The BBC Newsnight Debacle (Block_Bot)

Let’s get some back story.

Following the harassment that Caroline Criad0-Perez received, BBC’s Newsnight program did a piece on Twitter abuse. Here is said piece.



If you’re at all familiar with Atheism+ (but not indoctrinated), you probably won’t be surprised to find that a number of people who have been placed on the aforementioned block list were less than pleased to find the list referred to as a “shared list of abusers”. Complaints were sent to the BBC, who responded with this;

Thank you for your email.

The report on Newsnight on 30 July which featured The Block Bot was part of an ongoing news story on the use of Twitter and its consequences, which has generated a great deal of debate across all forms of media. We received a number of contacts about this broadcast and in order to reply promptly and to use the licence fee efficiently we are sending a single response to everyone. However we would like to reassure you that your concerns about the programme were brought to the attention of Newsnight and senior BBC management.

At no stage in the Newsnight report was any individual named as being on The Block Bot’s list. The report also did not mention how the list of names might be obtained. As you are probably aware, the list of names on The Block Bot is updated constantly and numbers many hundreds.

Although the script explained that The Block Bot was self-policing, and the report clearly showed on screen that The Block Bot has different levels of blocking, the report could have explained those details more clearly.

In a subsequent report on Newsnight on 31 July 31 the programme reported the ongoing debate on the use of tools like The Block Bot, including the fact that some of those who are blocked by it object to their blocking. Again, no names were mentioned.

I hope this address your concerns. Thank you for taking the time to raise them with us.

Yours sincerely,
Paul Kettle
BBC Audience Services

There was also a follow up piece on Newsnight itself, which you can see here, though I suspect it will only work for UK-dwellers.

Obviously, when it comes to motive, I can only speak for myself and the people I have spoken with on this matter, but they appear to have completely missed the point of the complaints. The follow up piece claims that people on the lower tier of the list feel “harassed” for being blocked. Again, I can’t speak for everybody, but if I were that thin-skinned, I wouldn’t be on Twitter… or I’d be using Block Bot.

The problem stems from the fact that we (the people who complained) are on the list, and that the list was referred to as a “shared list of abusers”. This implies that the people on said list are abusive, rather than a good number of people who have just rubbed Atheism+ goons up the wrong way. The fact that nobody’s name was shown (although that’s not entirely true) is irrelevant. A person seeing that program who was previously unaware of the list has every reason to assume that anybody on there is abusive (if they take Newsnight at face value).

Other rebuttals by the bot’s creator that the program clearly states it was talking about one tier (the worst one) are also irrelevant. The list as a whole was referred to as a “shared list of abusers”. The fact that there are tiers doesn’t change the fact that the program implies everybody on that list is abusive to some degree or another. Unlike the folks of the FreeThoughtBlogs and Atheism+, normal people have a certain bar for something to be considered abusive. The bottom tier of abusive is still abusive.


Now, being realistic, said creator of the bot isn’t at fault. He has never (to my knowledge) misrepresented the purpose of the bot, and we can’t be sure of how much editing took place in the interview. He’s an arse, but that’s not illegal. Some of the higher profile Block Bot alum may have cause to take legal action for the implication the BBC made, but the best us normal folk can probably hope for is an acknowledgement of our actual complaint, rather than a begrudged non-pology.

But, I’ll be honest, I don’t expect to see that, either.

14 thoughts on “The BBC Newsnight Debacle (Block_Bot)

  1. Yo de ti llamaría porque ayer me llamaron para decirme que no se podía hacer la portabilidad. Ni si quiera me dieron una razón porque dicen que a ellos no les dan explicaciones :-/La semana que viene tengo que pasarme por una tienda Yoigo a ver si me lo pueden solucionar. Yo creo que se han visto superados por la demanda y están tumbando muchas poiilbtardades. Muy mala gestión por parte de Yoigo.

  2. RE: – RE: – I read this three times and still trying to understand what exactly you meant to say here, Dave? I am not the smartest cookie in a jar, with IQ of only 130, but you really make me feel stupid, Dave. – Rate this comment: 2  1

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