A few years ago Germaine Greer took to task a female porn film director (apparently an ex-LibDem MP) who was doing her best to argue that her industry was liberating and empowering for women. Greer soon demolished that line with reference to the various pressures that barely pubescent girls were under, before going on to add memorably: ‘Pornography hangs off the side of cyberspace like a huge wart.’ If there is an industry that is certainly about hatred and abuse (are some feminists really still trying to own that one?) then it is the one Greer was lambasting.

This piece is not, however, about porn. It is about warts: irritating little tags that can grow into all-distracting disfigurement. There is a lot, of course, that is warty about the internet and that is why the Guardian has launched its ‘The Web We Want’ project. That august publication feels we no longer have to take the internet warts and all. For the Guardian, the wartiness is above all the online ‘vituperative modes of interaction . . . bullying, shaming and intimidation’ directed at female journalists, together with the sacrifice of the truth, given that we are no longer getting our facts courtesy of places we can trust. That’ll be Guardian editorials then.


In a recent article, editor-in-chief Katharine Viner lamented how it had gone so wrong, especially when the digital dawn had seemed so rosy under ‘forward-thinking editors like Alan Rusbridger’. She wrote: ‘But it has become clear that the Utopian mood of the early 2000s did not anticipate all that technology would enable. Our digital town squares have become mobbed with bullies, misogynists and racists, who have brought a new kind of hysteria to public debate.’ Even with the benefit of hindsight, Viner is unable to describe her paper’s former editor as wrong in how he ‘embraced this hopeful new future for journalism’.

That’s the thing about the Left: they do get carried away with their Utopias. The reason is that they are naïve about human nature. It’s nice to believe that everyone is lovely, that everyone does their best, that they will listen, that they have the inclination to be civil, that they have the intelligence to argue a point, that everyone wants a job, that everyone is hard-working and that nobody is ever lazy. That’s fine. That’s their take on things and that informs their politics and overall worldview. It’s just that it means they often get things wrong. This is what happened with Mr Rusbridger. He got out in time though, safe as he is dividing his time between a position at Oxford and writing books.

So where are we now with the internet, now that the sunlit uplands are in shadow? Well, we have social media. This democratisation means that everyone gets their say. Everyone has a voice. That’s right: the people, the masses, the proletariat, the great unwashed. To the astonishment of the Left, this has brought home the unwelcome and thoroughly uncomfortable fact that not everyone is nice and wants to engage in an ‘interesting and forward-thinking conversation’ as another Guardian writer, Jessica Valenti, bemoaned. Some people are trolls. Once upon a time, in the pre-digital Eden, this was a word found only in The Three Billy Goats Gruff. That was when Mr Rusbridger was at the Guardian’s helm ‘investing in digital expansion – hiring engineers and project managers – and understanding that journalists . . . must be open to challenge and debate from their audience’. Even in recent times Viner was writing that this promising new world heralded an end to the time when it was newspapers and textbooks handing down fact and opinion from on high; all that top-down business that came from the age of deference. Well, one reaps what one sows. They got what they wished for, trading it for authority, fact-checking and accountability. What we have now is an online world where people are free to be as ignorant, shouty, sneering and monosyllabically Anglo-Saxon as they want. They can abuse, menace and threaten. Brave new world. No good bleating now.

The Guardian is therefore wringing its hands about how on earth to deal with this Frankenstein’s monster that it helped to create. It wants answers to questions about changes to the law that could ensure better protection and policing of ‘shared space’, and what responsibility lies with platforms like Facebook and publishers such as the Guardian. One of the problems with social media is anonymity. If Guardian women journalists are upset by what they read from these violence-threatening ‘free speech warriors’, as Valenti points out some people celebrate them, then why not do that hashtag-sticking-together-as-women-thing and demand an end to the anonymity granted by papers? Demand from Viner et al that from now on it’s got to be an online version of Letters to the Editor with a name and address at the end? This would mean that only the polite, the literate, get through. Or would that not be inclusive and diverse enough for the Guardian?

Maybe it wouldn’t be a runner. Not least because the Left are quite keen on anonymity, or at least when it suits them. For a truly breathtaking demonstration of hypocrisy, though, Valenti takes some beating. When it was rumoured that writer and author Katie Roiphe (or ‘notorious anti-feminist and backlash opportunist’, as Valenti describes her) was about to reveal the creator of the Sh*tty Media Men list, Valenti tweeted that removal of anonymity would be ‘incredibly dangerous’ and that the woman would be subject to doxing (broadcasting private or identifiable information) and threats. She further tweeted the subtly menacing message: ‘Katie Roiphe certainly has some explaining and apologising to do.’ Or what? Valenti and the sisterhood are perfectly fine about people making accusations cowering behind anonymity when it suits their gender politics agenda, guilty until proven innocent, and if an innocent man gets caught in the crossfire, then so be it, that’s just collateral damage. After all, he’s only a man. Double standards.

There is, of course, an obvious solution to the potentially distressing nature of the abuse that comes with social media. Don’t read it. Don’t look at it. Don’t go on it. Don’t do it. Poor Valenti can’t seem to help herself, even though she says she’s been subjected to appalling abuse for a decade. There she is, time and again, having her Sunday evening family dinner disturbed, scrolling through the comments. Why? I guess that’s addiction for you. As for people being convicted for threats of violence or death made online, some of us are in favour of harsher sentencing. We’ll be fine with that so long as it applies to all other similar threats in society (MPs have long been getting a tough time) and is not just one law for nervous female journalists of the Left. Would that be all right?

The Guardian’s words ‘The Web We Want’ mean ‘The Web the Guardian Wants’. And what the Guardian wants is that its writers (at least its female ones) are never subject to challenge in the form of derision, mockery or scorn however provocative, misinformed or carelessly argued their pieces may be. Those who believe in free speech need to be suspicious of moves that are more about deferring to the possibly affronted sensitivity and intellectual vanity of Guardian women journalists. The very words The Web We Want have the ring of a self-appointed authority that knows what is best for us, knows what we should be thinking, knows what we should be saying and how we should be saying it.

The irony is that the political party that the Guardian is hoping will get to power in a few years has the feeding frenzy of social media to thank for its own membership growth. That’s all right though because, as we all know, online nastiness comes only from the other side, the non-Guardian subscribing side. All the rest is democratic, energised, inclusive, engaging of the young. No. Be careful. The rest could well be silence.

67 COMMENTS

  1. Great Article Julie. The huge contradictions and hypocrisies of third wave feminism are difficult to comprehend.
    Which is why the vast majority of women simply don’t buy it. What Valenti does not address is the growing critical commentary from many older second wave feminists.
    They don’t get much publicity now but many of those famous second wave feminists from the seventies are speaking up. You can really sense their deep discomfort in the way the movement has been corrupted and abused. Last week Margaret Atwood was in the firing line for daring to raise very sensible concerns about the ‘me too’ movement. Even Greer has been ‘no platformed’ for questioning transgender men.

  2. “It’s nice to believe that everyone is lovely, that everyone does their best, that they will listen, that they have the inclination to be civil, that they have the intelligence to argue a point”

    If the Left really believe in that Utopia you might expect them to behave like that. But they don’t. They do not believe that everyone is lovely. They hate conservatives and lefty “leaders” call for conservatives to be lynched. Some lefties wish death upon their fellow citizens simply for being old and voting the “wrong” way. They do not listen, are not civil and seldom argue a point, whether they are intelligent or not.

    And yet this stark disconnect between what they allegedly wish for and their behaviour is a kind of elephant in the room. It is disregarded or forgiven by the media – and even by their political opposition. They get away with it, time after time.

    • Excellent article.

      Don’t mention how they (or their commenters) refer to Brexit supporters. I think one of the big surprises for the Guardian was how many calm and literate souls keep putting forward good reasons to have voted leave and keep making corrective comments about the ‘fake facts’ of Project Fear.

      No wonder they want the hoi polloi kept out of the (digital) market place. It’s almost as if the Guardian wasn’t at the forefront of democracy.

      • I have yet to read anything positive about Brexit in the Guardian . Just as I have yet to read anything positive about Trump.

        The Guardian is not a news organisation. It is a propaganda sheet.

        • Like all newspapers, it caters to its demographic. If you don’t like it, read the Daily Mail, which is just as biased, albeit from a different angle.

          • True. The difference Harley Quinn points out, however, is that whether in The Guardian or The Dail Mail, time and again, far and away the greatest number of personally insulting, and most vituperous, comments have come from extremist Remainers.
            Even now, take a look at almost any Mail Online article open to comment that carries any bad news at all, floods, famine, pestilence, crime, cancer, and you will invariably find someone at the Worst Rated end who is blaming it on Brexit and Brexiteers.
            At least in The Guardian they usually, though by no means always, reserve thir criticism for articles actually about Brexit.
            .

          • I have no idea. Why do you ask me? I can only assume the basis for an extreme views begin in childhood, Left or Right.

          • “Fanaticism is due to an unconscious doubt threatening the conscious
            attitude. For example, dogmatism is merely to protect a creed against an
            unrecognized doubt. True conviction needs nothing of the sort.
            Fanaticism is due to a threatened conviction.” ~Carl Jung, Cornwall
            Seminar, Page 18.

            So, essentially, the extremist/fanatic admits no doubt.
            Glad to be of service.

  3. ‘The Web we Want’. Yes, that all inclusive ‘we’. So arrogant .

    If the ‘Web we Want’ is anything like the comment policy on the Guardian’s website, it most definitely is not the Web which many of us want.

    Transgress the values of the Guardian’s ‘community’ and one finds oneself consigned to outer darkness.

    Transgressors seem to include anyone who has opinions which are less than politically correct, however well argued.

    The Web has its blemishes but any cure for them is likely to be worse than the disease.

    • The web is fast becoming a place dominated by aggressive misogynists who can and do threaten women with all sorts of revenge.

      • There are such places. There are also places on the web dominated by aggressive misandrists who would criminalize all men. But dominating the whole web? Hyperbole.

        • They dominate discourse. Trust me. You have a partner who is an active campaigner on women’s issues and you notice.

          • They perhaps dominate the corner of the interweb you are familiar with. *I* think the web is dominated by computer hardware and software issues – because that’s the bit I am most familiar with. But I don’t think the bit I’m interested in is a reliable indicator for the whole web.

          • They come and find her. She writes about abortion, about the weight loss industry and other issues and the MRAs come and find her.

          • Any behaviour that is illegal should be reported (and hopefully prosecuted). But I support free speech and civil discourse even if it might cause offence. If you make visible your strong opinions then chances are that some of the 3 billion internet users will have contrary views and push back.

            How you deal with that is a personal choice.

          • I deal with it by threatening them right back. And one of my little friends has the ability to trace the comments. Surprisingly instructive.

          • Compare what ever paltry numbers you can trace with all those misadrists from the RadFem movement, and they’ll pall nto insignificance.

          • I’m afraid I don’t trust you. All the evidence I’ve seen shows precisely the reverse, that misandrist Feminists are far greater abusers and that they then go on to falsely claim to suffer from precisely what they inflict on others.
            .

    • It was interesting that the discussion of the abuse on the internet of MPs during the last election sort of died a death once the commissioned report showed that the majority of the abuse was directed at Tory MPs. Seems the media not so bothered about that.

  4. “The reason is that they are naïve about human nature. It’s nice to believe that everyone is lovely, that everyone does their best, that they will listen, that they have the inclination to be civil, that they have the intelligence to argue a point, that everyone wants a job, that everyone is hard-working and that nobody is ever lazy.”
    Seriously! I think you are being overly charitable portraying the left as misguided saints.
    There are probably a few useful idiots who ignore reality and believe this. The vast majority don’t really understand what they believe in and just follow the herd and turn a blind eye.
    Then you have the activists, the movers and shakers, the cult leaders who by their actions are the complete opposite of everything you just described.

  5. There is no-one, absolutely no one, on the right or centre asking for an end to fake media, tightening of the internet, or trying to shut down media that doesn’t spout their line… The Left, progressives, Altleft, Antifa, momentum, fascists, Muslims et al, are all demanding an end to anything that highlights their hypocrisy

  6. They want equality but want to be treated differently.
    It’s as if they think men wonder through life in this male bubble of perfection, never being criticised or attacked or discriminated against or having to fight for what they get.
    The recent Peterson interview highlighted this. She points out that only 7 of the ftse 100 companies had female CEOs and that was unfair to women. What about the other 99.999% of men who also don’t occupy those positions, is it unfair to them?
    After Peterson blew her world apart on this she even said that women should not have to compete with men on mens terms for these jobs. His reply was classic; You’re free to start your own companies with women leaders and a feminised approach.

    • I find the biggest thing with women is the gap between what they think (and increasingly are taught) men are like, and how we actually think and act. Then this garbage is used as the basis for policy making and office rules.

  7. I also believe that it was found that a lot of the abuse on twitter comes from females, words and psychological torture are, after all, their weapons of choice and twitter is the perfect battleground
    for this..

  8. IME the left are far worse in social media. They just whine about it more if they get criticised back, i.e. Jess Phillips’ pathetic exaggerations of her ‘bullying’.

  9. The internet helped Brexit and Donald Trump’s election. The likes of the Guardian and the BBC cannot control the narrative on the internet. I suspect thats what they dont like.

  10. Viner has solved the problem at the Guardian by suppressing reader comment on almost anything, including Brexit or any subject where she knows that readers are likely to contest the paper’s own line. I suspect that fear of contradiction was one reason the Telegraph stupidly dropped Disqus. The Guardian and the Telegraph are both living in denial of the fact that the print media are interactive and that readers will not go to titles that shut them out. Valenti is not a good example as a victim of abuse since she courts it as evidence of how ugly her trolls can be. Now she’s protected but less read except by her fans. Not wanting to be read is an unusual objective for journalists. By engaging only with people who agree with her, Viner is retreating into a ghetto from which Rusbridger extricated the Guardian. For a daily paper that can attract thousands of comments a day, moderation is an expensive business and can be seen by the beancounters as an expendable cost. But journalists aren’t supposed to be beancounters.

    • Even film and music reviews are cut off from public comment. As you say, the Telegraph long ago pulled up the drawbridge and have also resorted to annoying popups/overlays (easily defeated with browser add-ons) demanding Adblock be disabled and/or a subscription purchased. Apparently, the higher-ups at the Telegraph are convinced there’s a market starving for an unending string of Remainer screeds.

    • I well remember the Telegraph getting rid of Disqus. The feminists Clare Cohen and Radhika Sanghani kept writing blatant falsehoods and lies, and a group of Disqus commenters were starting to get very good and very persistent at exposing the flaws in their arguments.

      Instead of revising their opinions in light of the clear evidence provided by the commenters, Cohen and Sanghani went running to their management for protection, citing a tiny handful of nasty comments. Now they are immune from direct criticism, but the online readership of the Telegraph decreased dramatically at the same time.

      The BBC have disabled comments on most of their stories too now for the same reason.

      • I used to comment at the Guardian and Telegraph websites quite often. Although I often disagreed with their articles at least I read them and thought about what the journalists had said. When they started making it difficult to make comments I gradually stopped reading those two newspapers.

        Years ago I never thought I would lump the Guardian and the Telegraph together. However the so-called Torygraph recruits its staff from the same pool of indoctrinated students so despite differences in their owners’ politics their journalists and making the two newspapers far more similar than they used to be.

    • Which is why I don’t comment on the Guardian. I even contributed to a video they made and was blocked by Comment is Free a week later for disagreeing with a columnist. It’s a ridiculous travesty of a site.

  11. Your post is extremely prescient, Julie, given today’s news. It seems the government takes its orders from the Guardian, judging from the latest announcement, courtesy of arch news fakers the BBC :’The UK government is to establish a new unit to counter “fake news”, Downing Street has said. Theresa May’s spokesman said the “dedicated national security communications unit” would be charged with “combating disinformation by state actors and others”. “We are living in an era of fake news and competing narratives,” he said. Good bye free speech. George Orwell must be spinning in his grave.

    I

    • He was right. We are living in an age of competing narratives where objective truth is hard to come by, if not impossible. Each person increasingly has their own version of the truth and it’ll either make society ungovernable or cause people to lapse into indifference.

      • Sounds as if you think ‘competing narratives’ must by definition be a bad thing – not very democratic are you? Presumably you believe in only one state funded and enforced version of the truth, in other words, totalitarianism.

        • Couple of things.

          Firstly, I do believe in objective truth. That someone with XY chromosomes is a man, with XX chromosomes is a woman and so on. There are others, but I chose two that we might agree on. And secondly, I’m not a democrat. I don’t vote and view it as a broken system with nonentities and fools at its heart. Always has been.

  12. If The Guardian is intent on giving us what ‘We’ want, then their circulation and click figures will clearly tell them that The Guardian is not only not what ‘We’ want, but is increasingly not what ‘We’ want.
    .

  13. “Digital leftism” – the web they want is the web that’s yours! Digital “real-estate” is managed by the people who own it; it is a perfect example of private property rights in action. The “progressive” left cannot abide such individual freedom that so clearly threatens their delusions of collectivist utopia and as such seek to put the web under their regulation/control. True to their supremacist ideology, modern leftists believe it is their God given prerogative to force other people to use their property in conformity with progressivism’s warped view of the world!

  14. The Guardian and Katharine Viner took what has been presented as a moral stance against online abuse in “The Web We Want” campaign and Jessica Valenti joined that campaign by writing an article about how she was subject to online abuse and she feared for other female writers. If that moral stance was genuine Katharine Viner should have fired Jessica Valenti from The Guardian last week after she used Twitter and her Guardian column to boost a campaign against the female writer Katie Roiphe and Harper’s magazine which led to abuse and threats. Failing to fire Jessica Valenti shows that The Guardian’s “The Web We Want” campaign was a series of whinges by The Guardian’s self-pitying hate-filled pro-censorship crybullies.

    The Guardian’s “The Web We Want” campaign and other actions it has taken (such as not joining IPSO) and editorial positions it has taken (such as supporting censorship of the Internet) are examples of the arrogance of The Guardian and its supporters. Other organisations and people need scrutiny, rules, regulations, regulators, laws and punishments because they do bad things but The Guardian and its supporters do not need nannying because they are intrinsically good and do not do bad things. The Guardian has an air of moral superiority which is utterly undeserved. The Guardian is a dishonest, sanctimonious, hypocritical organisation. However, I will not call it a newspaper because that’s not what it is now, especially under the editorship of Katharine Viner.

    The Guardian is a cult.

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