking remarkably like Theresa May might be the next Prime Minister, elected by the approximately 0.3% of the population that are members of the Tory party. I would have expected widespread terror at this option, but apparently most liberal white feminists simply seem excited that there might be A Lady in power: Suzanne Moore, for example, is excited:

Untitled

The pathetic scope of the media feminism has never been more apparent. Theresa May as PM would be bad news for pretty much every woman in this country, and all that would trickle down from her would be death and despair. Let’s have a little look at some of the terrible things she’s done which are harmful towards women.

Yarl’s Wood

While Theresa May cannot be given full responsibility for having opened the place–that honour goes to Tony Blair–May has certainly done her damndest to keep the place open and silence any news coming out of it. Yarl’s Wood is a detention centre for women, where they are held, usually before they’re deported. That in and of itself is violence against women: innocent women are imprisoned against their will simply for where they were born. However, Yarl’s Wood manages to double up as a hotbed of rape and abuse. Women are sent there to be raped.

Theresa May, rather than dealing with the problem, allowed it, and now chooses to cover it up. She blocked information about the scale of the issue coming to light, because it might damage the commercial interests of the private sector company running this repulsive place.

Humiliating vulnerable LGBT women

Let’s get one thing straight: Theresa May. May has a history of voting in a homophobic direction, such as against repealing Section 28, and against lesbian couples having fertility rights. That’s long in the past, though, and from her position as Home Secretary, she’s developed new ways of attacking LGBT people.

Take, for example, the institutional humiliation of LGBT asylum seekers. One case study here is Aderonke Apata, a lesbian woman from Nigeria who sought asylum in the UK because she faces the death penalty for her activism. Theresa May’s Home Office wanted evidence of Aderonke’s sexual orientation. This included a sex tape of Aderonke with her girlfriend. And even after this humiliating treatment, Theresa May ruled her “not lesbian enough”. Another lesbian woman was ruled “not lesbian enough” for wearing lipstick to court.

Her stance on human rights

Theresa May absolutely fucking hates the Human Rights Act. A lot of this is likely to do with the fact it presents a great big humane obstacle to her deporting whoever the hell she likes, whenever the hell she likes. She’s been a consistent opponent of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights; with her last call to ditch human rights coming just weeks before the referendum.

Sure, she’s reversed her opposition to human rights now she has a sniff of power, but given how consistent and single-minded she’s been in this crusade, can we really trust her?

Repealing the Human Rights Act and/or leaving the European Convention on Human Rights would have devastating consequences, because women are humans. Thanks to the Human Rights Act, the police must act in cases of domestic violence or rape (if the survivor wants that), privacy must be respected–and it protects the human rights of marginalised women. So, forgive me if I’m concerned about the disproportionate impact abolishing human rights might have on women.

Austerity

Speaking of disproportionate impact on women, do you know what’s had an absolutely devastating impact on women? Austerity.

Austerity has had a horrifying impact on women: rape crisis services closing, women being forced to stay with violent partners due to a lack of services and having nowhere to go, limiting family size… the list goes on and on and on and on. It’s widening the general gender equality gap, and, of course, hitting women who have intersecting oppressions even harder.

Every step of the way, Theresa May has voted these violences against women through. May’s hands are soaked in the blood of women.

Do you want to see her position on migrant women rolled out to all women?

In her current position, Theresa May can only abuse migrant women. She can only humiliate migrant women, tear apart their families, and incite violence against them. Having seen her viciousness for six years, I’d like nothing more than to immure her, hide her away where she can harm nobody.

The violences she has already enacted are enough for a thousand lifetimes, and I cannot believe there are those who would seek to give her more power. However, if you’re the kind of white heterosexual middle-class abled woman who has a media platform, you’ll probably be fine. She’ll probably look out for you, while destroying everybody else.


Shit I cannot believe needs saying: Your mate might be nice, but is an abuser

Content note: this post discusses domestic violence and abuse, and apologism

When a rich, powerful white man is accused of perpetrating violence against women, a dance begins. It is the world’s worst dance, making Agadoo look like the Bolshoi Ballet. In this well-choreographed dance, everybody rallies around the abuser. They support the abuser, claiming that he is the best guy in the world, and couldn’t have possibly done it. They leap over the evidence presented by the survivor, all in step. Nothing can dent their pal’s Nice Guy status.

It probably doesn’t even matter who the abuser is, or how well they truly know him. This dance is political: it is a way of protecting all abusers across the globe by showing survivors what happens if they speak out.

Let us pretend, for a moment, that some of what is being said is true. Let’s imagine a chap called Johnny Blepp, who has been accused of beating up his wife. Let’s imagine some washed-up pals of his, who we’ll call Paul Gettany and Dickey Rourke and Vanessa Cara–oh fuck it, we all know who we’re talking about here, don’t we?

I believe that Johnny Depp beat Amber Heard. I would believe this even without the sheer level of evidence that Amber Heard showed, the sheer level of evidence which was sufficient to get a restraining order granted.

And, to be perfectly honest, I’d believe Amber Heard even if I was BFFs with Johnny Depp, because I know something which has apparently escaped the notice of those who are seeking attention by leaping to his defence: even if a man is nice to you that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of harming anyone. 

If Paul Bettany had given things a moment’s thought, perhaps he would consider how he has never shared a house, a room, a bed with Johnny Depp, so probably can’t have the first clue what his pal’s like behind closed doors. If Mickey Rourke had had a little think before opening his gob, maybe he would have considered that just because he had never been hit by his mate, doesn’t mean his mate has never hit anyone. If Vanessa Paradis had taken a few seconds, maybe she would have remembered she hasn’t lived with her ex husband in at least four years, and a lot has happened in those four years, so perhaps so has her ex’s temper.

All of these people are outsiders. None of them are party to the knowledge of what goes on behind closed doors. So why on earth do they presume that they know so much that they can confidently accuse a woman of perjury?  That is, after all, what they are doing when a woman has gone to court, told her story (and been granted a restraining order), and they accuse her of having made it up.

I understand that it can sometimes feel implausible that your friend might do horrible things, but this is why it is important to remember that you have no way of knowing how they treat others. You have no way of knowing what it’s like when they go home. Abusers are manipulative people, and have you considered that you are being played?

Again, I get why people may be resistant to that question: nobody likes to feel like a fool. Nonetheless, Depp’s friends, coming out in support of him, are serving not just their mate, but abusers everywhere. They’re helpful little pawns, parroting a line which keeps survivors silent, showing survivors that nobody will believe them. Their intervention isn’t even particularly helpful to their friend: after all, nothing happens to rich white abusers. Look at Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, for example.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. You’re not being objective in the slightest when you knee-jerk defend your friend based on your complete lack of knowledge. You don’t need to say anything at all: if you don’t believe the survivor, keep your gob shut, because you’re mostly basing your disbelief on misogynistic tropes you’ve been fed since birth. If you truly want to keep an open mind, you need to keep your mouth shut, and give what a survivor has said equal weighting to your pal’s denial.

All we know about our friends is they are nice to us. It is peculiarly childish to extend their niceness to us into an assumption that they are nice to everyone.

One day, I hope the dance will falter. I admire the courage of every woman who comes forward despite the power of the man who abused her, and despite the fact that surely she must know that everyone will close ranks with tedious predictability.

I believe Amber Heard. I cannot believe I need to say this, when it ought to go without saying. I believe that Johnny Depp attacked and beat his wife, and I believe Amber Heard.


If 38 Degrees were even mildly competent, their Kuenssberg campaign would’ve been effective

Content note: discusses misogynistic abuse

Yesterday, I discussed misogyny and dead cat politics: a tendency for media and political narratives to use the very real problem of misogynists being dicks to distract away from their own wrongdoing. I concluded that the best defence against this tactic is probably to avoid being misogynists. Today, I offer a more constructive, practical example on this topic, and will provide campaign site 38 Degrees with some free advice to avoid another incident like the current Laura Kuenssberg clusterfuck. If they want any further advice, they can bloody well pay me, god knows they rake in enough.

A little background to the current hot mess: a lot of people are quite concerned about the questionable impartiality exhibited by the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, and do not think it is befitting for a political editor of a publicly-funded news outlet to display bias towards certain political parties and against others. A petition went up on their website, and garnered over 35,000 signatures, but thrown into this mix was a hive of seething misogyny. This handily provided those who might benefit from the direction of bias at the BBC with a distraction from actually having to respond to the issues raised. The petition was taken down, and the organisation’s CEO, David Babbs, donned a hair shirt.

None of this needed to happen, had 38 Degrees displayed even an iota of competence and understanding of issues of misogyny. A great degree of the abject failure of this campaign can be chalked up to failures from 38 Degrees themselves. It could have all been avoided if they’d have just taken some proactive measures.

1. Moderate your own online spaces properly

38 Degrees is primarily an online campaigning forum, and it is startling that they failed so much to moderate their own online spaces on which they rely: comment threads, and Facebook. If they had removed misogynistic comments in their own spaces over which they have direct control, a rally of terrible people probably wouldn’t have picked up the same level of steam as it did. An organisation the size of 38 Degrees ought to have ample resources to put towards moderating out misogyny, and that they did not is probably their biggest failure.

I suspect this lack of moderation was due to two problems inherent to the organisation: their brand, and a desire for engagement. First, the brand: 38 Degrees goes on like it’s open-for-all, and so on–so of course they’ll let dreadful misogynists have their special snowflake say. As for a desire for engagement, in today’s digital world, the more “engagement” you have, the more money you end up making at the end of the day. Engagement can be good, bad, or ugly: a comment is a comment, and the more the better, because that’ll likely result in more clicks, more signs, more email addresses collected, more donations… it doesn’t matter what they’re saying, because they’re engaging. Sadly for them, they’re probably losing potential supporters through not moderating out misogyny: it makes their spaces less welcoming to half the population, and therefore half the population is actually less likely to give them that engagement cash cow.

2. Have a moderation policy

A moderation policy is a powerful tool. It easily and accessibly helps those who moderate the spaces, spelling out what they should delete or not, rather than simply leaving them to make up their mind. It’s also great when your moderation policy is transparent, not just because transparency is good, but because it clearly states what is and is not acceptable in the community. It’s the sort of thing 38 Degrees should have clearly in places where you can leave comments: a link to it above places to leave comments, a pinned post on Facebook.

38 Degrees did not have any such policy that I could find, which in combination with the Kuenssberg mess makes me suspect they never had one in the first place. Maybe they didn’t do one because it was too hard. Building and publicising moderation policy inevitably pisses off a fair few awful people who will squawk their war cry of FREEZE PEACH. If 38 Degrees are worried about losing the vital whiney wankstain demographic, then they oughtn’t to–if they go, they were probably never particularly valuable supporters in the first place; if they stay, then hoo-fucking-ray. Whatever the reason they don’t have a comment policy, if they want to recover after this trash fire, they’re going to need to sort one out, stat.

So, that’s the online spaces 38 Degrees have control over sorted in two easy steps. But what about the spaces they don’t control? After all, wasn’t at least some of the problem down to people sharing it?

3. Control the message, and control the share text

I cannot fucking believe that an organisation as big as 38 Degrees never thought about how the message itself was presented, and how maybe, just maybe, that might attract misogynists like flies to shit. The petition screeched the name Laura Kuenssberg–a very feminine name–and had a big honking picture of her at the top. This was all there whenever anyone shared the petition on social media sites. Any godawful man who just hates women will see this as “petition to fucking destroy this harpy”. Ultimately, like those who have something to hide and play dead cat politics with misogyny, misogynists do not care about the message either: they just hate women.

The goal of this petition was to raise concerns about bias from a senior figure at the BBC. Why not lead with that, then? Why not title the petition “Sack the biased BBC Political Editor” or “End bias at the BBC”, or “The BBC Political Editor should be impartial”. I honestly did not even know the BBC Political Editor was called Laura Kuenssberg until this–for all I knew, she might have been some reporter who doorstepped a politician aggressively, or a someone who works in the BBC canteen and wrote “Jeremy Corbyn is a poo” in the foam on a latte. Referring to the job title is much clearer. It’s also not necessary to use a picture of the person as the image that will pop up whenever it gets shared. Why use that, when you could use some sort of simple visual graphic presenting facts about bias at the BBC, if it really is such a problem.

Some may argue that if the Beeb’s political editor was a man, a “Sack Bob McDickface” petition name with a picture of him looking like a prick would be fine. And yes, that’s true. What’s also true, though, is that we live in a patriarchal culture, and in a patriarchal culture, different reactions happen because of women than because of men. A picture of a man probably isn’t going to cause discussions of how hideously ugly he is where it is shared, for example. Focus on the role, not the woman, if the subject of your campaign is a woman.

38 Degrees have control over this when it comes to sharing. They write and edit the campaign copy, and they choose the images and accompanying share text. Had they given the climate they were releasing this campaign into five minutes of thought, they probably could have staved off the catastrophe that ensued.

4. Challenge any remaining misogynists

Even with all of this, there’s still likely to be the odd misogynist pop up with their misogyny. For a big organisation that doesn’t want their new brand to be Enablers Of Misogyny™, even at this juncture there is something that can be done. Challenge that shit. Say “You are sharing this petition calling the subject a bitch. That’s misogynistic and unacceptable.”

It’s not like 38 Degrees don’t have the resources to see who is sharing their campaigns, and what they’re saying about it. It is also not like they don’t have the resources to challenge this with their own social media channels. If there’s a large amount of misogynists sharing your campaign, put out a statement clarifying that you do not condone their behaviour, that it is putrid, and send it to them. Hell, 38 Degrees will likely have access their email addresses: send them an email telling them they’re being a prick, because nothing puts off a horrible flamer like tearing off their comfortable veil of anonymity. Send an email round to everyone who signed, addressing the issue with misogyny and making how the campaign should be shared clear.

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These four simple steps are well within the realms of 38 Degrees’s capacity, and if they want to recover from this, they’ll need to think about implementing this in the future, or giving themselves over to just being a hive of misogynists.

The best way to avoid dead cat politics is to keep all nearby cats alive and well. When you are a large campaigning organisation, this becomes all the more important.

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