Hoaxtead: Life in the echo chamber

One of the great rewards of this blog is the amazing community that’s formed around us: in addition to valuable information, unique perspectives, and much-appreciated support, our commenters bring us some of our best material.

Yesterday, for example, long-time commenter Big Earl posted this video by Rebecca Watson:

It’s a short one, but well worth a watch, as it points to a fascinating phenomenon that makes a great deal of sense in the context of Hoaxtead.

The term ‘online echo chamber‘ (or for the more academically inclined, ‘closed ideology echo chamber’) originates in the fact that when people are interacting online, they tend to block or ignore people whose beliefs or opinions conflict with their own. They tend to hive off into groups of like-minded people, with mostly homogeneous views.

This can lead to a situation in which group members are never exposed to dissenting ideas; thus they are never forced to challenge or reassess their own beliefs. Instead, as they interact with others who share their belief system, they constantly find their ideas and ideologies echoed back at them, which reinforces and strengthens their own belief system and can make them believe that their ideas are in fact the norm.

We should add that this concept does not apply only to conspiracy theorists, religious fanatics, or those with extremist beliefs. People who get all their information from a single source, whether it’s the Mirror, the BBC, or the Times, can be said to live in a sort of echo chamber.

But the experience of connecting online creates a more intense echo chamber experience: unlike in real life, when a person is online they can actively exclude any voices they find disturbing or annoying, and can gravitate toward those who echo and reinforce their own views exclusively.

In an online echo chamber, people begin to lose the ability to question what they hear, as there’s no social reinforcement for dissent or critical thought.

Ideas that contradict the norm are censored, disallowed, or simply not expressed. When outsiders attempt to express alternative ideas, they are shunned, shamed, called names that identify them as beyond the pale: ‘paedo-lover’, ‘cointel pro’, ‘Illuminati shill’, ‘cult member’…you get the idea.

On the other hand, if one person makes a statement that meshes with the overall beliefs of the group, that statement will be uncritically accepted, and then re-broadcast from group member to group member, often gathering embellishments as it travels through the group.

Hoaxtead as echo chamber

When Abe, Ella, Belinda, Sabine, Charlotte, and Angela started Hoaxtead in 2014, one of their objectives was to spread the hoax far and wide, in as short a time as possible. It’s a classic marketing strategy: ensure the ‘product’ makes an initial splash with the right people, and let them do some of the work of spreading the word.

So the Hoaxtead plotters initially contacted big names like Gerrish and Maloney; they tried to make use of CSA activist groups, whose members they hoped would immediately assume that the children’s videos were the real thing. Charlotte Ward Alton, already known in the conspiritainment community, set up her Hamster Research blog to blast out the news and reach people who’d be predisposed to believe the story.

It was all carefully calculated to reach an uncritical audience. An audience that would defend the hoax without question, that would attack any unbelievers, that would feel dedicated to spreading the word to others with the same beliefs.

For those of us who’ve opposed the hoax over the past year, one of the hardest tasks has been to ‘get through’ to the Hoaxtead gang. Nothing anyone can say seems to break through the echo chamber effect. Not facts, not arguments, not refutations of their own arguments—they seem to shrug it off, while repeating their own allegations like a protective mantra.

Most of us have had the experience of being called ‘cult members’, ‘MI 5 operatives’, or (the worst possible thing to a Hoaxteader) ‘RD’. Do they really believe we’re all RD, or is this just their way of signalling to their group that they are holding steadfastly to the groupthink they’ve all embraced?

Is there a way out of the echo chamber?

Yes, of course there is.

Those who want to move out of their echo chamber comfort zone will do so by venturing to consider others’ ideas. They’ll do it by thinking of disagreement as, well, disagreement, and not an affront to everything they hold dear. They’ll do it by realising that there’s a whole other world out here, full of nuances and complexity.

But ultimately, the way out of the online conspiranoid bubble reminds us of an old riddle: “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change”.

Echo-Chamber

 

 

 

 

 

50 thoughts on “Hoaxtead: Life in the echo chamber

  1. Critical thinking is a skill that is totally absent in the Satan Hunter. I have spent many hours using reason, evidence and contrary ideas with the Satan Hunter against their SRA narrative, but all they choose to do is delete and block. The echo chamber is an apt description of their attitude to reality.

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  2. Without doubt, this site has created a powerful echo chamber, that has helped demonstrate many peoples strong feelings about subjects such as hoaxes, charity scammers and a few thoroughly vile and despicable people.

    Its very true that the wheels of Justice turn slowly, however they do turn. Sometimes the authorities struggle to keep pace with rapidly evolving technology and “technology based crimes – such as use of the Internet as a medium to scam money, the use of the Internet as a means to launch atrocious attacks on individuals who disagree with another person views.

    Due mainly to the persistent efforts of this website we now see certain persons in Court, facing trials for alleged offences such as witness intimidation. I have no doubt that we will also see certain other people in Court for trial for alleged offences such as charity fraud and breaching High Court Injunctions.

    Today we see evidence that the perpetrators are becoming increasing nervous of a knock at the door in the early hours of the morning from persons wearing black (and that’s not a visit from Grim Reaper). Their efforts to now cover their tracks are futile, with ISP’s required to keep a copy of all emails transmitted and all websites published – the chain of evidence with regards digital evidence is very hard to destroy.

    We have all seen Belinda’s seeming drunken rants on the Knight Foundation website, we have seen her pushing an action that was clearly in breach of the law on so many levels.

    I suspect that TIME is getting close for Belinda….

    This morning anyone looking at her actions on the Knight Foundation website is greeted by the page below.

    YES – its gone!!

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  3. To which I would add that the echo chamber effect is augmented with social grooming and approval-showering among the believers. At least, until they turn on each other like rats in a sack.

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    • Which they do surprisingly regularly! Possibly it is down to them struggling to maintain a belief in something which can’t be supported by hard facts … and to many of them not being very bright.

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      • Exactly that Fairly Sane. I once heard of conspiracy nuts being referred to as “the hard of thinking”, which I thought was very amusing.
        There’s also “failure syndrome” as I call it. Almost everyone involved in these sorry messes are basically losers.
        Look at Araya Soma… an ex-pole dancer and heavy drug user.
        Belinda – daughter of a very successful, clever man, whose genes seem to have skipped her completely. Every privilege in life, but now an elderly, drunken scam artist.
        Angie – spoilt, vacuous, bone-lazy grifter.
        Ella – vain, stupid, devious. Got by on her looks until that failed. Apart from giving birth, what has she every produced in her life except grief?
        Abe – unbelievably stupid low-life petty criminal and bully.

        I could go on. But the thing that constantly astounds me about these people is the energy they put into their scams, and the shockingly low returns they get (usually, there are exceptions).

        They’re all broke, crazy, failures, and as far as I can see, mainly motivated by hatred of normal, decent folk.

        The echo chamber is probably all they’ve got.

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        • Harsh words but sadly you are correct about a lot of these people.I recall as case here in Oz of a TV celebrity who I knew who sadly committed suicide 2 years ago after suffering depression. She was the victim of some vicious internet trolling and decided to confront some of her trolls with a camera crew. She later told me she almost felt sorry for them as they really were ‘basement dwellers’ living in terrible conditions, filled with hatred not just about her- one even didn’t recognise her but had joined in the hate campaign because they could.

          I think this is a syndrome that needs more examining as Big Earl’s link demonstrates. Every village & town used to have their Poison Pen & Green Ink letter writers but the internet has given them the freedom to amplify their hatred. But it also needs a small hard core of conspirators (and it’s they who really are the conspiracy merchants) to set in train events that can devastate people. Hampstead must be one of the most classic cases of recent times and more so because of the ludicrous claims given credence by a handful with such hateful effects.

          There are also psychiatric matters here where the internet has allowed people who are either sociopaths or have narcissistic personality disorder to thrive. The criminal Cristie seems to be the later : a hatred that anyone can have more power than he so in his mind they must be destroyed be they social workers, police or a judge and possibly the residents of a seemingly well -heeled London suburb.

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          • Abe has a morbid hatred of teachers, as well–I know he was a borstal boy, so perhaps that at least partially explains it.

            It’s easy to write off conspiracy believers as all suffering from mental illness, but I think it’s more complex than that–as you say, some people live in terrible conditions for whatever reason, and seem to take their hatred out on those they can’t see and don’t know.

            The internet has created a breeding ground for hatred, at the same time that it’s created a wonderful opportunity for people from many walks of life to meet and share ideas. It’s up to us how we choose to use it.

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    • Yes–I think of the approving, encouraging comments that pop up around posts by some of the perpetrators and pushers of the hoax. Even the most obviously self-destructive material receives accolades, which seems to push the original posters to greater depths.

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  4. Speaking of echo chambers a person already on a serious charge is posting FB links to videos that breach a High Court order in a recent custody case. Someone who claims to be a ‘dowser’ says she has written to the judge in that case. Last time I spoke to a solicitor about someone we knew who was doing this they said they needed to be very careful as writing to judges about court cases can be seen as an attempt to intimidate M’Lud.

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  5. It certainly is remarkable to what extent the conspiracy folk are willing to fool themselves, and blank out any conflicting information. Just recently, on something unrelated to Hoaxtead, I messed up and formed a belief which turned out to be inaccurate. I had overlooked a segment of video. I apologised to the person I was conversing with and we moved on. I can’t think of one time that a conspiracy nut has apologised or acknowledged when they have been wrong.
    They generally just move onto another aspect of the conspiracy, running through a list of points they have taken from a conspiracy website. You would think that after having a few points shown to be demonstrably wrong, they would question their source of information. Instead, they just continue with the list.

    I have also on occasion used sarcasm and satire with conspiracy theorists, and like with the study, they rarely realise I am taking the piss. Some even complimenting me on my comment.

    I think the psychology of conspiracy is a worthwhile area of research. Stuff about chemtrails and reptiles is fairly harmless, but we have all seen the damage it can cause in cases like this.

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    • Exactly, Dave–I’ve been puzzled by the seeming impermeability of their belief in the hoax. Granted, a great many people have abandoned Hoaxtead completely in the past year–compared to the flood of internet posts we were seeing at this time last year, it’s slowed to a tiny trickle. This doesn’t necessarily mean that people have given up their belief in the hoax, but it does seem that many have accepted that it’s a losing battle.

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    • I’ve been concerned that the chemtrails and reptiles stuff spreads fear. There are enough frightening things going on in the world right now and it seems ridiculous to add to this. It’s not kind to people to spread bullshit that makes them nervous about going outside.

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      • That’s true, hadn’t thought of that aspect. Though I have to say that the people I’ve met who believe in that sort of thing seem to think it’s all right to stand outside and stare at the (supposedly poisonous) sky for hours at a time.

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  6. I suspect this message will be blocked… But I’ll take the time to write it anyway…

    Two or three things bother me about Ms Watson’s video(s)…

    An old friend of mine often remarks that the only thing more tedious than an evangelical fundamentalist Christian who insists on shoving their way, truth and light down the world’s throats is an evangelical fundamentalist Atheist who insists on shoving their way, truth and light down the world’s throats…

    For clarity; there aren’t many things Ms Watson says in this video that I might initially dispute or disagree with. Until, that is, I apply the same level of critical thought to her as I would someone like Angela Power-Disney…

    For instance…

    Approximately 1:54 – 2:31… Towards the end of this section it is proclaimed…

    “They (conspiracy theorists) actually believe that you can dissipate chemtrails five miles in the sky by filling up a squirt bottle with vinegar and spritzing it above your head… That’s what they ACTUALLY believe…”

    IS it? Really? That’s a universal belief of “conspiracy theorists” is it?

    For the record, this is the first time I personally have heard this one! – But I digress…

    Having been brought up in a household where the matriarch was an elderly Irish Roman-Catholic woman, and which happened to be located in a ‘Protestant area’ of a certain city, I became well-used to hearing about ” what THEY (US!) ACTUALLY believe…

    For instance I recall well as a child of seven being told, by a grown woman older than my own mother that I (personally) thought the Virgin Mary appeared regularly in my room and spoke to me. And that I believed the statues in the Chapel contained real living spirits to which I regularly fell to my knees… For this reason I was unsuitable company for her own child… Rather like a visit from Donald Trump flying in to tell us what we think I suppose I should have been grateful for having been acquainted the opinion I was required to hold. It did come as quite a surprise though since I have never at any point in my life remotely imagined let alone claimed any such thing; and certainly have never held the beliefs I am told are mine!

    But that WAS (I’m told, and apparently have no right to dispute it) what “you Catholics” believe… The incident, whilst possibly the most comical example of blind bigoted ignorance, was by no means isolated.

    Ignorance and bigotry are just that, and seem to cross not only borders but belief systems and contexts…

    “We’re talking about people who LITERALLY believe that the world economy is controlled by lizard-people… Actual lizard people… ”

    Are we? Honestly? – No! Actually we’re not just talking about them… We’re quite clearly being told by this woman that this is what all “conspiracy theorists” believe in her attempt to paint the term further into the pejorative. Not just what one particular sub-section of those who might believe there could be some conspiracy afoot, but (by implication) what all “conspiracy theorists” believe…

    Certainly people like David Icke have made fortunes by conflating quite legitimate concerns over the structure and effect of the economic system currently in play with such ridiculous fairy stories. And yes people like Icke have gathered a following of people most of whom do appear to be suffering from some one-or-other and/or combination of mental instability, educational failure, social failure, wilful ignorance, religious or social bigotry etc. And of course, the world economic system is not the only matter of concern Icke and his kind have turned their attention to and sought to exploit.

    I won’t defend that for a second.

    But I would suggest that this does not by any means account for the everyone who might suspect or believe (for instance) that the world economy has become nothing short of a great Ponzi scheme designed and run for the benefit of an elite and largely unproductive few. Or for that matter that weather control and other experiments might not be being carried out via various forms of aerial seeding as well as by other means…

    I will also remind people – that tiny grains of truth are easily washed away in a tide of nonsense… Many are of the view that this is the entire purpose behind people like Icke, Jones, Ventura and others and all the crap they spout.

    The formula tacitly used here by Ms Watson – “All [insert outgroup here] are [insert pejorative/bigoted insult here]” – really says more about the weakness of the individual using this arguments than it does the outgroup to which it is applied…Of course when that point is made, it is immediately shouted down by a baying mob – in this case of so-called of so-called ‘rationalists’.

    She then goes on to add…

    “Do we really need to spend the time and money on scientific studies to determine whether or not they can tell when we’re making fun of them?”

    Well, frankly, yes we do… If the questions that need to be asked are to be asked of course we do! For one the study she refers to yields valuable data which will objectively inform future research into human behaviour. That IS actually the purpose of such serious scientific research. Such studies – inconveniently for some perhaps – fuel critical thought.

    Having not actually read the report myself yet I am unable to say if it really concludes that all those who ‘follow science’ are cool whilst all ‘conspiracy theorists’ are complete loonies… Which appears to be the main thrust of Ms Watson’s arguments.

    It is very convenient for politicos to label any and all dissent as the wittering of crazy conspiracy theorists – the very phrase having been rendered pejorative. All dissent is insanity… Why would a true sceptic or even an honest free-thinker endorse that? I’m not convinced by her body language either. She holds the camera’s gaze very well, but does make the odd ‘APD-style’ slip-to-the-right that she self-consciously calls to heel. The fact that those slips occur at all… Well…

    Disingenuous!

    Matters of sating conformational bias aside, the main difference between Ms Watson’s video(s) and those of (say) Angela Power-Disney are that Rebecca is younger, pretty, better-lit (professionally by the look of it), more articulate, using the correct microphone in the proper manner, professionally made-up in the costume of ‘Geek babe’ ( I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t her real persona – it sits ill on her) and has her collection tin really WELL organised!

    So well organised in fact that she is able to invest in these professional touches to make her even more of a star… On the other side of the conspiritainment industry!

    Far from being a sceptic of any kind, or really engaging or being interested in critical thinking, she strikes me as a just fairly cynical pseudo-hipster serving her own interests. – She’s pretty professional at it too!

    APD should take notes!

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    • First things first: I can’t imagine why you’d think we’d block your comment! In fact, I find your arguments very interesting and important.

      Until yesterday I must confess that I’d never seen any of Rebecca Watson’s work; I was most interested in what she had to say about closed online communities, but of course you’re right that it’s equally foolish to try to tar ‘all conspiracy theorists’ with the same brush. (Granted, I’ve actually seen several videos of people who appear to believe that they’re dissipating chemtrails with vinegar, but that doesn’t mean that all conspiracy theorists believe that particular thing.)

      I fully agree that it’s important to study the reasons that people are susceptible to the kind of group pressure that I think the echo chamber effect describes so well. As a couple of other commenters have said today, understanding the underlying reasons, and helping people learn and apply critical thinking skills, is a vital part of ensuring that our society doesn’t just hive off into tribalism (any more than it already has).

      And yes–I think that in some respects, even the most ludicrous and physically impossible beliefs can be seen as funhouse-mirror reflections of political and social reality. For example, I do think that big business interests wield far too much power in the world, aided and abetted to greater or lesser degrees by government and media. I can even (sort of) understand people ‘personalising’ Big Business as lizard people–uncaring reptilians who use and discard the labours of those at the bottom of the social and economic heap. That doesn’t make the metaphor literally true, but it does make it understandable.

      Where things get dangerous is when people hear (just as one small example) the lies perpetrated by Abe and Ella–thousands of babies devoured, children horribly raped hundreds of times, etc.–and immediately accept the entire story as absolute truth. There’s little harm in thinking the world is run by lizards; there’s a great deal of harm in thinking that it’s a good thing to spread the faces and names of children and families across the internet on the basis of unquestioned belief.

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    • Rebecca Watson could afford to be more nuanced, but having done a quick search, there are a surprising number of people who think you can “kill chem trails” with vinegar. I’m not sure that she was claiming that this is an absolutely universal belief, more one that doesn’t get challenged within the conspiracy community.

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    • Yeah take your points, but having been dragged outside to watch someone spray vinegar I howled with laughter when I saw this video. Incidentally the ‘chemtrails’ did begin to disappear after about half an hour. Makes you think……

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    • ‘Younger, prettier…professionally made-up in the costume of Geek babe’…is this a ‘rational’ assessment? And yes, she is well-organised, why, shouldn’t she be? Do you really think that critical thinking is compromised as soon as a person makes a living from it, or just when it’s a young woman doing it?

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      • LOL – Very obviously not the point being made at all Anna! Quite clearly ‘TE’ is suggesting that, like APD, this young woman is merely playing a role, and is doing that for the sole purposes of extracting cash from her credulous audience.

        They suggest that she is “Disingenuous!”

        “So well organised in fact that she is able to invest in these professional touches to make her even more of a star… On the other side of the conspiritainment industry!”

        “Professionally made-up in the costume of Geek babe”

        – Yup! I took the time to look over a few of her other videos. And from where I’m sitting yes, this seems to be an entirely rational and insightful assessment of her babbling. ‘TE’ seems to be implying that APD and this Watson woman are opposite sides of the same coin. I see his/her point!

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        • I’m not sure I would agree that she’s there for the sole purpose of extracting money, though I don’t know her work well enough to have a strong opinion on that. At a glance, it seemed to me that some of her videos looked quite interesting and thought-provoking (as, for instance, the idea of the echo chamber, which is what inspired this post).

          That said, I completely take the point that if there’s anything as boring and annoying as a person who harps on about their religion, it’s a person who harps on about their atheism–both these things are matters of belief, and unprovable in either direction. It’s not terribly useful or enlightening for either side to hide behind their bunkers taking pot shots at one another.

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      • Fair points, Anna. I don’t know what her looks have to do with her competence; and the fact that she uses Patreon as a funding mechanism isn’t really a point against her.

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        • Again EC the point being made by TE is that she appears to be ‘in costume’ playing a part and appears to be inauthentic. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t her real persona – it sits ill on her”. – I could draw a rather unkind parallel with another character in the online drama who also seems to be a pardody of a certain type of female some individuals might be attracted do.

          Similarly the point is made that “has her collection tin really WELL organised!” – This is of course in contrast to APD’s rather lame efforts, but in principle, how does it differ?

          These things aren’t to do with “her looks” or the funding mechanism she uses.

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      • Yes it’s a rational assessment Anna… Perfectly rational… In much the same way as calling out Araya Soma as acting out the role of skanky-dippy-hippy chick is perfectly rational. – She in no way reflects or represents the reality of woman who are genuinely a part of the new-age/hippy movement. This one’s kidding on she’s an edgy hipster. Both of them are acting just acting out a sterotype because it will SELL to certain hormonal types – mostly men… Plassy fake geek rattling the collection tin. As the OP says, little different really from APD.

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        • Sorry “Hornby” old bean, I don’t think spelling that out in those terms is particularly helpful. Both misandry and misogyny are unfortunate and irrational characteristics. – Two wrongs don’t make a right and all that guff!

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    • @ That’s Entertainment?

      That’s a long post if you thought it was for the trash bin!

      Food for thought for me anyway, so thank you.

      I hope here isn’t such an extreme echo chamber.

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  7. When i was going through a low time in my life i was watching loads of conspiracy videos,Freeman on the land videos also and i was close to getting sucked in but thankfully something woke me up so i could see all the bullshit for what it was.

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    • AF, can you put a finger on what stopped you from falling down that rabbit hole? I’d be really interested to understand it better. Was it a sudden ‘aha!’ moment, or just a more gradual falling away of belief?

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      • @El Coyote The thing that stopped me going further into believing the Freeman on the land stuff was after watching countless videos by members of the public using ‘Freeman logic’ and thinking they had somehow won some victory over for example a policeman when really all they’d achieved was making their situation worse.
        The main thing that stopped me carrying on with belief in conspiracy theories was partly looking at both sides of the argument and not just different folk saying the same rubbish. I believe i was stuck in an ‘echo chamber’ but as soon as i got out of the Echo Chamber i could see everything for what it really was. So todays ‘Echo Chamber’ article has made a lot of sense to me.

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        • Thanks for sharing that, AF. I think it’s greatly to your credit that you could see both sides of the argument–it makes me wonder whether perhaps that’s one of the keys to resisting the ‘mind control’ of the echo chamber?

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      • I’m afraid that there is a school of thought that suggests various chat boards should be observed from a distance and never engaged with. Ian Chambers, who I actually know personally, decided not to comment further following “a particular incident” here where he felt under “predictable attack”. It might be safe to assume “That’s Entertainment” is of the same school. Unfortunate.😦

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        • It is unfortunate. We do our best here to ensure that no one feels attacked, but we’re not able to be everywhere at all times, and so from time to time a ‘nasty-gram’ gets through. Personally, my credo for this sort of discussion group is that everyone gets a fair hearing. Disagreement is fine; trolling is not.

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          • I believe Ian previously raised the matter of a third-party having received an email last June from someone claiming to be one of the admins of this site which threatened to fabricate a complaint that the third-party had uttered certain threats of criminal assault. That email was, to my absolute certain knowledge passed to Police Scotland. But the matter was also reported and discussed elsewhere in a closed group. The consensus is of course that the email came from somewhere other than this site, but a strong suspicion remains that it was perhaps indirectly connected to one of its “supporters”.

            I bring this up because it contributes to the feeling among some is that comment here is placed at the individual’s own risk and I’m afraid that is a direct result of the tone and demeanour adopted in the early days of the board. – Posting anywhere in anything other than one’s own name is generally frowned upon in some circles, but exceptions are sometimes made, and this chat board is one of them.

            Regrettably the incident Ian Chambers was involved in served only to bolster that view. I make you aware of this simply for the sake of information.

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          • Yes, I’ve heard this before, JK, and I am still puzzled by it. I’ve been involved with the group that originally launched this site since its inception, and I am quite certain that I would have known if anyone in our group had sent such an email; but I can certainly understand that it might make one think twice before posting here. That makes me doubly glad for all the commenters who now place their trust in us by posting here.

            From the beginning, all of us have used names other than our own, not because we fear repercussions from one another, but because this site is carefully watched by the other side, and none of us want our families, friends, or work colleagues to be on the receiving end of the kind of harassment the Hoaxtead gang have been known to dish out.

            The problem with using pseudonyms, however, is that anyone can pretend to be anyone else. When this blog first began, we were subject to a massive amount of trolling, and I fear that some good people were hurt in the cross-fire. I wish that hadn’t been the case, as I firmly believe that we should provide a ‘big tent’–anyone who wants to be here should be welcomed; the only exception I make is for those who are obviously trolling or who become abusive. Disagreement is fine, so long as a respectful tone is maintained.

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