Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jul 31, 2013 in Atheism Plus | 45 comments

The Block Bot, the BBC, and the Weaponized Fallacy of Equivocation

I’ve laid out my critiques of the Atheism Plus Block Bot in a previous post, and never thought that I’d see fit to revisit the topic here. That said, I wasn’t expecting it to make national news in Great Britain:

Congratulations to James Billingham for being at the forefront of anti-twitter-troll technology. He saw a need and filled it, and when it comes to the level one blockees, I cannot say that I really blame him. I would have blocked them on my own, all of the ones I’ve read are profoundly vile.

While the newly tiered system is undoubtedly a major improvement, it creates the risk that the level three blocklist will be lumped in with the worst-of-the-worst, perhaps even on widely-viewed television programs. So far as I can tell, the BBC program excerpted above makes no effort to separate the mildest “offenders” (genuinely decent, readily identifiable individuals whom I admire, people like Blackford, DrescherMaltseva, Mayhew, StangroomWainwright, Wachs, and Zara) on the blocklist from the sort of people who anonymously spew venomous invective and issue violent threats. Instead, Newsnight lumps them altogether under the single heading of “shared list of abusers” and barely even alludes to the fact that the blocking system is multi-tiered. I wouldn’t personally go so far as to call it defamation, wantonly grouping these good people in with those who threaten rape and men who are “raised to hate women,” but then again I’m an American and have an unusually narrow view of what that word should be taken to mean.

My submariner friend has coined the term “weaponized fallacy of equivocation” for the situation when someone shifts the meaning of a term mid-argument in order to attack someone’s character.  Even though the Block Bot website itself makes it quite clear that their inclusion criteria are quite lax at the bottom level (characterizing those included as “merely annoying and irritating Twitterers” who disagreed with the Atheism Plus program at some point) the producers of Newsnight saw fit to paint the entire list with the same hateful brush. This is irresponsible yellow journalism at best, agenda-driven anti-skeptical character assassination at worst.

For failing to do even the smallest modicum of online research into the nature of the Block Bot, for failing to consult anyone targeted by the bot’s creators for that side of the story, and for nevertheless making sweeping and unevidenced claims smearing the character of over three-hundred people on the level-three blocklist, Newsnight should be profoundly ashamed. They have failed their employers, their viewers, and themselves.

 

 

 

 

  • Eshto

    Who cares about the tier system?!? The general thrust of the language on the website insinuates that everyone blocked is a bad person:

    “Twitter is polluted by a number of anti-feminist obsessives, who viciously harass those who don’t support their warped views. The Block Bot is a Twitter application to automatically block the nastiest of these people.”

    “Basically Aratina has been identifying general bigots, assholes and fools…”

    And the FAQ makes it clear that this is a list of people disliked by a handful of bloggers writing for Skepchick, FTB and those associated with the atheismplus forum:

    “The general rule is if you are the type that would find yourself banned on a blog on Freethoughtblogs.com, Skepchick.org or from the A+ forum then you will likely end up in the list…”

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I care about the tier system. If the bot was restricted solely to the people listed in tier one, it would be highly doubtful (even to me) whether any of my earlier criticisms would stick. There are some people who really aren’t worth engaging with online. My problem with A+ is that they draw that circle far too widely, not that they draw it at all.

    • Daniel Waddell

      Thanks Damion I feel privileged to be judged by you.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Please tell me they didn’t put you on level one.

    • Daniel Waddell

      Sorry l’m on level 2 l’m a dumbarse

  • Richard Sanderson

    The bot does not block twitter abusers. It blocks the people who Oolon and his chums at FTB want to bully and intimidate. They want to teach “chill girls” such as EllenBeth Wachs and Maria Maltseva that you don’t disagree with them, and that they will try their hardest to vilify you and demean you.

    You only have to look at Oolon’s response to Sara Mayhew pointing out a sexist comment from one of his mates. He basically laughed in her face and ignored the problem. He is a bully and a troll. Point out abuse from “their side”, and suddenly they are struck dumb with incredulity.

  • I have gelato

    Wow, apparently I got rank 2 somehow.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Wow, it’s almost as if they are being remarkably subjective.

    • I have gelato

      ….well, yeah….

  • SandraKolb

    Here is the page for the NewsNight episode:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23516704

    Paul Mason is the interviewer. I don’t ascribe malice to Paul, but I do ascribe poor journalism.
    Paul, like most people who have not been following this drama or the characters in it, has taken at face value the claims that only trolls and harassers are on the Block Bot…and only trolls and harassers are being blocked by people like RW.

    This is ridiculous.
    I hope everyone here that is on the Block Bot list lets Paul Mason know that he needs to do better research, especially when he is allowing people to be called harassers on his show.

    https://twitter.com/paulmasonnews

    • bluharmony

      I think there’s some malice in using the bot to block all tiers rather than finding out a little about the people who are on those lists. Poor journalism is an understatement. It’s basically an editorial. Journalism involves getting both sides of the story and attempting to find the truth.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Agreed. Given that several public figures with real names are on the block list, it would have required very minimal effort on the part of Newsnight to contact a few of us and ask for our side of the story. I could have given them quite an earful.

    • bluharmony

      Exactly. It’s not a useful app, it’s a blacklist, basically. There’s no other point to it, since they make a special effort to read our tweets anyway. That’s the bottom line.

  • Pingback: Block Bot, #ReportAbuse and a Twitter ‘panic mode’ | Towards a Free Society

  • Travis Roy

    If you don’t like what the BBC did here, be sure to complain -http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/handle-complaint/

    As somebody that’s on the block bot, I did.

    Also, there’s people hounding James Billingham (AKA ool0n), saying that him making the comment that anybody on the block bot is an abuser in a news piece, could get him into libel trouble.

    • Richard Sanderson

      Yes, I complained. By the sounds of it, quite a few others did as well. That is why, I reckon, NN have put out a clarification. I am still expecting apologies, and when I get one, I’ll send a personal copy to the libeller that is ool0n.

    • ool0n

      I’m looking forward to it. I guess I get one back from you for adding me to a list of “#womenabusers” … Courts don’t take the Slymepit tu quoque defence I’m afraid. Although not being a special snowflake like yourself I won’t bother asking for one

    • ool0n

      Libel! Haha, cheers for the laugh Travis. Personally I think you should clearly be on a lot higher level… Perhaps not 1, but even if I did that would not be libel for anyone of sound mind. How about some people expressing opinions on your latest bit of nastiness? Libel too?

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/08/04/an-organizer-for-a-state-level-skeptic-group-in-the-us/

      Oh and the reply from the BBC was perfect, f-off :-D

  • EllenBeth Wachs

    I wasn’t put on there until I blocked James Billingham. My inclusion has to do with who follows me. That is a huge part of how that list is populated. If you are followed by “undesirables” you will be put on it.

    • Richard Sanderson

      Yeah, I’ve asked Oolon a number of times to provide the evidence that you were ever “abusive”. He goes very quiet.

      PS – Notice how Rebecca Watson and Ophelia Benson are gleefully rubbing their hands over people getting libelled. That’s the type of dishonest people they are. Benson in particular seems to be getting a sadistic thrill out of it all. She’s a horrible individual.

    • ool0n

      She’s in the level “annoying” … How is that abusive?

    • bluharmony

      How is she annoying? She is a feminist and she is brave.

    • ool0n

      This is one of the more ridiculous things about Rich etcs charges of hypocrisy. If we applied the “annoying” rule with no bias then everyone would be in the bot on L3. There is not a person on Twitter that someone doesn’t consider annoying.

    • bluharmony

      That much is certainly true, nor can I say that I’m not annoying. I’m sure that to some people I am. But does there really need to be a list for something that applies to everyone? Just asking. I don’t really care if my name remains on the list, although I am unhappy with BBC’s reporting and being called “an abuser,” and have filed the same complaints as everyone else. But as I said to you on Twitter, you’re not to blame for this.

    • ool0n

      And unsurprisingly the BBC replied f-off to the complaints. As no one on the other levels was mentioned – only level1 was shown on the program. They could have kept in the bit where I explained it is a community blocklist and there are a diverse list of people on L2/3. Including very thin skinned ones talking about libel when they were not mentioned, not you obviously!

    • Richard Sanderson

      Oolon, go and look at your screencapped child abuse image you saved to your computer. You really think we accept your excuse that you were “joking”?

    • Richard Sanderson

      So you admit there is bias. #gotcha

    • bluharmony

      I was put on there for using the application to block Level 1s and then deauthorizing it. Although, truth be known, I’m also guilty of the heinous crime of being doxxed by Greg Laden, having my home address published by a commenter in his blog, and being unhappy about it. Oh, and I don’t like Watson. So yeah, I’m clearly a misogynistic bully who deserves to be thrown to the dogs.

    • ool0n

      No you are a liar, as documented by your own comment on “Maria Maltseva’s Big Laden Lie” post on Almost Diamonds. Cannot believe you lie so brazenly when in your own words there you were not doxxed. Bizarre.

    • bluharmony

      In that apology, I said Laden didn’t post my home address, one of his commenters did, in a moderated thread. I apologized that I may have accidentally somehow implied he was the one to actually post my address; he wasn’t. Nobody disputes that he doxxed me. I was going strictly by the name “bluharmony,” and he new me through Facebook. He disclosed my full name, which enabled people to look for my address. In other words, he put me in serious danger of harm through his actions. My legal name was friends only knowledge before Laden’s actions. I suppose you could find some correlation between bluharmony and Maria Maltseva if you searched for it, but there are many bluharmonies. Laden used information he got through Facebook. Period.

      Reading comprehension. It’s your friend. You and Zvan should get some. You can explain this to Zvan if she still doesn’t get that she’s enabling a harasser and abuser, and moreover, that she is one herself.

    • ool0n

      No I think very few people would say “he” doxxed you when a commenter on his blog was the one that actually doxxed you. After which Greg removed it when he saw it, no?

    • bluharmony

      I’m referring to the disclosure of my legal name, without which my home address could not have been found easily. No, Laden did not remove my home address immediately when he saw it, and he decided to allow it through moderation (although it’s possible that only my comments were moderated). It was by no means removed immediately, since I recall checking back and seeing it. But this was a long time ago. He apparently did remove it at some point before Aratina got a screen grab. It was, at most, only up for a few days, and I’m not accusing Laden of posting my home address or even of not removing it quickly enough. I think I’ve been clear on this point. Laden did not post my home address and he did remove it at some point, before taking down the whole post. (There were a lot of emails going between us and Ed Brayton at the time, and I don’t recall the exact timeline.)

      In any case, most bloggers and web service providers don’t disclose real names unless they’ve been threatened with illegal acts, but Greg Laden is an exception to this practice and has been severely criticized for doing so in the past. (See threads about this on Pharyngula; Aratina can point you to them. He showed them to me at the time that all this happened. This is one of many reasons I believe Aratina is a good person. He was one of the few to stand by me when I was in significant distress, and I think he truly means well in his actions.)

      The disclosure of legal names without good reason is considered, by most people, to be unethical. Prior to Laden’s actions all my public posts on the E-gate drama were pseudonymous. Neither my life nor my career would have been affected by the drama. Laden’s actions, and Laden’s actions alone, changed everything for me. However, I am not truly blaming Laden for this, either, as he took the posts down when I discussed the matter with Brayton and with him. It was Zvan who put everything back up, and I am blaming her and the fact that Laden allowed her to do it (assuming he did).

      When I say doxxing, I’m referring to the disclosure of my name, which led to the inevitable ability to find my real information, as all attorneys must register with the state bar association. Since I suffer from a partial disability and was therefore unemployed around that time, my home address was the only one I could use to register. It was not a “business address” as Zvan alleges in her thread (she did not allow my post through that explained this), nor would it make things better if it were. My workplace information is absolutely irrelevant to my legal and completely unrelated actions on the internet (namely, complaining about the lies being told about me).

      I know this is a mouthful, but given the lies about me, I think it’s important to explain this somewhere. At the very least, it’s important to me. I’d like to repeat that I was initially grateful to Laden for agreeing to remove his multiple posts about me. Those posts and the comments on those posts contained lies, referred to me as a “bitch,” made remarks about my appearance and vanity, and were generally extremely ugly. Nor did I respond to the attacks well. I was completely at a loss, and today I find my responses to be extremely naive and stupid. But apparently Laden was fine with Zvan reposting those blog entries, so I guess my complaint about them stands.

      I haven’t hurt anyone in all this, you know. I actually defended Laden and Myers for the longest time before those harassing threads appeared. You can find me defending him in Abbie’s original threads. But in the end, I have been irreparably hurt (and so have many others), and I’m not only referring to my reputation. Please try to understand this.

    • ool0n

      Good guess, but no. Who you follow is never factored in. Actually if you are a user you are free to follow anyone on the list with no consequences!

  • Travis Roy

    Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews), the guy that did the piece, blocked me..

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Me too. I suppose that is how BBC Newsnight deals with critical feedback these days.

    • EllenBeth Wachs

      Well, that is absolutely ridiculous. He doesn’t want to hear that he has done an absolute hack job.

    • Richard Sanderson

      Strange that. He didn’t block me!

    • SandraKolb

      Did he just block people on the block bot (by using it?)
      He hasn’t blocked me yet, and I have tweeted at him.
      So far, all people I have seen he blocked are on the block bot.

  • Matt Hone

    If I was ool0n / James Billingham, I’d hold up my hands and say sorry and remove at least half the people from this list. I can understand the need to notify Twitter about abusive accounts, like the scum who sent out rape threats to Stella Creasy and her friend. But we are not among them. We were put there because we fell on the other side of the Atheism+/Skepchick divide. It really is not fair that we are lumped in with misogynists and harrassers.

    Billingham and his friends of course have the right to block anyone they want, but The Block Bot is a pre-emptive measure, something to sign up to so you never have to read differing opinions, and I think that is profoundly irrational.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I believe that Billingham and “Aratina” honestly believe that they are making the world a better place by insulating Atheism Plus activists from those who disagree, including people like me who try to be polite about it pretty much of the time.

      While I believe they are well-intentioned, I don’t understand how they can believe that blocking that sort of disagreement can possibly advance the rationalist project. To quote Yudkowski, “Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is a change,” and we can never change our minds for the better, on any issue, unless we seriously consider the possibility that we are wrong about it.

    • mofa

      Well-intentioned (I am not convinced) but delusional and harmful yes…ideologues yes…close minded yes…not skeptical thinkers yes.

    • bluharmony

      I believe that Aratina is well-intentioned, but not Billingham.

    • Richard Sanderson

      There is no reason why Oolon needs to actually have a page of Twitter accounts that are currently blocked. Maybe for Level #1, but we know the list is there to further the “threat narrative”, hide the fact that many who use his spabmot have abused, harassed, and in one case, tried to interfere with the employment of a woman, and to generally gloat.

      As for blocking people with differing opinions, well, that excuse seems increasingly thin. Oolon recently admitted he blocked one person because HE (notice that HE gets to decide WHO people want blocked) because he found him “boring” Well, “boring” is a major abusive crime, isn’t it. Further, if the bot blocks numerous people for “disagreement”, why characterise it as a bot for blocking abusive people?

      We know the answer – and that is that Oolon is a typical FTBully. He’s dishonest, slimy, and vindictive.

    • ool0n

      Bollocks, I didn’t have a page until Renee Hendricks and “secular_steve” signed up to scrape it regularly. To stop them I just gave in and put one up for them.

    • ool0n

      Nah, many many users disagree with you. I think I’ll remove no one, not least because its an A+ community bot and I couldn’t anyway.