Monbiot’s right – time to get rid of the astroturfers

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First rate article from George Monbiot this morning in the Guardian with which I have whole hearted agreement. Here’s a chunk:

Reading comment threads on the Guardian's sites and elsewhere on the web, two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there's little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

Articles about the environment are hit harder by such tactics than any others. I love debate, and I often wade into the threads beneath my columns. But it's a depressing experience, as instead of contesting the issues I raise, many of those who disagree bombard me with infantile abuse, or just keep repeating a fiction, however often you discredit it. This ensures that an intelligent discussion is almost impossible – which appears to be the point.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend to be more willing to discuss an issue than these rightwing libertarians, many of whom seek to shut down debate.

So what's going on? I'm not suggesting that most of the people trying to derail these discussions are paid to do so, though I would be surprised if none were. I'm suggesting that some of the efforts to prevent intelligence from blooming seem to be organised, and that neither website hosts nor other commenters know how to respond.

Here’s his conclusion:

The internet is a remarkable gift, which has granted us one of the greatest democratic opportunities since universal suffrage. We're in danger of losing this global commons as it comes under assault from an army of trolls and flacks, many of them covertly organised or trained. The question for all of us – the Guardian, other websites, and everyone who benefits from this resource – is what we intend to do about it. It's time we fought back and reclaimed the internet for what it does best: exploring issues, testing ideas, opening the debate.

The answer is easy George and I use it: it’s called the delete button. Those seeking to close down debate – and I have absolutely no doubt many who seek to comment on this blog seek to do that – deserve nothing more sophisticated than straightforward deletion of their comments. They do not ad anything to discussion. And deleting them is called editorial freedom. It’s something we must preserve. It’s fundamental to free speech – something that it seems most libertarians are fundamentally opposed to. So let’s be bold, blatant and honest about the fact we’re deleting in the name of freedom – because that’s exactly what I do.

Libertarians posting here: you have been warned.