The mainstream media wouldn’t publish this story on the Guido Fawkes scandal, so we are

Aman Thakar
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Editor’s Note:

This story below is authored by Ally Fogg. It discusses the serious implications of the Guido Fawkes blog doxxing and denouncing an audience member on the BBC’s Our Next Prime Minister debate. It was originally published at Medium under the headline ‘The Aman Thakar scandal is the nadir of a digging & doxxing culture’. We are republishing here with the author’s permission, for reasons the author lays out in his own words below.

The Canary is choosing to republish this piece because we feel strongly that this conversation needs to happen. We won’t be naming and shaming the outlet either, out of respect for the author’s wishes. We just want the widest number of people possible to read it. Because it’s excellent, and vital. We could be charged with making the same mistakes in past work. And reading this gave us pause for thought. It made us reflect on our own approach to such issues in future. Any piece of writing that can do that deserves to be published.

Why this story is not being published in the mainstream press

Fogg writes on Twitter:

After I tweeted this the other day, I was contacted by a commissioning editor on one of the major national media outlets who wanted me to expand it into an opinion piece.

He continues:

I don’t do much blogging/ hot-take-peddling these days, but it was something I felt strongly about & happily agreed. I submitted a piece. Shortly after, I was emailed back with a heavily edited version & asked for my consent to the edits. I had to say no, for one reason alone.

The edit had removed all criticisms of the mainstream media and professional journalists, who were, in my opinion, by far the biggest culprits in the story. We had some to & fro in search of a compromise but eventually had to agree to differ.

So, to cut to the chase, the article that didn’t appear is here, for you to peruse at your leisure.

The section that we disagreed about was primarily this. I offered to moderate the intemperate wording, but the issue was not the strength of the criticism, but any criticism at all.

The controversial text

You’re probably wondering why I’ve decided not to name the paper. Three reasons. Partly that the editors I engaged with were entirely respectful, professional and polite and the issue was the editorial policy they were enforcing. I’m happy to return that courtesy.

Partly because the same paper had actually been one of the better ones…covering Aman’s story and were one of the few to give his side of the story, and it would seem unfair if they end up being the ones who get dragged.

But mostly it’s because the editorial policy they were enforcing is, in my experience, pretty much identical to every other paper & outlet in the country. They all do this. They all routinely circle the wagons around other journalists, and refuse to criticise, even when criticism is quite clearly needed and deserved. It is not a problem with one paper, but with the whole of the British media, and it is a MAJOR reason why journalists can so often behave appallingly with impunity, knowing no one will hold them to account.

The question caused minimal problems to the five candidates, who batted it away with diverse paraphrases of “I won’t.” It was a rather different story for Aman.

Within hours, the Guido Fawkes blog identified him as legal assistant Aman Thakar, a Labour Party activist who briefly worked at party HQ during 2018. They apparently trawled through his catalogue of social media posts and uncovered this Tweet: “Hitler’s abuse of the term nationalism is, to me a nationalist, the most harmful part of his legacy.”

These words, turning a blind eye to the Holocaust and other crimes of the Nazi regime, were shocking enough that Thakar was immediately suspended from work. By the next morning, he was splashed across the front page of the Daily Mail, identified by name on BBC News, and featured prominently in pretty much every other national newspaper.

Just another social media millennial, hoist on the petard of his own bigoted opinions? Well, no. Thakar is no anti-semite or Holocaust revisionist. As any journalist with a trace of professional diligence could have uncovered in seconds, the Tweet was a reply within a conversation about the alt-right student activist Candace Owens. Aman Thakar was parodying her remarks to highlight their toxic stupidity.

Thakar, who never denied or hid his political allegiances or misrepresented himself to the BBC or anyone else, has now had his life and career ripped apart, been smeared as a Nazi-apologist and been dragged across the national press only for having the temerity to pose a question to candidates for prime minister.

The episode would shame the team at Guido, had they any shame to spare, but it absolutely disgraces the numerous ‘respectable’ political journalists who repeated the calumny without performing the most cursory factual checks, either by sharing and retweeting or worse, turning this scurrilous smear into mainstream reporting under their own bylines.

This gross injustice represents a nadir of an ugly recent trend in politics, to treat members of the public who appear on political debate shows as fair game for digging, doxxing and character assassination. It happened to another questioner from Tuesday, Abdullah Patel, an Imam who had previously Tweeted (truly) offensive remarks about Israel and sexual violence. He too has now been suspended from work. His Tweets are indefensible, but it remains baffling why anyone considered it necessary to disinter his ugliest opinions in response to a perfectly legitimate question about Islamophobia. One might also reasonably ask if it’s coincidence that it was the only two questioners from minority ethnic backgrounds who suffered this inquisition?

All this is deeply corrosive to political engagement. It is hard to see what happened to Aman this week and not conclude that participating in public debate may simply not be worth the risk. Who among us does not have some ill-worded Tweet or Facebook update which could be ripped out of context and used to destroy our reputation? Social media mining, trawling and doxxing can and should be understood as a blunt weapon to terrify members of the public out of political involvement.

This is far from restricted to the right. Leftist Twitter is infested with self-appointed sleuths crowing with glee as they ‘expose’ some bigmouth on Question Time as a Conservative councillor or whatever. Most of this stems from a silly myth that contributors to politics shows should be ‘neutral’ or free from bias. In truth, the vast majority of people with an interest in politics also have allegiances and histories of activism. It’s broadcasters’ job to ensure partial opinions are balanced by other partial opinions, not that all contributors are impartial. Meanwhile, the significant difference when the left dig and doxx, of course, is that those revelations tend not to be picked up and broadcast to millions by a large swathe of the nation’s media.

The paranoid scouring for ‘Tory plants’ or for ‘Labour stooges’ has become tedious and corrosive. Of course, it’s absolutely essential that viewers and voters are able to hold broadcasters to account and be alert to misrepresentation and falsehood (Newsnight’s dodgy vicar, anyone?) Most of us, whether political bloggers or just Twitter users have participated in this grim tit-for-tat. Perhaps it is time for all of us to step back and ask ourselves why we do it, and whether we are helping.

We could begin by resisting the temptation to dig, and by refusing to amplify the efforts of those who do. If that applies to us all as social media users, it holds many times over for those who are paid to know better.

Featured image via Guido Fawkes/BBC screengrab

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  • Show Comments
    1. It goes deeper than that. I think we need to be very skeptical of Twitter in general, of any usage or employment of it, and in particular of the burgeoning culture of Denunciation. Frankly, we ought to be terrified of this concept of Denunciation and we should avoid both responding to it and participating in it ourselves. Because it’s a tool created by the right to attack the left, primarily employing two others of the same: the concepts of “Political Correctness” and “Identity Politics”, it is vital to remember, are both expressions coined by the right to caricature and undermine positions taken by the left.

      “Political Correctness” is a deliberately Orwellian expression; it’s far less sinister if thought of as common decency. You can tell it’s a right-wing concept because it’s simplistic. It reduces a complex and subjective issue down to a set of clear if arbitrary rules (In what way, seriously, is “people of colour”, any better or semantically different from “coloured people”? They’re both literally inaccurate, given that “white” people also have a colour, and they both attempt to bundle together 7/8ths of the human population as an exception to the white norm). But the production of these pseudo-objective rules enables punishments to be applied to those breaking them. Which the left initially bought into because we could use it on UKIP councillors and rightwing comedians. The problem, though, is that it doesn’t really damage Farage or Jim Davidson if we call them racists. Now that the novelty has worn off, they just deny it and their supporters all cheer. Whereas someone who genuinely isn’t a racist, whose supporters and friends are not racist, will have their career and life destroyed by such an allegation.

      “Identity Politics” is divide and rule. They’ve got us all caring so intently about the numerical representation of categories that we can no longer see that a right-wing black person or a right-wing woman are no better than a right-wing white man; objectively, as Thatcher’s children, this ought to be fucking obvious. Anyone who’s seen both Chukka Umunna and Sajid Javid happily toot away on any dog-whistle near them ought to recognise it too. But we’re talking about the numbers of members of our own groups who make it into “top jobs”, and we’re no longer talking about socialism. And it also leaves impoverished white people with nowhere to go. “My people!” is a clear, if simplistic and pseudo-nationalistic rallying cry. The reliance upon it by oppressed groups provokes the mirror response. If black people are supposed to proudly come out and fight on behalf of black people, and if all that matters are these simplistic identity groupings, then how can you criticise impoverished and embattled white people for thinking they ought to do the same? Because we’re no longer talking about the impoverishment, the unfairness of denial of opportunity, which is common across all marginalised sectors including working class white men; we’ve picked teams; we’re no longer doing solidarity; therefore we’re no longer able to assemble enough energy to overthrow power.

      Where it really becomes toxic is when the two are combined together. The Canary’s article in the course of the Denunciation of Danny Baker was frankly terrifying. Canary, I love you, really, but you need to accept the profound ironies in some of your own positions. You encouraged people to unhesitatingly, uncritically, unquestioningly, unthinkingly support any Denunciation on thegrounds of racism. Which isn’t even what you believe yourself – it’s not the line you take about Corbyn, for instance. So that feels like you want one rule for the people you like and another for the people you don’t. Which as well as invalidating your position, also legitimises Denunciation, which, given that it is a tool created by the right for attacking the left, seems unwise.

      If we train ourselves to accept the idea that the correct punishment for appearing to have something that comes across wrong is total and unquestioning banishment from society, then we legitimise this weapon to be used against ourselves. I mean… we’ve all read 1984, haven’t we?

      And the article about the transwoman who was ditched by a charity after a slanderous twitter storm; which made the valid point that twitter-journalism allows the amplification of a few people’s opinion to “everyone is saying…” levels, and is therefore fundamentally dishonest and manipulative, appeared on the same day as you ran several “everyone on twitter is saying…” articles. You’ve got one about Tom Watson today. If you’re gonna use these tools, you lose the right to complain about them used against you.

      Twitter is fundamentally toxic. It is a machine for removing context, and nuance, and everything else that is required to genuinely understand things. Since the right trades in simplistic ideas, dishonestly simplistic ideas; since most problems in the world are complex and therefore the solutions need to be too; the reduction of everything down to a hundred characters or so fundamentally benefits the right. We need to ditch twitter. Stop using it, stop caring about it, stop listening to it, stop using it to fuel journalism. The onus is on you.

      1. Excellent articulation of why I often feel so degraded after reading the Canary.

        But I get it, the left probably did need some tabloid-style traction on social media. Isn’t that the whole point of it? A canary tweets. Nobody hears it otherwise.

        1. Thanks! I mean it’s necessary, this paper is necessary. I’ve tried to find something solid to the left of the Guardian (which has gone markedly right the last three-four years) and really struggled. The Morning Star reads like the internal bitchings of the hard left and Novara has some excellent articles, really high-quality stuff, but they don’t seem to really do the news. I kind of feel like HuffPost is a bit to the left of the G but not enough.

          I just wish there was a bit more rigour and consistency in the Canary, self-awareness maybe. Tabloid-style is fine, streetfighting is fine, but this thing of Denunciation bandwagons is really dangerous, anti-democratic and anti-truth, really. It’s the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears. In the last few years I’ve done a 180 on the concept of no-platforming. If we start saying that somebody has the right to say who may and may not speak, then we place ourselves at risk of being Denounced ourselves.

          And if our arguments cannot stand up to counter-arguments, then perhaps they are not as powerful as we think they are. We on the left have the advantage of being correct. The facts support us. We should use that, rather than simply shutting up our adversaries, because that won’t work forever, and the more we do it, the more we legitimise it being done to us.

          1. Yeah, it seems Reconciliation would be the opposing force – an open exchange of ideas with the aim of understanding each other’s. That’s better than battery acid for dissolving the right – or the far right at least – given that it has nothing whatsoever to say, no ideas of its own, just opposition and reaction to the left. No-platforming and Denunciation are completely self-defeating. It allows the right to conflate the left with liberals and from there the elite, presenting itself as the resurgent grassroots.

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