Ethically dubious

I sometimes notice an odd and unpleasant phenomenon: people on blogs and forums and discussion boards and the like will accuse other people of lying, and more than that, when shown to be wrong, will not withdraw the accusation, much less apologize. This is odd because in what is jestingly called real life, at least in my experience, that’s not done lightly. One doesn’t go around accusing people of lying when talking nose to nose; it doesn’t go down well. But when typing words on screen – people just step right up. Then if you tell them they’re mistaken and that they ought not to throw that accusation around so blithely, they simply vanish. Many of them do it anonymously, too, which is even more…dubious.

There was a discussion on Aaronovitchwatch last April, for instance. Jeremy commented there (to say, amusingly I thought, that Group-Schadenfreude is just a little distasteful), and Daniel Davies, whose post it was, quickly retorted by snarling, irrelevantly, at Butterflies and Wheels. Jeremy pointed out that he’s not responsible for the content of B&W. Daniel came back.

Jeremy is of course fibbing when he claims not to be responsible for the content of Butterflies & Sneers. [then he linked to the B&W About page, where it says Jeremy is Associate Editor/Webmaster] Why would anyone try to bullshit me about something a) which they know I know and b) which is so easily proved?

Jeremy was bored by then and so didn’t see the accusation, but I did, so I told Daniel he had it wrong and that I am indeed responsible for all the content of B&W. Dave Weeden pointed out that the About page doesn’t make that clear and that Daniel might have been wrong but he took his evidence from the best source available; I agreed with him –

That’s what I said. I said Daniel was wrong – I didn’t say he was “fibbing.” But he did in fact announce as a fact that Jeremy was “fibbing,” and he was wrong about that. It’s bad form to announce that people are lying when they’re not.

And that was the end of that as far as Daniel was concerned. No withdrawal, no apology, no anything.

And another (and much more protracted and insistent) example just in the last few days. Shiraz Socialist linked to an interview of me by the Freethinker and quoted one bit.

FT: Is it true that your upcoming book, Does God Hate Women?, was turned down by the first publisher because in was too critical of Islam?

OB: Yes, a publisher did turn it down for that compelling reason. It wasn’t exactly the first publisher since it never actually accepted it, but it was very interested, got Jeremy [Stangroom, the co-author] in to have a chat etc (I live six thousand miles away or I would have gone along for the chat too, whether they’d invited me or not) – then said they’d decided no because one mustn’t criticize Islam.

FT: How did you feel about that at the time?

OB: A mix of amusement and disgust, I think – amusement at the docile predictability, disgust at the crawling. I also felt even more convinced that the book was needed, precisely because a publisher would turn it down for such a reason. What publisher, you wonder? Verso.

A small cabal of anonymous people, including one who makes foolish comments here occasionally, decided to make all sorts of claims about what really happened, what Verso really said, what Verso really meant, what Verso would have said if it hadn’t been being tactful, and so on and so on. In short, they suggested that I was not telling the truth. There were a lot of sensible readers who were unimpressed by their arguments (some are regulars here, and make comments that are not foolish), but the arguments kept rolling in all the same. This went on for days; Jeremy joined in yesterday, which made sense since he’s the one who actually talked to Verso; in the end the last accuser made an awkward retreat, of the ‘all I said was’ variety. But no one bothered to withdraw the accusations, much less (as I mentioned) apologize. This is interesting.

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