Sunday, November 01, 2009

The HobNob Mob, a criticism of Nick Cohen

Reading Nick Cohen's column today set off a an awful lot of conflicting arguments around my head, I'm still uncertain exactly what to make of the whole argument about Twitter outrage and free speech, but my considered reaction at this point is that the arguments he put forward were pretty damn weak.

I'd accept that there is room for debate about how the kind of instant online outrage that we've seen on Twitter could possibly threaten free speech, I'm not sure the whole Jan Moir incident indicates that we're anywhere near that point at this moment in time. What Cohen seems to be offering seems like little more than a rehashed version of the argument as to how organised campaigns can subvert genuine opinion on a subject.

Cohen uses two examples, the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand incident and the more recent Janet Moir article on the death of Stephen Gateley. In the first example, Brand was forced to quit and Ross was (I believe) suspended without pay. In the second example advertising was removed from the online article and Moir was forced to write an apology. Neither example seems to me about free speech. Neither Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand or Jan Moir has been denied freedom of speech, they have simply been held to account for the actions they have taken in positions of responsibility.

I happen to think it's great that this has come about, take for example this bit of his article:

I have known for years that the Daily Mail hired homophobes as columnists – no, really, I have – but others were shocked beyond measure by the discovery that Jan Moir could use the death of Stephen Gately as a reason to sneer at gay marriages.
What the hell was Nick thinking when he wrote this? Is it somehow OK? Should we, the masses simply lie down and accept that one of the country's major newspapers quite happily lends a platform to homophobes? I don't think it's OK and I happen to think it's a damn good thing that we can hold the Daily mMil to account for the views it prints far more effectively than ever before.

Another point I find silly is this argument:

Whether you are the owner of a tiny blog or the editor of a national newspaper, if someone points out an incorrect fact, you correct it; if someone challenges an argument, you argue back; and if someone says that you must think what they think, you ignore them.
Nick uses the very narrow "you must think what they think", but I have to ask what's wrong with telling people how to think? As a politician, I'm always going round telling people what to think. It's a damn good thing too, I happen to like the fact that people no longer think "women shouldn't have the vote" or "homosexuals should be sent to prison" and I'm quite glad that the voices that spoke out against these things were not ignored.

There's a vague point in the thrust of Nick's arguments, but for the most part it seems to be little more than a whine about the fact that journalists will have to live with a little more accountability.

1 comment:

Richmonde said...

Does Nick Cohen think Twitterers shouldn't be allowed to speak freely? Or that they somehow aren't speaking freely? I think it's the usual middle class fear of a new technosocial phenomenon. Of course Twitterers are a "mob", not people! And a large crowd of university lecturers, doctors and architects is never a "mob"!