Reply To: Censorship at SPI

#182901
Mark Stücklin
Keymaster

1) Katy and Angie have accused me of censorship because I disabled comments on an interview with a Costa del Sol estate agent, published in the blog. This prompted them to imply this whole site is heavily censored. I have “lost all credibility” thunders Katy. It is “shameful” that this website has now “degenerated into a censorship site even for completely legal posts,” shrieks Angie. Serious stuff.

2) For the benefit of other readers, I’ll explain why I disabled the comments (causing the existing comments to disappear from view), and address the charge of censorship they are trying to pin on me.

3) Over in the blog we have started publishing occasional interviews with Spanish property professionals, which we hope will be of interest to some of our readers. Our goal is to share information and insights, not put the interviewees on trial. The interviews are by invitation only, and cannot be bought. In a sector with its fair share of cowboys we only interview people we consider to be professionals.

4) We have quickly discovered that a few people use the comments section of the interview to smear our interviewees.

5) In particular, a character who calls himself ‘Phil’ at this site, and goes by the name of ‘scambuster’ at other sites. In the past this person has smeared me in the comments section and forums of other websites, so I’m familiar with his game.

6) A lawyer friend once explained to me how smear works. “The best way to smear a reputation is to mix in few facts, distort them to your own ends, plant seeds of doubt, and use innuendos.”

7) Employing what he calls “plain and simple questions”, Phil used the comments to imply that the agency systematically over charges, abets fiscal fraud, and mis-sells to clients – all serious, not to mention potentially libelous insinuations that I would need to look into, and see evidence of, before publishing anywhere at this website. Katy was right behind him, trying to turn the interview into a trial, with talk about the agents “right of reply”. If you can get people to respond to insinuations, it’s almost like an admission of guilt. The shit then sticks.

8) This is a serious website. We can’t allow anonymous posters to smear people or companies without a shred of evidence. And anyway, putting the interviewee on trial is not our goal. Anonymous posters like Phil and Katy think they have the right to impose their agenda on this website, trash a few reputations, and then scream censorship when they don’t get their way.

9) So now our policy is to disable comments on interviews, as is common practise in the British media. And I can tell you that if we didn’t, if we allowed our interviews to turn into trials by anonymous prosecutors, we would soon find that nobody wants to be interviewed here. That would harm our ability to create interesting content for our readers.

10) Other than that, I only moderate potential libel, drivel, spam / fishing for business, repetitive and consistently off-topic contributions, and racist, sexist or other offensive material. Spam aside, I think I’ve deleted just one post in the last 6 months, by Katy as it happens: it was a link to some silly emoticons on some other website, and struck me as a pointless waste of space. That is called moderating a forum, something I should do more of if I had the time, and cannot reasonably describe as censorship.

11) Once, about 6 months ago, I locked a topic that struck me as an unfair attack on one of my advertisers. If advertising here means you get singled out for attack, then that’s the end of this website. Even so, the author of that thread – Logan – went on to target the advertisers in other ways that were never censored. Although I never deleted a single post of his, Logan then stopped posting here, and went on to describe SPI as “shamful” (sic) at another website because, he implied, there is no freedom of speech here. So this is not the first time I’ve been accused of censorship with no reasonable justification that I can see. It’s a shame because I valued Logan’s contribution.

12) Potentially libelous claims are a special case, and they are always deleted from this website. Katy, in particular, has always been eager to make libelous claims in this forum, leaving me to deal with the resulting libel threats from the likes of Carter Ruck. She then has the nerve to accuse me of censorship! It’s easy to be a champion of free speech when someone else is paying for your heroics. Looking back at my records, I see I was talking to my lawyers about libel threats brought on by Katy as far back as 2007.

13) Katy, it seems, doesn’t even bother to check her posts are published before insinuating I’m deleting them. To the best of my knowledge I have NEVER deleted an opinion of hers in this forum, potential libel aside.

SMEAR CAMPAIGN

14) Now I discover that Katy and Angie are organising a smear campaign against me. For reasons best known to her, Angie emails me messages meant for Katy, in which they discuss their plans (don’t think for one second I’ve been snooping on your private messages, just check your sent email messages folder Angie).

15) Phil is busy slandering me at EOS, where he posts as ‘scambuster’. Ten days ago he posted a diatribe full of smears and threats, in which he deceitfully gives the impression that he is just a shocked and impartial observer witnessing terrible censorship at SPI. Nowhere does he mention that he was the author of the disputed comments that I removed from public view. Posting anonymously, with different usernames, he is not at all honest about what he is doing.

16) Then he threatens to denounce me to the UK press, claiming he has a “leading UK national broadsheet” that sends him “on assignment”. It all sounds like a fantasy to me, but if there’s any truth in it I’d love to talk to his editor about his standards of journalism.

16) A few hours ago Katy replied to scambuster’s diatribe, posting as ‘Conchi’, and pretending to be an impartial observer with no connection to the original comments. “I haven’t read that forum for a while” fibs Katy, whose last post here was less than 24 hours ago, and who is browsing this forum as I write. She then describes me as a “bit dishonest” whilst rattling off a few more falsehoods and smears. At least she managed to spell my name right, which is more than can be said for Phil.

15) To sum up, just because I won’t let some anonymous posters smear the reputations of the professionals we interview, and post potentially libelous material, these demonstrably deceitful people accuse me of censorship, and smear me instead. It’s perplexing that people I’ve never harmed are so eager to damage my reputation.

16) Phil/Scambuster, Katy/Conchi, and Angie are now barred from commenting at this website, for obvious reasons.

17) If you ever find yourself the target of smear on the internet, do you let it go, or respond and bring it more attention? To be honest I was going to ignore all this, but changed my mind when I saw them going through with their smear campaign. If they are going to carry on attacking me I might as well tell my side of the story without hiding behind anonymity and multiple user names as they do.