Sunday, 29 December 2013

This Was Philosophical Comment 2013

Time once again to make a bit of a summary for this blog during a year which will soon end – last year's summary is here.

The trend mentioned last year of a seemingly (after my recovery from illness) continuously increasing popularity (in terms of reads) seems this year to have initially continued and then leveled out somewhat after last year's extremely positive surge. The monthly figures have in 2013 been residing rather steadily between over 6 000 and over 9 000 reads, with 9 549 as the top figure for September and today the total number of reads ever passed 188 000. There will, however, be a notable dip in reads for this the last month of the year, as with a few days left the figure is still only at slightly more than 3 600 (click the image to see a larger version).

I have also noticed a tendency of a less secured minimum number of monthly hits during autumn, although I've had a few posts that have attracted more than the average attention to make for good monthly figures in the end. A main explanatory factor for this development, as it seems, is that Blogger has chosen to move its Blogs of Note page, where Philosophical Comment has been featured and thus widely displayed at the top since August 2012, into archive mode, favouring instead the increasing integration with the Google+ platform and its blog function. During the year, I've also – albeit with some reluctance due to my dislike of the increasing dominance of Google and what that means to make for a less dynamically evolving internet – finally chosen to integrate Philosophical Comment with Google+, although much remains to be done on that front to have impact on read numbers. I have to say, I do prefer to have the quality and attraction of posts to determine readership over strategic marketing tricks like these. But I can't deny the world around me, so here we are, we'll see next year if I managed to conjure the energy to maximize exposure in this new environment, or found the time and inspiration to post more regularly.

So, over to the posts themselves. This is the all time high statistics of the blog so far (click the image to see a larger version):

Compared to last year, some significant changes have occurred. First, after several years at the top, the WikiLeaks piece is now third, with my musings over various less impressive sides of the new online landscape of academic publishing is at the top. There are still a few posts connecting to my comments on the many strange moves connecting the the management of the American Journal of Bioethics up there, but as that affair is now a thing of the past, I expect these to gradually be pushed down and eventually off the list by fresher and more relevant material. A few posts that made last year's all time high list have been so pushed off, to be replaced this year by a rather sarcastic piece commenting on a scandalous and eventually officially declared unlawful police registry of roma people in south Sweden, a lament over my academic colleague Adrienne Ash, who sadly passed away this year, a brief pointer to a post by my colleague Udo Schuklenk on his Ethx Blog regarding how to reason around the idea of a military intervention in Syria and, finally, a cross post and referral to a nicely indexed eminent series of posts on moral responsibility, free will and such matters by John Danaher on his Philosophical Disquisitions blog. Not that John really needs the assistance, but I'm nevertheless happy to have been able to thus helped a few people find their way to one of the better philosophy blogs around. Off the list fell, most notably, my comment on how to assess the possible criminal insanity of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. It may also be noted that while last year it took about 650 reads to make the list, a post this year needs to get above 840, another indication that the leveling out of reads numbers mentioned above has more to do with a less stable minimum than decreased numbers of the top hits of this blog.

Finally, as tradition dictates, a look at the geographic source of the total readership (click the image to see a larger version):

The USA readership is increasing its dominance further, and in all the main reader of Philosophical Comment continues to be anglophone or European, although China has this year made the top ten country of reader list. The full span of the geographic home of readers, however, is better displayed by this image from the ClustrMap function attached to this blog (where larger red markings indicate a larger concentrated number of unique readers of the blog – click the image to see a larger version):

This function displays statistics starting later than Blogger's own, and also counts only unique hits on the entire site (thus not number of readers of individual posts or number of reads). As you can see, Philosophical Comment has a notable readership also in South America, Asia and, albeit still weaker, throughout Africa. Go here to inspect the numerical relations in more detail!

So, that's it. As usual, I wish to thank all you people who read Philosophical Comment, who follow the blog in the various ways available, who comment on the posts, like them on Facebook and other places, +-click, tweet, cross-post and refer to them in other ways. A happy new year and a very best 2014 to you all!

Friday, 13 December 2013

An Extremely Loudmouthed Very Minor Minority: Anonymous Racist Net-haters Exposed in Sweden

The last week or so, the big news in my country has been the reporting in daily tabloid Expressen of the result of the independent Research Group's unmasking of the most active and organized online "net-haters" on various racist or semi-racist or "nationalist" internet fora – a phenomenon I discussed from a moral psychological point of view in a former post. The messages of the haters convey a rich collection of completely unrestrained, inconsiderate or even mildly civil language, open blatant racism, many statements about the need for using fire arms as a reaction to current Swedish immigration policy. And, of course, countless attacks of a similar sort on people who openly question their views  or those of our own little new-racist party, the Sweden Democrats (for my take on the European new-racist political movement se the series of posts linked to here), inciting to violence and, in the case of a 16-year old girl who dared express opposition, organized rape. All under the prescious protection of a perceived online anonymity.

English coverage of this news is here and here. The Swedish reports of Expressen are here, here and here (with many further links to comments, particular analyses, debate and so on) and further comments can be found here, here and here, just to mention an extreme few of a lot of domestic news reporting. The analyses from the Research Group itself can be accessed via their webpage "Avkodat", i.e. Decoded. The unmasking itself was apparently done without any sort of illegal hacking, it is reported. Rather, the Research Group used modern, smart approaches to effectively assemble and analyze publicly available information, albeit apparently some of this information was public due to a security flaw of the Disqus online community service. I'm unsure, however, of how significant that particular aspect was in facilitating the unmasking.

The exposure of the identity of the net-haters first demonstrated a number of elected or otherwise public representatives of the Sweden Democrats, most of which immediately resigned or were forced out in accordance with the zero tolerance for racism policy that was proclaimed by the party's central leadership some years back and has resulted in the resignation or disappearance from public view of a great many people at all levels of the party. Further analysis has revealed that these and a rather small number of other people have been extremely active in various online debate fora in a way that can only be described as a consciously coordinated campaign, going on since many years, to the effect of creating the false impression of a change of public attitudes to immigration, etc. and to consistently and repeatedly terrorize and scare people who hold other views to keep them from voicing them publicly. Thus creating the false impression of the new-racist agenda as being in fashion, more widely accepted, and so on. In effect, the alleged "silent majority" that these sort of people love to hold themselves out as speaking for has turned out to be a cowardly and not even minimally civil or morally decent extremely small minority of loudmouthed extremists, lacking any sort of support among ordinary people and when exposed conveying loving character traits such as blaming their own children to have hijacked their computers. This, to me, is the most important result of the unmasking done by the Research Group and Expressen – this whole sense of a "nationalist", "racist" ideological wind having gotten hold of large portions of the population does not hold up to scrutiny. It's a marketing lie created by a very, very minor group of very unusual and extreme people under cover of supposed anonymity, but as all trolls exposed to the sun, when brought up in the daylight from their murky, foul dwellings, they burst just as well as that empty balloon of the image of public opinion they have been trying to create.

Now, Expressen choose to expose not only people holding public or political office, but also some of the other most active of the haters without any such formal ties to any party or organization. This created a small burst of criticism on press-ethical grounds. It's one thing, the argument went (expressed for instance by Ulf Bjereld, a professor of political science at my university) to expose public figures in this way, that's like catching officials taking bribes, or criticising political representatives for furthering a double agenda. But to expose "ordinary persons" who are not formally representing a political party or holding a public office is more problematic. The editor in chief of Expressen, Thomas Mattsson, has replied in a way making it obvious that he is aware of the press-ethical problem as such, but has made another judgement than Bjereld.

In this debate, in spite of being generally rather critical of what I see as an often much too eager willingness of the press to identify individuals, I side with Mattsson. Bjereld's argument rests solely on the assumption that being a public figure has to be defined in rigid, formalistic terms such as being an elected politician. I rather hold that the relevant questions are, first, if the person is a public figure and, second, to what extent the dissemination of the information is in the public interest. These two criteria together, due to the circumstances described earlier mean: (a) that the most active of the net-haters have, by their own conscious actions and fully aware of acting in the public domain, made themselves into public figures (these are not your average Joe shooting of an ill-considered comment in a forum or discussion thread now and then), (b) the result of the totality of their coordinated (I'm not saying planned, I don't assume a conspiracy here) actions are of the utmost importance from a public perspective by creating widespread false impressions influencing democratic and public discourse. Observe, also, that Expressen's exposure in no way curtails these people's freedom of speech or opinion or expression or somehow punishes or condemns them or in any other way undermines what may be seen as democratically important values. It simply reports about an issue of large national and principal democratic importance, in which said people have by their own free actions chosen to implicate themselves. Now, what this means is, of course, that I also agree with Bjereld that there is a limit to what level of identification of those active under anonymity in these fora would be press-ethically justified. But just as in the case of other publication decisions, the determination of that boundary is not done by assuming an arbitrarily chosen rigid formalist criterion of the sort suggested by Bjereld.