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Opinion, Anonymity, Blogging, Melanie Philips and The Archers

February 5, 2011

Hundreds of people read my blog yesterday. I’m not going to pretend there isn’t a frisson of satisfaction in that, but it does also make one slightly uncomfortable. I took up blogging as a cathartic, public diary exercise. I have no agenda other than airing my own opinion on things which make me feel strongly; things that transfer sufficient energy from brain to fingers to get them typing.

I did not expect these diary entries to be discussed and quoted and tweeted and re-tweeted. I certainly did not expect the hottest string of such discussion to be The Archers message board. Life has an entirely unique way of surprising one, does it not?

The discussion raised some interesting points about the nature of online opinion. “The internet seems to me increasingly like a sink full of swirling water, with people posting things on messageboards that they’ve seen posted on twitter that someone else has picked up from an anonymous blog. It’s ephemeral, insubstantial and soon the whole lot will disappear down the plughole.” muses the pointedly onymous Ermintrude.

Is my blog anonymous? Not really. It is full of my pictures and personal information. There is a right to reply in the comments box underneath each post. What I say is not presented as Gospel or fact. I do not sit on panels in BBC shows or present chatshows and finish every sentence with “and that’s a fact, my friend”. My ravings do not have chillingly factual titles like “Britain facing unstoppable wave of home-grown suicide bombers warns MI6” in today’s Daily Mail.

It is just one man’s opinion. Must I give everyone my address and phone number for that opinion to have weight? There is a piquant irony about someone anonymously posting a comment on the internet complaining about how everyone these days is allowed to do so.

Recent events in Egypt are a lesson on the value of simply being able to express an opinion freely and having free access to read other’s.

And so, the swirling water analogy is accurate. That’s how it is in a free society – opinion flows like water, merges, swirls and then joins (and helps to shape) the general pool that is called “public opinion”. I try to make the little dribble I am adding to it honest and clean. I consider the blackness, that papers like the Daily Mail add to it, a pollutant. That’s my opinion.

Oh – and to Devon, the poster that said my comment reeked of “smugness and preaching from the ivory tower”: I hold my hands up. To face prejudice with love is, indeed, a position I consider superior. Us “lefties” will get few tax breaks, bonuses, benefits, job opportunities, free higher education, decent public transport or indeed walks in public forests for the next few years. The only pleasure left to us is that of occupying the higher moral ground. It may be ephemeral and insubstantial, but be kind Devon and let us enjoy it.

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