A Litany of the Ways In Which Facebook Corrupts the Spirit of Free Speech

Following my short appearance in a BBC news report yesterday, I had hoped to publish a companion blog post here, making all the free speechy points that were edited out of my contribution. Instead, I strayed off piste and ended up with this litany of complaints about Facebook. A useful aide memoir for the future, with a couple of useful insights, maybe.


When it comes to free speech, even the most hardened advocates tend to draw the line at incitement to violence. “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins” wrote Zechariah Chafee. Freedom of expression is not absolute, and when people publish text or video that is likely to provoke violence, it is legitimate to censor that content.

Inciting violence and hate is what Britain First group appear to have been doing, so the Facebook decision to ban their page feels righteous. Good riddance? Nothing to see here? Move along?

Not quite. This development is still problematic and draws our attention to the unexpected role that social media plays in our politics. We have been discussing these problems for years without, in my opinion, coming any closer to solving them. Continue reading “A Litany of the Ways In Which Facebook Corrupts the Spirit of Free Speech”

Power Politics and Revolution in Albert Square

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Phil Mitchell (Steve MacFadden)

Last week, a fascinating storyline emerged in Eastenders. It’s all about the weak standing up to the strong.

Bald bully Phil Mitchell (Steve MacFadden) is pursuing a vindictive vendetta against cheery Minute Mart Manager, Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker). Patrick saw Phil’s son Ben (Joshua Pascoe) kissing another boy (Monday) which led Ben to try to intimidate Patrick into silence (Tuesday) This led to an argument which Phil interrupted. He asked Patrick to apologise but this was refused. Phil has therefore ostracised Patrick from Shirley’s cafe, and had him sacked from his glass collecting job at the Queen Vic (Thursday).

Phil is not the only nutter on Albert Square. Two other characters, Michael Moon (Steve John Shepherd) and Dr Yousef Khan (Ace Bhati), are currently behaving in a much more dangerous manner, but their agendas are purely personal. Phil’s behaviour, on the other hand, seems to be more about the exercise of power in general, rather than a personality clash. Patrick is being punished only because he challenged the primacy of the Mitchell clan. Phil needs to be seen to prevail, whereas Michael and Yousef prefer subterfuge.

What is interesting about this new storyline is how this power corrupts other characters. The two most amiable characters in the show, Alfie Moon (Shane Ritchie) and Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison), are both financially dependent on Phil Mitchell, and both are forced to act unfairly towards Patrick. The young Mitchell generation, Ben and Jay (Jamie Borthwick), certainly realise that their father is in the wrong, but have no interest in challenging him, because their own standing in the community is derived from Phil. Perpetual doormat Billy Mitchell (Perry Fenwick) is likewise an enabler.

Phil has been allowed to get away with such appalling behaviour for so long because of his money. He owns four businesses around Albert Square (the pub, the nightclub, the Arches garage, and the cafe) and therefore has economic power over the less financially secure characters (i.e., most people). Therefore he shows little remorse for psychologically damaging his entire family and almost incinerating everyone in the Vic during a drug-induced rage last year.

However, what is so delicious about the emerging storyline is that this power is now being challenged, and may even be shown to be built on thin foundations. Patrick has made a martyr of himself by standing by his principles and refusing to apologise. This dignity in the face of abuse has inspired an unlikely revolutionary in Heather, who has moved out of Phil’s house in a symbolic gesture of solidarity. The next step will be dissent from within the Mitchell regime that undermines Phil’s aura of impunity. Ben has yet to build up the courage to confess his sexuality to Phil, but when he does that will shatter the unity of the family. Power broker Shirley (Linda Henry) may even take sides against Phil when she returns to Walford.

Now Heather and Patrick have shown dissent, let us hope that other citizens of Walford follow suit. Although Phil is well off, his money is geographically tied to Albert Square. A community boycott would therefore be easy to organise and could have quick and far reaching implications for Phil.

The worry is this: If Phil Mitchell falls, who or what will fill his place. Albert Square is an odd sort of community? On the one hand, it is very tightly woven, and one hopes that this would allow a fairer hierarchy to emerge. On the other hand, the residents have an unlikely appetite for conflict. They are quick to make vocal judgements about other people, are happy to engage in public rudeness and humiliation, and rarely choose reconciliation when it is offered. This lack of a culture co-operation could allow another rich tyrant to step into Phil Mitchell’s shoes. Janine (Charlie Brooks) is my best bet to fill this role – she has just come into a large inheritance and is busy building a property empire on Albert Square. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

More thoughts on the Tahrir Square ‘think-tank’

One protester made a helpful explainer for President Mubarak. It says "Mubarak leaves. Yes: Parliament dissolves. No: Protests, disobedience. strikes." Photo: Al-Jazeera English on Flickr, creative commons.
One protester made a helpful explainer for President Mubarak. It says “Mubarak leaves. Yes: Parliament dissolves. No: Protests, disobedience. strikes.” Photo: Al-Jazeera English on Flickr, creative commons.

My earlier idea about publishing the thoughts of the protesters in Tahrir Square seemed to cause confusion. Sunny said:

@robertsharp59 so, er, we’re publishing blogposts by people within the square…after the event is over?

Well, that was not quite the intention.  The blogposts I have read from people ‘on the ground’ in Cairo and elsewhere seem to focus on the movements of the security forces and pro-Mubarak counter-protests, or other ‘in-the-moment’ stories.  The use of the word ‘think tank’ to describe the discussions taking place within the square caught my eye, because it implies discussions of policy and new political structures: More forward looking, and less reactive.

It may be that such discussions and ideas have already found their way online, but I’ve not seen many, and in any case they are scattered around the web.  Such ideas that are coming out are filtered, either through journalists or by experts who are not part of the protests.  These reports and analyses are valuable, of course, but I think primary accounts would have a certain value at this precise political moment.  As The Bee said

@robertsharp59 @sunny_hundal Would be really good to get the view from the inside & not “retold” by someone else

(More thoughts in response to my idea on The Bee’s website, which awesomely is in English and German.)

On Facebook, Sophie Mayer was enthusiastic, and reminds me of the We Are Iran project.

I see something on the model of We Are Iran crossed with a conference proceedings… Would be an amazing record of a moment and an opportunity to organise ideas and information. Oh for a mimeograph!

Update

A couple of PEN members may be putting this together with their contacts in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Libya!  Get in touch via the comments if you would like to help.

Update 2

Someone did it.