Sunday, August 13, 2006

Gina Ford & Mumsnet, Freedom Of Speech | Again?!?

My previous post about Gina Ford generated a few comments. Rather than leave my responses where you might not be able to see them. I am bringing them forward.

Anony said: “Moderators exist in order to police a site.”

A support forum for mothers is not a police state. It should not have to be “policed.” It is not “at war” with anyone - including Gina Ford. No one there is advocating violence or threatening physical harm to Ms. Ford.

Moderation is a form of censorship. “Freedom of speech involves toleration of a great deal of nonsense, and even of matters which are in bad taste.” Dr. Mark Cooray.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire

Deciding who gets to speak is arrogant in the least and Fascist at worst. For example, as an African-American, I support the rights of the Ku Klux Klan to communicate what I believe to be heinous and wrongful statements regarding a great number of people. I find much of what they say harmful. Sometimes, it even outrages me. But, they have the right to their opinions.

And I will defend their right to express them. It is only when they cross the line by advocating violence or incite others to take illegal actions which threaten the physical well-being of others that they have abused their rights.

If I allow them to be silenced, I am, in suggesting that freedom of speech and freedom of expression should only be granted to people who agree with me. Noam Chomsky, of course says it better. If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.

Anony says: “ if the women on the web site had proven they could act like grown ups they might deserve the right to discuss her there.”

Dr. Cooray sums it much more elegantly than I can:
“Those who attempt to resort to such tactics to stifle presentation of an opposing view give the impression that reason and logic are not on their side. Freedom of speech has as its necessary corollary the expression of a wide range of views, some of which of course will be unpalatable, or clearly wrong. But the alternative of placing the agenda for public discussion in the hands of paternalistic bureaucrats (who as human beings will be fallible and have subjective views and personal prejudices) whose rulings often cannot or can only with difficulty and cost be reviewed in the courts, is increasingly becoming the norm. It is an undesirable and unfortunate trend.”

However, “grown-ups” are able to think logically. Presumably, grown-ups are also able to analyse and understand the subtle nature of complex humour, sarcasm and satire. According to a Guardian interview done with Ms. Ford in 2003, "Someone called me the Howard Hughes of childcare because I'm so reclusive, I don't like talking to people. I don't have time to analyse things unless they're affecting my life seriously, but I expect that goes back to my childhood." Ms Ford is unable to analyse things. She also admits to being a control freak in that same article. "A lot of the jokes are that the book [The Contented Little Baby Book] is for control freaks and I think that there's an element of truth in that.”

She seeks to control. She publicly admits it. So, the effort to silence Mumsnet and The Bad Mother’s Club are symptoms of a person who does not believe in democracy.

In addition to all of my other points about her “expertise,” this calls into question the method by which she formed her ideology. She also admits to being an insomniac. (It’s her mother’s fault.) Her books serve more as a personal therapeutic catharsis for all of the “wrongs” she suffered as a child. She says, “If my mother had had my book, I probably wouldn't be the way I am. I would be a solicitor or something, with three kids, and that would be no bad thing...” She is not - in my opinion - a very healthy woman.

Healthy grown-ups are able to shrug off a few unpleasentries and keep going. Furthermore, grown ups who put themselves in the public spotlight should expect to get their feelings hurt every now and then. It comes with the territory. How do you feel George Bush feels every time The Daily Show comes on. Does he run out and try to silence Jon Stewart? No, he sucks it up and takes it. He may not like it. But, he realizes that he put himself in the spotlight. And on some bizarre and deep level he kind of believes in freedom of speech. However, Ms. Ford is unable to even comprehend this fact. On those web sites, for every negative thing posted about Ms Ford, there was usually a positive one. Grown ups engage in conversations. Conversations are not one sided. But, Ms. Ford does not believe in conversation. She likes to be the one in control of what she perceives to be a world out of control. She clearly enjoys being “the guru” or the “Queen Of Routine.” Which makes every unsupportive statement “seditious” in her view because it challenges her authority. But, she is neither a queen or guru. She is a woman with an opinion.

I still stand by my assertion that every time she attacks a web site - she performs an act of terror. Terrorists use fear tactics. Threatening every web site which has people who dislike her methods is a calculated campaign of terror. She prevents people from expressing themselves. Participants in that community now fear retaliation for simply saying what is on their mind. By advocating moderators, she injures freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

Finally - she is a hypocrite. Further exploration of Ms. Ford reveals that she is not willing to be held liable for damages resulting from inaccurate content posted on her ownThe Contented Baby’s website:

From her own site’s legal notices.

3. Disclaimers and Limitation of Liability

3.2 Under no circumstances will CONTENTED BABY be liable for any of the following losses or damage (whether such losses where foreseen, foreseeable, known or otherwise): (a) loss of data; (b) loss of revenue or anticipated profits; (c) loss of business; (d) loss of opportunity; (e) loss of goodwill or injury to reputation; (f) losses suffered by third parties; or (g) any indirect, consequential, special or exemplary damages arising from the use of the Site regardless of the form of action.

3.4 You may find in the text and content and other materials included on this Site inaccuracies and typographical errors. We do not warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information and materials or the reliability of any statement or other information displayed or distributed through the Site (including, without limitation, the information provided through the use of any software). We make no representations or warranties as to the suitability, functionality, accuracy or reliability of any material made available to you.”

So she is unable to grant to other’s the very same rights she herself expects. That is unfair and immoral.

In regards to MorningPaper’s apology, it was written in her style. The very same style she used to make the original comment. She wrote:

"I apologise profusely to any childcare guru that I may have offended by suggesting that they are involved in military action in Lebanon and to her followers for suggesting that she/they strap their babies to weapons of mass destruction. I have read her book many times and I can confirm that this IS NOT suggested as part of any childcare guru's recommended routine. I apologise to any new mums who may have been confused by my post, and would advise that if you are considering utilising your baby in any sort of warfare or military conflict, please speak to your health visitor first."

She should change the way she thinks and communicates? I don’t think so. She has a right to express herself in any manner she wishes. She apologized. She didn’t have to do that. It just goes to show she has a large spirit.

Speaking of large spirits - I agree that the fat joke was in poor taste. However, as a large woman myself, I attempt to be larger in spirit than my body. (That makes for a pretty big spirit.) I can not say the same for Ms Ford.


Anonymous said...

Hi there, anon again,

I would say websites DO need to be "policed" because the alternative is very vile. I think you and I will never see eye to eye until you go through what I went through and you get bullied off a parenting website by hundreds of anonymous people making personal remarks about you, personal attacks. You would have to have the hide of a rhinoceros not to be upset by such a thing happening. Until it happens to you you won't understand. And I hope it doesn't.

I think that freedom of speech has to have limitations in a civilised society. Would you support someone's right to scream "fire!" in a crowded theatre, for example? I agree that women should be free to express themselves if they want to criticise a product in the marketplace, such as a book or a television programme. But huge long personal attacks on a person are not on, whether they are a private individual like me or a celebrity like Gina Ford.

Perhaps celebrities should shrug off criticism, but I don't know all the ins and outs of this. Gina Ford may have felt she was an accepted and respected member of Mumsnet. If she had been lulled into a false sense of security like that, then the subsequent personal attacks on her would be very hard to bear. With websites it all depends how you initially join and what the place means to you, so for example if you think you have made friends there and then you get cyber bullied and turned on by a pack of angry women, then it hurts. There's no two ways about it. After my bad experience I posted on a much more forthright board where personal attacks and flames came with the territory and everyone was a bit more thick-skinned. I found that much easier to cope with than a site where everyone is nice until suddenly they turn and become nasty. Honesty is much better than hypocrisy, I think.

For one person to "express themselves" by joking about how fat you are (just for example) is hurtful. But say a hundred other voices join in, having a good laugh together about how fat you are. People who you previously thought were decent civilised people who liked you or at least accepted you. You can see the mob mentality at work, everyone is picking on the individual simply because they are an individual and have no way of retaliating to a hundred opposing voices, and the people joining in are secretly glad it is you who is under attack rather than them. It is played out every day in schoolgrounds all over the world, and this kind of behavious should STAY in the playground and not come into cyberspace. It hurts a hell of a lot. Just please try and imagine it happening to you!

At that point the wisest thing to do might be to turn off your computer and stay away from the site. For whatever reason GF went down the lawyer route, and I am glad she did because it has led to this interesting debate.

MorningPaper said...

Hello Christina. I'm very much enjoying reading your contribution to the debate. Keep up the good work!