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When Facebook friends fall out

Posted on 16 April 2009 | 12:04pm

So I put up a  blog on global warming yesterday, headed off for a three hour bike ride, and came back to outbreaks of incivilities all over my Facebook page.

As one commenter, Terry Evans, put it, there could have been all manner of comments and argument about climate change and the politics of the environment, but instead it all went a bit awry. Then I started to get private messages saying I needed to be more active, give more of a lead in the debates which flow from my blogs.

To be fair to those posting comments on the website yesterday, most were about the environment and some were interesting. Most days there is a smattering of abuse comes my way in the comments, but so what?

But the Facebook rows seem to have started because someone asked why I had not addressed ‘the relevant issue of the day.’ I assumed he must have meant the continuing controversy over Damian McBride’s emails, but as I had blogged twice on that, I thought  that a tad unfair. Someone else said it may have been a reference to the anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy. but the same person pointed out it was also the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the assassination of President Lincoln.

I think the whole point of blogging, and its appeal, is that there is no such thing as ‘the relevant issue of the day.’ It can be whatever the individual blogger decides. As I write this, it is just after eleven o’clock. There is no mobile reception. I have not read a newspaper, listened to a radio or gone online to look at the news. So if there is a dominant issue in the media today, I have no idea what it is.

It was the same yesterday when I chose to write about the growing fears of climate change scientists that the world wlll not meet the agreed target of a 2C limit to a rise in temperature.

People are then entitled to ignore anything I say, or to comment in any way they like. But one person’s relevant issue of the day is another person’s reason to log off and head for a bike ride. I also think it wrong for people to get personally abusive about other commenters. I’m not talking about me here,  but there was the beginnings of some nastiness yesterday.

So this is all to say people should calm down a bit. It’s only a blog, a single piece of writing at a single moment in time with, usually, a personal opinion or two. I’m perfectly happy to provoke controversy, but it’s not terribly pleasant to learn people have been taking verbal lumps off each other while I’ve been out on the bike.

As for more time spent leading the debate, I don’t think so. I may draw up, or get drawn up, a comments policy for the website to stop people who comment on there being subject to unpleasant and unneccessary attack (happy to exempt myself, as the possessor of a thick skin). But to  be frank, I don’t intend to spend much more of my time than I already do online.

My usual routine is a morning blog, a morning twitter to the effect that I have blogged, which automatically becomes a status update on Facebook, then the occasional check on comments, though someone else does most of the pre-publication moderation, with an instruction as a general rule to err on the side of publication.

I enjoy doing it, and am pleased that some people seem to enjoy the contribution I make, but there are lots of other things to do besides, still only 24 hours in the day, and with the sun beating down on the Scottish Highlands, another bike ride beckons.

  • Ade Bradley

    I totally agree on the ‘big issue of the day’ stuff. You blogged quite well on the Damian McBride stuff and this is your space to write what you like really.

    I agree that you don’t need to lead the debate that follows, but I hope you (and I think you do) engage a bit with the comments. Don’t spend your life online but occassionally respond a bit to the debate and it makes the whole thing much more interesting.

  • KarinJR

    Nasty commenters can really spoil a good conversation for the rest of us, can’t they? I love a good back and forth – especially when there are points of disagreement – since I usually learn something even if it’s only to understand my own point of view better. But in a dinner table political argument you wouldn’t be expected to put up with someone standing up and yelling insults in your ear so I don’t see why one should have to online.

    I’m a big fan of disemvoweling as a moderating technique for those who can’t play nice with others. It allows one to put a stop to the nonsense without taking these people at all seriously.

    Fortunately, my own blog commenters have so far not required such treatment.

  • John Cheyne

    Alastair, It is to your credit that you ask your moderator to err on the side of publication. It would also be to the credit of all people leaving comments if they err on the side of civility! I always enjoy the blog, even when I don’t agree with your views, keep up the high standards and enjoy your bike rides…just keep moving faster than the midges.

  • Jane A

    Wise words. Dunno why some contributors get so competitive, abusive, verbose and rude ; maybe human nature or like all walks of life, the occasional person who confuses an opinion with the character of the person who holds it.

    I think you have the blog vs. real life ratio right.

    I enjoy the blog/vlog & Fb discussions, am very glad you do them, and whilst I enjoy the debates which ensue, it’s your opinions and insights I log on to hear, not Mr McAngry of Angryshire’s.

  • Ian Eastwood

    You are obviously very relaxed at the moment at your Scottish retreat. But there are a lot of frustrated angry people out there all wanting to have a go at someone or about something. Take this one from Barclays Bank. To complicate for me to explain here but I think Robert Peston on his BBC blog explains it well. After reading it even I’m ready to take to the streets!! Here’s the link

  • Gabrielle L-P

    Hello AC,
    I have been out of “the loop” for a while but I’ve always seen your Blog as a meandering of mind, a chance to be less restricted than say writing a regular newspaper or magazine column. Therefore, it sometimes addresses the relevant issue of the day (as you see it) or the trivia of life in general. The most unlikely of topics have raised the comment traffic, either tongue in cheek (dishwasher-gate!) or as yesterday the environment. Manners should be maintained & personal attacks are uncalled for and inappropriate in this forum. I do know of users who have barred certain profiles/friends for “bad behaviour”. I for one am a fan of your musings & enjoy the often intelligent & entertaining dialogue that ensues on Facebook…but again like you, time online needs to be balanced with off-line life; otherwise what would there be to Blog about?! 🙂


  • Judith Haire

    Oh for goodness’ sake! Please keep blogging on whatever you choose I thought that was the whole point of blogging – the element of personal choice! I haven’t noticed any mention of the Champions League qtr final between Chelsea and Liverpool but I ain’t moaning, I love to read whatever you write whenever you write it. Enjoy the cycling…..

  • Des Currie

    While you have been riding a bike I was entranced by Susan Boyle. Take a moment of your time, and look at her performance, if you not already.
    Des Currie

  • Keith A. Southall

    Well Alistir, I am bookmarking your blogg, never thought I would agree to read anything you wrote but your comments re ‘When Facebook friends fall out’ makes sense and proves you can still communicate, hope you can communicate with the current PM, he needs some good advice.

  • Em

    Yesterday was largely my fault. Sorry.

  • Alina Palimaru

    I must admit I too contributed my share of verbal brawn, largely in response to unfair, unsubstantiated, vicious personal attacks against people with whom I sympathize. I try not to stoop so low (I definitely don’t think I was vulgar in any way), but sometimes I disregarded my own standards of “disagreeing without being disagreeable”. While I will not apologize to those who initiated the torrents of abuse in the first place, I will apologize to AC and the rest of the readers/commenters who, like me, see this as a serious forum for serious debate on serious matters. Perhaps we can now move on… So… the Tories…

  • Kate Waters

    Well said Alistair. If people want to read about the ‘issue of the day’, there are plenty of newspaper websites to choose from. As a fellow blogger, I know how much time it takes to think about and write new posts, and after all, if you don’t have a life outside of blogging, what do you have to write about?

  • Ian Eastwood

    come on people let’s not get to loved up!

  • CPW

    I do hope it’s a New Labour bike ride you’re taking, AC. Not the high road, nor the low road, but the middle road or Third Way. Up into the hills of Esperance and among the heady peaks of Education, Education, Education, down into the vale of Mendacity and the bushy thicket of Special Relationship, peddling on tirelessly over the ageless planes of Spin and Sound Bite, and out, finally, onto the verdant pastures of Opposition.

    A PR man’s progress. Journey time: 45 minutes, or the time it take the Caliph of Baghdad to smite the Israelites. Allegedly.

  • kevin

    You answer your own Facebook comments whilst I’ve discovered many people in the public eye with a bit of dosh employ a ghostwriter. That’s certainly impressed me in these days of style over substance.

  • Robin Sayer

    I’m very pleased to see this blog up here and I hope the occasional mud slinging doesn’t put you off doing it.

    I have been so frustrated by the medias reporting of politics particularly the BBC. Andrew Marr and John Humphreys have managed to turn what I guess started out as robust reporting into now some sort of weird technique where the entire interview is conducted as though they interviewee isn’t there and they spew vitriol while trying to cajole the recipient into the firing line.
    I have often considered setting up a website entitled, it was available last time I looked. Just to highlight how one BBC headline of “Tory MP will not be charged” is spun about when it’s “Labour MP escapes charge”. How Andrew Gilligan was always posted into BBC news articles with a camera pointing down at him giving the impression of a little man standing up to the evil governmnet at the same time as pictures showed TB looming down on us from high on a podium. How frustrating it was that many of my friends took all this in, and not one of them had even read the dossier, to see how the BBC could spin up the 4 minute warning along with the rest of the tabloids out of context from the full content which was easily downloaded. John Humphreys interview of Hazel Blears the other morning was a scandal. How healthy it would be if there was real political debate online. Real putting forward of ideas and substantive arguments about policy. Blogs will go some way to getting this information out there, everyones just got to keep at it.

  • Mike Barlow

    he Internet is a playground for outcasts, throwbacks and ne’er do wells.

    Occasionally, some normal people come along and join in the melee….and perhaps get caught up in the moment, unable to restrain their keyboards momentarily, and fire off the odd missive to fellow forum fondlers.

    Facebook, Myspace and Twitter are petri dishes for the germs of mankind to gather around normal, healthy, cultures.

    You may disagre otherwise, as is your right; I’d like to wager, however, that a great % majority of comments left on these areas fall into the foul, aggressive and unpleasant categories.

    Much like Parliament in that regard, but a lot less well paid.

    I say to the bloggers, vloggers, Tweeters and Spacers; do your thing, this is not Nazi Germany 1933, say your piece and ignore the nastiness. The bully boys and girls inevitably move on, they lack the intelligence to sustain anything,
    Particulalry discussions, in any form.
    Your words, however minor or major they, or you, may be…are vastly important to the continuation of a culture of democracy and freedom of speech, as a whole.

    In fact, lots of people have died just so that you can. So DO.


  • Colin Adkins

    Yes some comrades see conspiracies at every turn. Yes we need more younger people and women involved in politics. Yes the opposition to Georgina appears to me to be ageist and possibly misogynistic.

    But whatever happened to the Labour Party promoting opportunity. If Georgina was not the daughter of Lord Gould do you think that for one minute she would have the support that she has done?

    Alistair I respect you a lot but your thirst to support the daughter of a member of the Labour establishment appears to me to be setting up a “club” mentality where a seat in the country takes on new meaning.

    Isn’t there more worthy representatives of your active support? Does Parliament need yet another Oxbridge graduate i.e. what % of the population graduate from Oxbridge, what % of MPs went to these institutions? Is diversity reflected by gender and race, and why is social class never a consideration?


  • kevin snowden

    hi Alastair,

    What is your fastest marathon time?