Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Jihad Watch and Little Green Footballs need to evolve into a New Society
My recent unsuccessful attempts to register on Little Green Footballs (LGF) (and my complaint thereof), consequent upon a closer perusal of that very good site of late, has motivated me to devote a new essay to another failure of Jihad Watch (JW)—which in some senses could be said to pertain even more to LGF.
This “failure” may be roughly sheltered under the umbrella of Problem #1 (noted from this previous essay here):
1) The regard—or lack of sufficient regard—for its reading and commenting population.
However, the failure I have in mind so amplifies this problem that it could well become a new problem in its own right. Simply put, the owners of JW and LGF have to expand their minds, think outside the box, and stop thinking of their reader populations as merely inert (albeit often effervescent) appendages that simply hang on, adding a little color and spice to their sites: they have to start thinking of their reader populations as partners of their sites, and as actual, concretely contributing, associates of their mission.
Before we explore any anticipated objections to this new way of thinking of their reader populations, and before we outline more specifically what it means and how it would work, we should answer the first question that probably comes to mind to our readers: Why? Why should LGF and JW do this?
Answer: They should do this in order to augment and advance the anti-Islamic cause: the reader populations of both sites seem currently bottled up (JW’s more than LGF’s)—limited in size and in dynamism & substance of participation. This limitation is directly due to two factors: 1) the disclaimer that looms over every reader who comments, causing him and her (at least the more provocative among them) to worry if they will be censored, deleted or banned, along with the actual censoring, deleting and banning that is executed; and 2) the limits on registration.
With a fully open, dynamically & formally participating, and ever-growing reader population, these two sites, JW and LGF—the two largest and most famous anti-Islamic sites—, will become a stronger force and will become a venue for a growing galvanization of people interested in doing concrete things about the problem of Islam (example, mobilizing public protests, such as a Million Man March on Washington, etc.).
Indeed, should these two sites ever decide to take my advice, the two of them could then merge into one, on at least certain levels (if not the level of actual site location and content). Now, let us get to the anticipated objections to my suggestion:
Objection #1: The plausible deniability accorded by the disclaimers is necessary, in order to protect the sites, and their mission, from being tainted by comments that cross the line into genocidal or racist remarks, etc. These disclaimers, in turn, unavoidably limit both the number and penetration of reader population participation.
a) The plausible deniability accorded by the disclaimers has not seemed to prevent certain people (e.g. CAIR’s Hooper and the Muslim reader “An American” with whom Spencer has had two long debates in the Comments sections of at least two different threads on Jihad Watch) from imputing to Spencer some rather provocative statements that certain readers have written in Comments sections. Perhaps, it could be argued, third parties looking on—seeing first a Hooper accuse Spencer of some statement he never made but which was in a Comments section of Jihad Watch, and then seeing Spencer effectively rejoin that it was not his statement but a statement by a formally unaffiliated reader that by chance got through the disclaimer and subsequent censorship process at Jihad Watch—have been convinced by Spencer’s defense.
b) Even if this plausible deniability mechanism has this important use, it need not be seen to be substantively impaired by a formal and broader induction of an ever-growing reader population into the society of Jihad Watch. The disclaimer can simply be reworded, like this:
Note: While comments on articles are moderated, it is impossible for our moderators to be able to spot—and then censor and/or delete—every comment that expresses views that Jihad Watch does not support (see our formal list of views which Jihad Watch does not support and which constitute reasons for censoring and/or deleting comments), even though they do their best to do so. Thus, the fact that particular comments might happen to remain on the site for a temporary time period in no way constitutes an endorsement by Robert Spencer or Jihad Watch of the views expressed therein. If a particular comment that seems to be unacceptable to Jihad Watch remains for too long a period, we encourage any reader to alert us, in case that comment might have somehow bypassed the watchful eyes of our moderators, so that we may review that comment and decide whether or not to censor and/or delete it. Furthermore, while moderators at Jihad Watch enjoy the right to censor and/or delete comments that are off-topic, offensive, slanderous, troublemaking or otherwise annoying, they have been instructed to be careful in their jobs and err on the side of permissibility in the interest of a free and vibrant flow of ideas. Jihad Watch also maintains a special thread that is always open for readers to lodge their complaints about any comments (theirs or those of others) that they feel have been unfairly censored and/or deleted, and Jihad Watch regularly holds votes for any controversial comments that 10 or more readers wish to adjudicate through a vote, whereby a majority of those voting have their way.
c) This brings us to my next point. The managers of JW and LGF should open their minds, get outside their boxes, and start availing themselves of the obviously enormous and potentially beneficial manpower of their reader populations. Case in point: actually hire (yes, spend some $$$) a certain number of readers to be moderators, so that comments need not be hobbled by being “unmoderated”. (And even if JW and LGF are willing to pay certain readers to be moderators, it would not be outlandish to assume that quite a few readers would be perfectly eager to volunteer for such positions, for free.)
d) Even with the plausible deniability accorded by the disclaimer that currently reigns at JW and LGF, it carries a rather smarmy aura slightly tinged with hypocrisy: Spencer tries to have his cake and eat it too, simultaneously keeping his readers at arm’s length as though he doesn’t want to soil his clothes with their potential dirt, while at the same time rather often expressing overly familiar bonhommie with them in the Comments sections of various threads, as well as soliciting their help on various occasions, and being dependent on their numbers and support for the success of his site, his increasing fame, and the sales of his books. In addition, there is a rather unseemly almost winkingly unstated dependency on the more bigoted and jingoistic readers which is not entirely wiped clean by the disclaimer and its occasional enforcement by deletion, an indirect dependency that uncomfortably reminds one of the way the Stacy Keach character in American History X plausibly denied that his apparently racist organization had any formal connection with, or support of, those hangers-on who happened to go out lynching and murdering blacks and other minorities. The best way for Spencer to rid himself of this constant impression used by his detractors is not to continually maintain this untenable balancing act between keeping his readers at a distance while simultaneously feeding off their numbers and support, but rather to formally induct them into a Jihad Watch society.
Conclusion: Thus, just because comments at JW and LGF become transformed into a moderated field of a population formally inducted as members into a society, this does not mean that the plausible deniability cannot still be exercised. Indeed, this would force JW and LGF to clearly and formally publish guidelines on comments, rather than leaving their rationale nebulous as they continue to be at present.
Objection #2: An open-ended and ever-growing reader population that is formally incorporated as a society into JW and LGF would be unmanageable and would create too many problems, likely distracting from the main function of these sites as they stand.
a) As I noted above, this can be solved—or at least significantly ameliorated—by soliciting the help of the reader populations, through a combination of accepting volunteers as well as actually hiring some to do editorial and moderating work, along with website construction (should JW and LGF see fit to expand the look and features of their websites).
b) As intimated in (a) above, the managers of JW and LGF could also think about expanding their minds (and wallets) a little bit in the direction of changing the look and features of their websites, in order to accomodate the new society of readers that would become an official part of their mission, not merely the oddly disconnected, under-appreciated appendages of quasi-parasitic beehives hanging on to JW and LGF that they currently are.
It is time to get serious about the anti-Islamic mission. We must evolve past the level on which we are operating currently, of many disparate islands or clusters of concerns, many of them unofficially attaching themselves to various focal points (Jihad Watch and Little Green Footballs, to name two of the most important) that paradoxically try to maintain an arm’s length of distance from their readers. We need to unify, and we need to formally, officially, warmly, dynamically and effectively include all these interested people (whose numbers are growing) out there who spend their time-worth-money participating in various Internet venues learning more about the problem of Islam, brainstorming about solutions to it, and helping to educate others about it. Jihad Watch and Little Green Footballs could help enormously in furthering this sociopolitical evolution, by formally opening their websites to a New Society of people wishing to join the ever-growing ranks of those who are concerned about the problem of Islam.