Jan Moir and the wonders of the internet

Posted on October 19, 2009

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The ‘Jan Moir’ incident of last week was a perfect example of everything that is wrong and right about the importance of the internet in modern journalism. Her article appeared in Friday’s Daily Mail, but it was the internet and the reaction of people using the internet that gave it a substantially greater audience than if it had remained an anonymous item written by a fairly anonymous journalist buried somewhere in the paper. Instead it was read and passed on numerous times, both my bloggers and tweeters, until it had become a one-day internet phenomenon.

So why is this bad? Well, clearly there are some people out there who share Moir’s ridiculous views, and who read the piece with relish. There would have been others who had not really thought about the subject in any great detail or within the larger context and found themselves convinced by her one-sided arguments. The possibilities of the internet are endless when it comes to propagating views that would, without it, not achieve anywhere near as big an audience as Moir was able to achieve without even really trying. So difficult is it to police the internet in the way that Ofcom and the Press Complaints Commission do with broadcast and print respectively, that undesirable views can find an arena in which they can go unchecked. The internet is the domain where the racist, homophobic and fundamentalist can spread whatever evil they desire without facing much condemnation from a higher authority.

Except this isn’t totally true. For the other side of the coin is that though the internet allows henious positions such as Moir’s a platform from which they can be vocalised, it also allows such positions to be tackled, in a variety of ways from a variety of different angles. There is no ‘higher authority’ than public opinion, and as a bastion of free speech the web allows public opinion to be expressed vehemently. Moir was immediately subjected to immediate condemnation, on other news websites, in numerous blogs and in thousands of tweets. Though bloggers and tweeters allowed Moir’s crude rubbish to reach people it could never have dreamed off had it merely been published in a newspaper, these same people were able to react more quickly and more forcefully to the article than had they been forced to wait until the newspapers the next day. The vast majority of those in the blogosphere would never have had a chance to challenge Moir without access to the internet and the opportunities it opens up. Thus Penny Red was able to hit back at Moir in much the same way Charlie Brooker was.

As a supporter of free speech, I feel the online response to Moir’s piece vindicates me. She was given a platform to exhibit wild homophobia, yes, but the same platform then enabled her to be shot down in a much more effective way. The reaction has been one of widespread condemnation, with the PCC receiving more complaints in one weekend than it ever had previously. In a perfect world Jan Moir would not feel the need to ramble so outrageously and falsely in such a way. But she was able to, and her remarks become widely known very quickly due to the internet. But this same tool allowed her to be quickly challenged by a chorus of angry voices, and it is my view that the fact that the internet allows this to happen makes up for the sad fact that people like Moir find it easier to disperse their rubbish in the first place.

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Posted in: Media