The BBC has won countless awards for its most excellent website, and quite deservedly so. It is held up as an exemplar right the way around the globe. Covering news, television and radio programmes, help for students taking examinations, gardening, poetry, religious affairs, technology and … well the list is endless.
In 2003 some bright spark at the Beeb had an inspired idea to promote digital literacy in Scotland’s remote island communities setting up Island Blogging. The service grew and grew, indeed it grew so much that it became an unwieldy administrative burden to the moderators involved, and the limitations of the software application used to publish individual blogs was really rather dated by the end of 2008 when a decision was reluctantly made to terminate the service.
Island Blogging (IB) on the BBC website had run its course, it had certainly served its purpose in bringing communities together in a new and extremely innovative way. Islanders talked to fellow islanders and to the world. Whilst by no means unique, Island Blogging certainly had a following that extended well beyond the waters of the British Isles with comments being left by visitors from a multitude of nations from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe and beyond.
A new ‘IB’ service was set up by an entrepreneur with the right skillset to drive the concept of IB forward and take advantage of advances in software applications that would give IBers more control over their individual blogs, add photographs easily, and a whole gamut of additional features that, unfortunately, the BBC service had been unable to deliver for one reason or another. Whilst everyone lamented the loss of the BBC service, all looked forward to the new service and could see the benefits of making the switch.
I don’t know the full ins and outs or the whys and wherefores of why the original owner of ‘new’ Island Blogging decided to bow out, though I do recall slow response times were an issue that was getting worse rather than better, but a saviour stepped forward who was prepared to take on the mantle of administering. Everyone was very grateful for the willing volunteer to step into the breach, take on a not inconsiderable workload and drive new development and facilities that genuinely benefitted all, bloggers and visitors alike. And he deserves all due credit for such initiative and commitment.
The new ‘owner’ of Island Blogging (www.islandblogging.co.uk) is not an islander, but rather someone who aspires to move to the Isle of Lewis in retirement. He is not, then, of the islands. An Englishman, non resident. His association with the Western Isles is aspirational rather than real. But I won’t hold that against him … not yet at least.
At first everything was fabulous. It was like Barack Obama taking over from the shambles that was George W Bush. New features came along, help guides published to assist those exploring blogging for the first time, helping with publishing pictures and lots of handholding exercises to coax new bloggers along. What a lovely honeymoon.
But then I’m afraid things started to go awry. I became aware of a not-very-nice side to the new site owner. People who I knew (and won’t, I think, object to my referring to them as ‘novice bloggers’) started telling me that they were getting snotty or derisory emails from the site owner, clearly impatient at their inability to learn even basic blogging practices.
I was told that the tone was very much If everyone else manages to do it then why can’t you, you idiot?. This belies impatience, a lack of comprehension that different people learn at different speeds and some will always need a little more help than others. It is the sign of a good website manager that guidance is provided for the lowest common denominator, not the highest. If you can’t handle the plodders (for want of a better expression) then website management isn’t for you if you want to be successful.
Recently a rich seam of debate was opened by the site owner on his own Island Blog (you’ll remember that he doesn’t actually live on a Scottish island) about what should happen to people who leave an island and return to the mainland, or perhaps weren’t resident on a Scottish island at all. Should they be asked to leave (or exterminated)? Was it right that non-islanders were blogging.
I was singled out as a good case in point. Due to ongoing ill health I left Lewis at the end of March and returned to the south of England to be cared for by a friend, but I’m here with the full intention of returning to island life as soon as I am able. Someone questioned whether it was right than an ex-islander who was easily the most prolific IBer (since I’ve not been able to work since last Christmas, time is something I have plenty of right now) should be allowed to remain on the site.
The argument went that surely it was inappropriate to the whole concept of Island Blogging that non-islanders had sites? One of the most vociferous of these was a man born and brought up in Stornoway but now living in Edinburgh. Ironic or what?
I countered that until my enforced exile I was resident and that I fully intend to return, indeed I’m still on the electoral roll for the Western Isles (which is far more than can be said for the site owner or the Edinburgh exile). But that was poo-pooed as a red herring. Not sufficiently robust, it seemed, to win hearts and minds of the troublemakers who wanted me gone.
I suggested a democratic vote amongst existing Island Blogging bloggers as to whether ex-islanders (for whatever reason they were in exile) should remain or go. And that I’d happily abide by any democratic decision thereof, as I was sure others in my situation would also, but to have a policy determined by autocracy or a wild debate in a blog posting was simply unfair. My suggestion was utterly ignored. Unfortunately it was too straightforward, too simple, and could so easily have gone the wrong way!
Much more fun to have a vicious debate and hurl acidic remarks hither and thither. I’m ashamed to say that I joined in, as much in personal defence as anything else. I realised quickly that it was the wrong thing to do and backed off. Matters got to the stage that I thought “I know when I’m not welcome” and decided to call it a day and leave Island Blogging before I was pushed.
And thus I went about making preparations to depart. I popped a graphic on my blog stating that it was my last blog posting, that I was leaving because I knew when I wasn’t wanted, so I’d go elsewhere and I entered a comment in the particular discussion about this 2009 form of ethnic cleansing that if the site owner would kindly send me an extract of my blog entries, I’d go quietly. I (politely) asked twice to be sent an export file of my blog postings so that I could depart with my intellectual property.
And then all of a sudden I discovered that my blog had been archived, taken off line, and as far as I could tell, deleted completely. I didn’t receive any form of communication from the site owner, nothing at all (and this has been repeated several times since with others relating the same experience). All my postings over the past six months had gone, vamoosh! I asked again in the site owner’s blog comments list what had happened to my content, nothing. Zilch. Zippo.
About three days later I received a vicious email from the site owner accusing me of fabricating a tale about being on death’s door some weeks previously. That was his interpretation, and wrong at that. The people closest to me were (and are) aware of the particular circumstances. The words that I wrote at the time were completely true, but I never said that I had only ‘months to live’ (fact: if I have surgery on my back then that outcome would become the case, but since that is not now likely to ever happen for exactly that reason the point is no longer material).
I was informed that if I ever wrote anything derogatory or criticised the individual on the Island Blogging site I would be banned permanently, thus preventing me from participating in the bloggings of friends I had made across the Scottish isles, not just the Outer Hebrides. I certainly did not want that to happen, and so I backed off. I preferred to avoid further confrontation.
The email I received also attached files purportedly containing all my blog postings from the previous six months. But can I import them into my new blog? NO. So that’s six months’ creative work down the drain, my diary of the anguish I’ve gone through since my accident in January lost to some disk storage system in the ether. Well, I’ve put it behind me, I’ve moved on.
Or so I thought.
Seven days ago, entirely out of the blue, I received a notification from PayPal of a reimbursement of £25 from a named individual. It was the donation I had made early in the year for the new IB website. I didn’t ask for the money to be refunded. I was quite happy to have left it in the ‘fund’ for the benefit of all. I have to say I was consternated to receive the money back, I couldn’t see the point, except if it were intended as some kind of two finger gesture telling me to f&%k off.
And then, in the past seven days I’ve received numerous emails from current or former ‘new’ IBers who expressed their own dissatisfaction with the way that my own departure had been treated, and relating their own experiences of poor site administration. One had had his blog archived without notice when he published a posting saying that he was going to leave IB because he was fed up with the autocratic site management and a nasty publication of his personal financial status when he queried the matter of donations for site maintenance. He now can’t even access the site, let alone leave comments.
Another lamented the dictatorial attitude of the site owner over the question of ex-islanders or people not resident on a Scottish island, and highlighted the material point that the site owner himself is not such a resident and so was hardly qualified to rule arbitarily that non islanders should be forcibly exiled from Island Blogging.
And yet another, fed up with the constant references to people who were out to cause trouble (but who were actually trying to have a factual discussion on the whole question of this abhorrent ethnic cleansing), were deciding to leave. I know of five IBers who have deliberately left Island Blogging directly as a result of the site owner’s behaviour towards themselves or directed at other individuals which they considered highly inappropriate.
Another blogger elsewhere in the blogosphere wrote some time ago a post on why one should or shouldn’t blog. One of the reasons he gave not to blog related to adverse comments. He said:
“You can’t handle the trolls. If you can’t handle the odd jerk showing up uninvited, then blogging may be less appealing to you. Once in a while someone logs on and starts a fight. It’s a little like someone arriving at your home, walking in, and lighting the sofa on fire. You can either ban them, delete them, put up with it, or stop blogging. I don’t think this is a good reason not to blog – but it’s a reality. Fortunately photographers tend to be a civil lot and if you fill your blog with big words, the jerks tend to stay away.”
The IB site owner followed up that quote with the following statement:
“One of the keys to dealing with the morons is that mention of ‘big words’. Someone wrote to me recently and said that [name of another IBer] had the best way of dealing with bad comments and that was to simply publish them and then destroy them with a superior intellect. That really is the answer but not everyone has that ability. We do all, however, have the ability to publish comments and let our friends draw their own conclusions. It does require a certain amount of courage but you should know that your enemies will never prosper in the company of your friends. In the bad times simply turn to your friends, even those you have never met. Above all, don’t give up.”
Morons? Destroy with superior intellect? In this hypocritical and insulting statement he destroyed any rationale he may have had for his numerous site administration faux pas. Instead of allowing people to publish comments and permit friends and others to drawn their own conclusions, he started deleting the blogs of dissenters or banning individuals from accessing the site. In doing so he has contradicted himself terribly.
This is a very sad state of affairs. The concept of Island Blogging, started in 2003 by the BBC, and continued in late 2008 and then 2009 by a new administration, has now descended into an anarchical state of the highest order. It serves no useful purpose to alienate island residents, particularly those of the island that the site owner himself aspires to retire to in a year or so’s time. Certainly no way to influence friends, rather more successful at engendering enemies I should’ve thought.
In terms of the original concept of promoting digital literacy Island Blogging still has a role to play. It is a useful vehicle for helping non-islanders learn about island life, common interests in the extreme weather conditions, problems with ferries, shortages in shops during bad weather, difficulty in accessing personal healthcare (written with feeling), and life in general. But that doesn’t mean the collective community needs to exist any longer as it stands.
Unfortunately I think the concept of Island Blogging has been irreparably damaged by the recent debacle and peoples’ direct experiences of it. It didn’t need to happen in the first place, and the original discussion – started by the site owner himself – was very poorly moderated from the start and quickly got out of hand certainly did not help matters.
If the current management policy continues I can’t help but feel that it would be better for people to break away from the IB site and establish their own independent WordPress.com blogs (or any other blogging software such as Google’s Blogger). To that end I’d be pleased to help you get started, but be assured of one thing on this point, I will get you started and support you as best and sensitively as I can, but it will be you who are in charge of your editorial policy and destiny, not the other way about.
I’ve deliberately wanted to let the dust settle and my personal anger abate. Indeed I’d decided I wouldn’t write anything at all, and told people that. But I received two emails today asking me to speak out, to put my point of view across, and after reading of how they themselves had been treated by the same person I decided enough is enough.
I anticipate two things will now happen:
- I will probably get banned from accessing islandblogging.co.uk or from leaving comments on blogger’s postings. Having made some extremely good friends on IB, particularly individuals in Lewis, Orkney and Shetland (they know who they are), that would be a hardship indeed
- A barrage of criticism from the site owner and other cronies in his pocket regarding my own departure or about my supposedly feigned death’s door episode (which I categorically did not state).
In the case of 1) above then that is something I shall, with sincere regret, have to live with and hope that my IB friends will communicate with me in other ways beyond IB. As for 2), then I will not enter into further debate and discussion on whys and wherefores, for I don’t see how it will serve any positive benefit, plus (to be frank) I’m sickened by the abuse and vile behaviour of individuals that I am refraining from identifying specifically. I’d rather just move on and forget the thing.
But that said, and this is the reason for my posting now, I do think all existing IBers must reflect upon whether autocratic management of the IB service is in the long term interests of both the individual IBer and the wider IB community if such autocratic behaviour results in alienation and expulsion, not to mention considerable anger amongst users and visitors alike.
In conclusion, supposing that 1) above does come to pass, and since I was not permitted the opportunity to publish the following sentiment on my own IB blog before the rug was pulled without notice, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to my Island Blog for their comments, kind remarks, good wishes, sympathies, etc., and general support of me at a time when I truly valued the Island Blogging community experience. I’d still be there now if it weren’t for the present unpleasantness.
To misquote Carly Simon “you probably think this [blog] is about you” (you know who you are). If you do, then you’ve missed the point. There will always be differences of opinion, heated discussions need to be carefully and actively moderated with impartiality rather than by an individual who stands back and watches an entirely unnecessary bloodbath unfold, apart from throwing in the odd unhelpful comment or gesture to keep the blood spurting around. But guillotining disagreement or dissent does not fix the fundamental problem.
The reputation of the whole enterprise has been irreparably damaged by such irresponsibility. Considerable goodwill has been destroyed and online friendships broken up. The fallout has been extensive and far-reaching, and continues to wreak havoc and mutterings across the ether.
So, not statesman-like Barack Obama then. More like Gordon Brown who has made such a bloody mess of things himself and has caused the rehabilitation of both presidential Tony Blair and dictatorial Margaret Thatcher by his current bungling administration which lurches from crisis to crisis.
If my access to Island Blogging is barred and/or I’m prevented from commenting on peoples’ IB blogs it will be proof positive of my argument that you can’t disagree with the big man or you get the chop, rather more akin to a junta where dissent is subdued by violence and other unwarranted interference in peoples’ lives.
That would not be a positive development … for anyone.