Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The stench from the blogosphere

Think of them as the worst end of the press, disreputable and increasingly intrusive, and all in the name of what, exactly

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:13

Pumped up with the gases of self-regard and malice Guido Fawkes and others of his venal tribe must have thrown their laptops in the air, LOL, boasted, damp with improper pleasure. YES! another topman scalp! William Hague this time, who had to explain his sexuality to the world because they made him. Fawkes and his sort are now the power behind the green benches in the Commons, spreading silent panic among MPs who fear they could be next.

Fawkes, a man I have met, is not obviously magnetic, might, I reckon, have found it quite hard to make his mark in a small office. Yet here he is making history again and again by disseminating titbits on politicians, some valid most low and distasteful. ( Heavens this is provocation indeed. He will probably put it about that I am sleeping with Ahmadinejad's twin brother and have investments in immigrant trafficking businesses).

His "news" is carried by others through the internet sewers until the stench becomes intolerable. Think of them as the worst end of the press, disreputable and increasingly intrusive, and all in the name of what, exactly? It is simply political soft porn and must alarm the more serious bloggers, who conscientiously pass on invaluable information about political parties and the workings of government.

Some personal decisions do reflect on public life and probity. It is perfectly legitimate to bring them to the surface – the Italian dealings of Tessa Jowell's lawyer husband, say, or Lord Ashcroft's undeclared money matters, the underhand methods of Alistair Campbell or revelations about mistresses working for their Parliamentary lovers. Earthbound, ordinary hacks simply can't reach where the Internet does. It releases our democracy from old, secretive institutional behaviours. But public figures should expect some respect for their own space, thoughts, activities and relationships. They are not objects nor are we, the people, shareholders overseeing their entire lives.

The Foreign Secretary has policies and ideological attachments one can argue with and strongly. However, to my knowledge he has never made public declarations on marriage, sex, homosexuality, hotel beds, tucked-in T shirts, fashion, young and gorgeous graduates. So why the revolting on-line gossip on all of the above that led him to make his statement, for which he is further castigated? What is "improper behaviour"? Denying a minister any privacy or his decision to share a hotel room with a chap? Fawkes himself is famously secretive about his business and life – who is he sleeping with at present for example? Do we know? We are surely entitled now that he is a maker and breaker of politicians, elected by himself to preside over our system.

Few take him on because they know what comes next. To be fair, he didn't create the invasive culture we now are forced to live in. He was just smart enough to exploit a society that wanted more transparency and the internet, a cost free and potentially injurious instrument. Other wannabes use the weapon indiscriminately, their toxicity destroying the social environment and individuals.

After his confessional speech, William Hague had to go home to his wife whose privacy was cut apart and left gaping. That can't have been easy. She will have to cope with exposure she never sought. It is disgusting.

There are no locks or curtains available, no injunctions, no way to discourage professional peeping toms and stalkers on the web, watching every move, inviting snoopers and making up the rest just to create discomfort and wreck lives. They can't write, can't think beyond the fix of a scandal, have no interest in the havoc they cause. Newspaper telephone hackers are big babies when compared to those who practice the dark arts in the blogosphere. Once you have a name that is vaguely recognised, you are fair game in this depraved new world. They strip us of all natural born dignity and verbally violate us often anonymously.

Long before I stir this morning and take my first sip of coffee, these creatures of the night will have sent over their foul invective, racist missiles and illiterate essays on what I have written ( or not, it doesn't really matter). The thing is guys, I do not read what you write, haven't done for ages because I don't have to. Just like I don't have to go to a BNP summer fair or a pub smelling of vomit and beer or indeed a meeting of crazed Islamicists. But those who care about me do read the stuff and it upsets them. That, I am sure will turn on the scribblers in their unlit rooms, practising their peculiar form of onanism.

This is not to condemn the web in general or of those who use it to inform, share, enlighten, amuse, fairly criticise and expose those in power and in the celeb circus.

Without blogging Iranian and Chinese dissidents would have no voice. It has been invaluable to many who are suffering from various illnesses, to parents, those who want to open up democratic discourse, teachers, academics and other professionals, most of all young people who roam easily around it and do things for themselves. Go to youngfatandfabulous.com where women who are not stick thin get great fashion tips and feel lovely not freakish. Or the various blogs where separated dads comfort each other. It does allow us to know how it is for a magistrate or a police officer. But in this virtual space you can also read Mengele's unexpurgated dairies and access violent porn and racist fantasies. We are told we must take the bad with the good, no argument at all really.

We, of the old media can be unfair and prurient ( I have been both) but we are accountable and do have to control base instincts. Freedom of expression, an inviolable right, depends on an ingested understanding of how far to go. The outlaws of etherland have thrown out decency, fairness, self restraint and feel bound by no rules. Without rules there is only chaos and pain. Some constraints have come in, but not enough. Here I am defending the human rights of a Tory minister against whom I have battled for years. That is how pitiless the web game has become.


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