Bad language, racism and dodgy votes at the Guardian

Guardian Cif had a field day the other week running several articles highlighting the BTL abuse thrown at Muslim writers and journalists. The first was by Mehdi Hasan who asked “who will stand with me” against this unwarranted hatred.

He was quickly answered by Jonathan Freedland in his article “I stand with Mehdi Hasan against the torrent of Islamophobic abuse” and added “By all means disagree with me below the line. But no one should have to put up with vile racism and bigotry”

Freedland’s view can be summarised by this passage:

… it is racism, of the crudest kind. That last quotation is the easiest example [Hasan was told “Get out of my country, goatfucker”], but the subtler ones are not much better. They can be confusing, because they often dress up in progressive, Guardian-friendly garb – slamming Islam as oppressive of gay and women’s rights, for example – but the thick layer of bigotry is visible all the same. Call it progressives’ prejudice.

His article attracted 885 reader comments (this is a high number even for Cif) and the one with the greatest number of reader recommends (a massive 4407) fully supports him. It has even been awarded the accolade “Guardian pick”. It says:

“The attraction of Islamophobia to bigots is that it provides them with ‘plausible deniability’, i.e. despite the fact that most Muslims are non-White, bigots can still claim that their hatred has nothing to do with racism, because Islam is a religion and not a race.

Whenever someone scratches the surface when it comes to groups like the EDL and BNP, beneath the Islamophobic exterior, there is often a racist motivation. If most Muslims were Anglo-Saxon, I doubt that Islamophobia would hold much appeal for the likes of the EDL and the BNP”. [islamophobiasucks (4407 votes) 10 July 2012 1:33PM]

No doubt some White people can pursue their hatred of non-Whites by attacking some other characteristic not to do with colour. But who are they, these bigots?

How did Freedland himself fare in his robust defence of Muslim fellow writers? Did he, in fact, attract comments from these bigots and was he in his turn subjected to this rampant BTL abuse? He must have stood out in their eyes as just as bad.

The comment critical of Freedland with the highest number of recommends (a lowly 1590 compared with the Guardian pick quoted above), says:

“I feel what you’ve written is very patronising. You seem to find it unacceptable that people can have strong views about Islam which in my opinion are understandable. For instance you state that critics of Hasan and Islam use language that ‘ they often dress up in progressive, Guardian-friendly garb’. But perhaps these people really are progressive but do not find Islam to be, probably because it isn’t.

I found very little of the ‘language and imagery so vile’ that you spoke and I read them all, the moderator removes most such things and others which are not offensive anyway so not sure what you’re referring to as they weren’t there.

I don’t know Jonathon I really don’t know why you’re so obsessed with calling anyone a racist who objects to the obvious unpleasantness of this religion. Also you may accept Hasan’s explanation of his deeply offensive comments but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to.

Let me add my own brief explanation of myself so as not to be labelled racist/fascist or whatever term is being used at present. My Grandfather came to UK from Germany (guess why?). My Grandmother is from a family of Irish Gypsys (usually referred to as Pikeys). My wife is the daughter of immigrants from Bangalore. I could go on …” [Stowlawn (1590 votes) 1st 10 July 2012 1:41PM]

The man who wrote this is not a bigot. He is not a racist. In fact, it is very hard to find any measure of bigotry or racism in the comments critical of Freedland (and indeed in the critical comments on the Mehdi Hasan article which set this ball rolling).

There are a good number that might have been better worded but then we don’t all possess the literary skills of a Guardian journalist such as Freedland who can produce brilliant non-bigoted phrases such as “…. the thick layer of bigotry is visible all the same. Call it progressives’ prejudice.“

The fact is, despite the “Guardian pick” comment quoted above with its massive 4407 recommends, the great majority of Guardian Cif readers are critical of Islam and those that try to promote it, and they are not bigots or racists, and they show their disapproval without resort to abuse. The table below shows the numbers for Freedland’s article.

Analysis of first 250 published comments
Type of Comment Readers Comments % of comments Readers Votes % of votes
Critical of Mr Freedland 142 56 35608 66
Neutral/unclassifiable 55 22 4574 8
Supportive of Mr Freedland 53 21 13975 26
Total 250 100% 54157 100%

27, about one in ten, of all the commenters in the period examined had their comments removed. The only explanation given is “…. removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our community standards”.

Typical published comments are:

“I agree that vile personal abuse is wrong, and has no place. It is a pity Mehdi Hasan has fled CIF. However, all Muslims must be able to take criticism of their belief and faith, and be prepared to uphold them intellectually, with reasoned arguments based on intelligence, detailed questioning and understanding.” [Existangst (1498 votes) 3rd 10 July 2012 1:33PM]

“…. Sorry, that sounds suspiciously like a means of dismissing any rationally argued point that happens to ask uncomfortable questions of the Islmaic faith…. “ [ToastandMarmite (1189 votes) 5th 10 July 2012 1:43PM]

And one commenter uses the f#### word!

“Muslims can quote insulting passages from their holy text which are rude about us, is apparently what you and he are saying, but we mustn’t be rude about them back, is what this boils down to. I call that fooey. [southlondonerabroad (531 votes) 15th 10 July 2012 1:49PM]

“So is there a way that one can criticise the oppression of gay people or the inferior position of women in Muslim countries, or homophobic statements by high-profile Muslims in the UK, without being accused of merely “dressing up” bigotry?” [Heresiarch (167 votes) 63rd 10 July 2012 2:09PM]

I used to think I abhorred National Socialism. Now I realise I am just bigoted against Germans. [CruiskeenLawn (94 votes) 92nd 10 July 2012 2:47PM]

There is another dimension to all this. If you click rapidly enough on the recommend button you can rack up more than one recommend, even increasing the count by several votes. Anyone can fiddle the Cif readers’ recommends number.

The process is however time consuming and it takes a very dedicated hacker to increase recommends by “hundreds” on just one comment. There is also supposed to be a programme which the technically competent can use to increase recommends.

There is a question mark hanging over all the recommends both those criticising and those supporting Freedland.

The comments themselves are on firmer ground as coming up with and posting a large number of original sounding comments from different identities is a much bigger challenge.

Though that does not rule out someone sufficiently infuriated with or in admiration of Mr Freedland having a go. In the opinion of the present writer who has read the first 250 comments and scanned the rest the comments are all or very nearly all from different people.

In this particular case there is another factor.

If a line of comment is popular, many comments repeating that line will get high recommend scores, even if a few especially at the beginning of the comment period get very high scores.

Now, amazingly, the top three comments (out of 53) in support of Freedland with 4407, 2594, and 1715 recommends respectively account for 62% of all his supportive recommends. After these top three all you get are a few low 100s and lots of 10s.

In contrast, the top three comments criticising him (out of 142) with 1590, 1520, 1498, recommends respectively account for only 13% of the total recommends going against him.

Somebody or something has been getting at those top recommends in Freedland’s favour. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

It doesn’t help that the highest scoring pro-Freedland comment with 4407 recommends has been given the label “Guardian pick” and that the second highest scoring comment with 2594 recommends , published only five minutes after Freedland’s article itself and first in the stream, is by a Guardian Cif employee who comes up with this:

“Excellent point [Freedland’s remarks quoted at the top]- it’s easy to spot and dismiss out and out racist comments, a few of which are highlighted above, but the subtle hate speech is just as damaging.

Has Guardian Cif finally lost the plot? [LibertyPhile]

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