Thursday, 12 May 2016

How 38 Degrees have tarnished their own reputation

I have got a great deal of respect for the campaign website 38 Degrees, especially for their tireless work in support of the NHS and in opposition to the TTIP corporate power grab. However nobody is beyond criticism, and their decision to delete a petition with 35,000+ signatures on the most spurious of grounds is incredibly damaging.

The petition in question was one calling for the BBC Political editor Laura Kuenssberg to be sacked over her blatantly biased reporting in favour of the Tories. 38 Degrees decided to delete the petition on the grounds that it was supposedly full of misogynist comments left by "sexist bullies".

The problem for this justification is that Craig Murray found and published the 38 Degrees reserve cache of comments, which revealed that the overwhelming majority of comments on the petition were not sexist in any way. Only one out of the hundreds and hundreds of comments was explicitly sexist.

Instead of admitting their error and explaining the real reason they felt the need to remove the petition (perhaps the kind of establishment pressure that forced the Guardian to smash their hard drives?) someone at 38 Degrees thought it would be a smart idea to delete their reserve cache of comments in a desperate attempt to stop people from seeing the evidence that they had lied. Craig Murray simply switched the link on his blog to the Google cache of the comments, and even if that disappears it's now beyond doubt that many people will have made copies (when will people ever learn that you can't just simply delete things off the Internet? [1] [2] [3]).

One of the worst things from 38 Degrees perspective is that by deleting the petition they handed ammunition to the likes of David Cameron and Lucy Allan (the disgusting Tory liar who got caught out fabricating a death threat in order to harvest public sympathy) to attack Jeremy Corbyn with at Prime Minister's Questions.

By inventing the lie that the petition had to be deleted because of a non-existent tide of sexist abuse, 38 Degrees allowed the Tories to completely bypass the accusation of BBC editorial bias in their favour by painting Labour, Momentum, the left in general and the type of people who sign 38 Degrees petitions as nothing more than a disgusting misogynist rabble.

Perhaps the worst aspect of all is the appalling precedent set by this deletion of an entire 35,000 signature petition over a single sexist comment. The ludicrous decision to delete the petition rather than simply delete any offending comment(s) is clearly a red rag to foul-minded Internet warrior types. Disgusting people like that have now been given a clear indication that an effective way to derail any petition they don't like is to use sockpuppet accounts to post sexist/racist/bigoted/threatening comments in the hope of getting the entire petition deleted.

The decision to delete the entire petition rather than moderating any unacceptable comments is incredibly poor because it gives people reasons to not sign 38 Degrees petitions in future. "Why should I take the time to sign this if it's just going to get deleted if anyone says anything bigoted in the comments thread?" "Why should I sign this if 38 Degrees are going to tarnish my reputation by implying that I'm part of some misogynistic rabble for doing so?".

Handing free ammunition to the Tories to attack their political opponents with is bad enough, but the damage to their own reputation is much worse. By crudely implying that the 35,000 people who signed the petition are largely a bunch of sexist trolls, when the evidence clearly shows that the vast majority were nothing of the sort, 38 Degrees have damaged themselves terribly.

The 38 Degrees reaction after the lie was exposed was even worse. We all make mistakes, but the true marker of integrity is how we deal with those mistakes. Those who admit that they got things wrong and apologise for it have some integrity, those who desperately try to delete the evidence that they lied do not.

It really does pain me to criticise 38 Degrees because as I've said before, they've done sterling work on a number of incredibly important issues, but inventing lies to attack their own supporters, and fuelling a bonfire of synthetic Tory outrage in the process, is a massive cock up, and one they should be apologising for, not trying to hide.

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