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Closing down the bear pit.

By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.

mhamiltThe Guardian has finally found itself unable to bear the crushing weight of “free speech” on its website. Comments on race, immigration and Islam (up to 65,000 a day) are now basically banned. Such is the level of rage received on those topics, says Mary Hamilton,  “executive editor, audience”,  it was decided that “comments would not be opened on pieces on those three topics unless the moderators knew they had the capacity to support the conversation and that they believed a positive debate was possible.”

We’re all used to the way any comment thread on social media quickly becomes a bear pit in which the sane, the informed, the rational and also the rightly enraged become embroiled in a howling match with the ignorant, the lunatic, the deluded and (always, whatever the subject) the raving antisemitic, anti-Zionist conspiracy nuts. Clearly the Guardian has been receiving more than its quota of all of these, particularly those who disagree with its ideological stance, which must be quite upsetting. They’ve lost the arguments and they’ve lost control. The bear pit is officially closed.

Obviously they don’t seem to have appreciated the scale and depth of feeling generated among their readers by these topics. Not even some of the most devoted of Guardianistas, it seems, can stomach their pro-immigrant, pro-Islam and rather anti-British brand of socialism any longer. The sheer scale of the rage should alert them to this reality, but that doesn’t appear likely. “We’re living in an age of rage,” says Stephen Pritchard, “People are angry with government, with media, with religion, with migration, with Europe, with big business.” I would disagree that they’re all that angry with big business, because it’s one of the delusions the left want to believe, presumably in the hope that a popular uprising will see the end of capitalism and the institution of a Paul Mason style sharing economy.

People are indeed angry at the government and the media, including the ‘Guardian’, because they see their views are not represented, or worse, misrepresented, on these ‘toxic’ issues.

People are indeed angry at the government and the media, including the Guardian, because they see their views are not represented, or worse, misrepresented, on these “toxic” issues. When the paper, along with broadcast media, automatically tags as racist, right wing or far right every individual or group voicing their disagreement with mass immigration or their fears of Islamisation and the degrading of national identities, they don’t see they’re alienating people who sometimes vote Labour as well as Conservative. They don’t understand that these issues are viscerally important to people.

It’s not just in Britain, either. They’ve closed down the bear pit internationally, applying the policy to their US and Australian offices. The fact that this is a global reaction should also tell them something. What’s that I see flying through the sky? A porcine aviator? Surely not?

Mary Hamilton thinks this ramping up of rage reflects “a change in mainstream public opinion and language”. Perhaps it’s not that much of a change, since many people have kept quiet about their feelings for a long time but have now decided they’ve had enough. Many of these toxic commenters will have been the silent no-Labour voters in the last election whom the left tweeted and Facebooked themselves into believing didn’t exist.

Social media have allowed everyone, including the psychotic and moronic, a platform from which to displays their views. That’s always going to be a bear pit. The fact that the financially-failing Guardian has found itself crushed under the weight of free speech is not in itself a great loss. The real danger is that all the other available outlets will be censored or shut down and nothing springs up replace them. Facebook and Twitter are becoming more and more censorious and governments around the world are always seeking to monitor and control free speech. Throw in a myriad of illiberal pressure groups and you end up with a truly toxic mix. This free speech thing is not to everyone’s liking.

You can close down the bear pits but the bears have still got to go somewhere.


suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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