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, Drescher, Maltseva, Mayhew, Stangroom, Wainwright, 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.