As you all know, the last few months have been a time of intense growing pains, figuratively, for this blog (and literally, for me, as I’m growing a human and all). I’ve been struggling with what I want FFF to be, both in terms of tone and intention. My conclusion is that it is firstly a place for support, and secondly, a place for debate and discussion. These two purposes are almost equally important (much like the dual nature of breasts, when you think about it), but I need to ensure that the “support” part takes center stage. It was the reason I started this blog – because I had no support when I was struggling – and I don’t want to lose that.
Out of concern for the discussion/debate part, however, I had adopted a “no censorship” policy (other than extreme profanity or spam); I wanted the blog to encourage intelligent discourse on a heated subject. And other than a few instances when things got a bit mean-spirited, I’ve been impressed by the lack of truly offensive material that has been posted here, especially considering the circumstances. Plus, the vitriol has always been directed at me, not at my readers or those that comment here, so I’m okay with that. I chose this path, knowing full well that I would not be Miss Popularity because of it.
And then came Alan.
I won’t rehash the past few months since his arrival on FFF, except to say that I’ve had numerous discussions with long-time readers about how to handle him; the consensus has always been that he is offensive and tiresome. But lately, I’d been feeling like we’d all come to accept Alan as part of the FFF landscape; he seemed to be behaving like a rational human being, for the most part, and occasionally contributing something of interest or relevance to the discussion. Worst case, he was like my current infestation of ants; not fun, occasionally distracting and inconvenient, but you learn to live with it.
However, on this post, I thought he started creeping into dangerous territory once again. You can see how I responded in the comment thread; I also added a caveat to my all’s-fair-in-love-and-war comment policy about keeping this a place of support.
I was helping FC put his shoes on after our MyGym class this afternoon, getting ready to head to our local farmers’ market with some friends, when I saw the telltale red flash on my Blackberry. It was a message from Alan, which changed the game, altogether.
I’ve informed him that I am posting the exchange here. I’ve also responded to his last email, only on the blog, because an attorney friend advised me to treat him as a threat and ignore his emails (although I won’t be deleting them as I stated to him in my haste, since they could be used as evidence if this harassment continues).
I wanted to expose this person for who he is, and then ask for input. Did he cross the line in such a way that supersedes my desire to refrain from censorship? I’m curious how you all think I should handle this, since this blog is your space too, and I want to make sure it stays a safe, warm, and open environment. I don’t see Alan as being conducive to that environment, but I also hate to censor… so what would you do?
Email #1: From Alan
I sense that with your new posted policy and your recent comments, you are reconsidering your no-censorship policy. If so, I would suggest you reconsider your reconsideration. If you go that route, you can guarantee I will be on you like a tick on a dog, following you to sites where you go to present your opposing views (like this one), and I’ll be sure to highlight your hypocrisy, not to mention the irony of calling yourself “fearless”. Call it “mutual assured destruction”. 😉
Sure, you could still continue to be the unchallenged grand poobah behind your walled garden; but wouldn’t that be a pyrrhic, hollow victory? I’d say you have more influence by having the freedom to go around and dissent on others’ blogs, without being undermined by the embarrassment of it being revealed that you’re throwing stones from a glass house.
Let’s be clear: I’m not trying to blackmail you into doing anything in particular (other than letting my comments get posted as always). I’m just pointing out the consequences if you take the “nuclear option”.
Email #2: From the FFF (sent via Blackberry as my kid tries to get my attention by throwing his blueberries on the floor while other mothers look on in horror):
You are a tyrannical, immature excuse for a human being. Just to be clear. And I will not have you attacking any of my readers. I have been perfectly reasonable, allowing your comments, despite numerous pleas to do otherwise. I’m not asking much from you, except for a little common blog ettiquette, especially considering the sites that have decided to disallow your comments. I have never been disrespectful on other blogs as you have been, in fact I take great pains not to be like you-so your threats don’t scare me. You must be a really insecure man to spend the vast amount of your time getting off on harrassing women on the internet. Keep those comments coming, but you better believe I will change my comment policy to “no censorship with one exception, alan thomas, for the following reasons, etc etc”, including these threats. I will also be posting this email and my response on the blog tonight, just fyi.
Email #3: From Alan:
–Yes, I’ve been banned from other sites. In almost every case, it was because I cited the statistics (which can now be found on the AAP breastfeeding statement, though they were not at the time) showing that formula feeding is associated with significantly increased infant mortality. This was seen aomething that was just absolutely taboo, despite the inconvenient fact that it is a reputable scientific finding (whether you dispute it or not). To your credit, you never acted as though this could not be mentioned (though maybe the fact that the AAP has it in their statement now is part of that?).
–I’m sure in fairness, you’re going to post your email to me, in which you call me a “tyrannical, immature excuse for a human being” (tyrannical? I’m not the one trying to censor someone) and accuse me of “spend[ing] the vast amount of [my] time harrassing(sic) women on the internet” Then I’m sure you’ll also find equivalent examples of where I’ve similarly insulted you or anyone else for that matter. Oh wait, there aren’t any! Even referring to Brooke’s “venom” is far milder than the above.
–I’m sure also in your comment policy explanation of “alan thomas, for the following reasons” you’ll be sure to: (a) not post any out-of-context statements I’ve made that I later said I regretted/apologised for, without also posting the apology. And you’ll post the comment I linked to, in which you called the blog post “insulting and misleading”, not to mention “cruel and counterproductive”, and let people judge it side by side with the one you cited in your recent comment. I’m sure no one would think that you were way more on the attack in your comment than I was in mine, oh heavens no.
–And speaking of context, I’m also sure you wouldn’t neglect to point out that you had a longtime reader of your blog leave because she thought “you lot” were being “mean girls”; nor would you fail to note that despite it not fitting so well into your narrative of my goal being to “harass women on the internet”, at the same time all the bickering has been going on I’ve been posting supportive comments about the need for more awareness of lactation failure, and even linking to a story about a longtime lactivist who is now formula feeding.
Because you do have some integrity, don’t you? I always thought so, anyway.
(not sent as an email):
To answer your questions:
Actually, the sites I’m referring to have nothing to do with formula feeding.
Yes, I will be posting the emails verbatim. Typos and all.
I don’t see the need to pontificate on your being banned from the blog in my comment policy, because I don’t imagine anyone (besides you) will care very much. I can’t see myself ever banning anyone again; I will not be blocking individual comments, just one specific individual. If anyone is curious about your departure, I will direct them here; they are welcome to go back to whatever posts they want and draw their own conclusions. This is not the Alan Thomas blog, it’s the Fearless Formula Feeder; your presence or absence from here has a negligible effect on lactivism, breastfeeding, or formula feeding, which are the topics we cover (although I expect you are a big fan of negligible effects, considering your stance on these same issues). I’d also like to suggest, once again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record – why don’t you start your own blog? You have plenty to say. I realize it takes courage to put yourself out there and all, but it would really be an ideal solution. That way you could dole out whatever you want and people could respond in kind on your blog. That’s how this whole blogosphere thing works. It’s easy to start – just go to Blogger.com, and start writing.
Regarding the comment I made on Analytical Armadillo: I stand by what I said. The difference is that I made one or two comments, said my peace, and never returned to that blog. I didn’t see myself getting anywhere with that blogger; she has a right to express herself on her own personal blog, just as I have a right to respond – but other than that, it would just be nasty and counterproductive to stick around and harass her or her readers, who deserve a place to feel understood. THAT is what I’m referring to by “proper blog etiquette”.
Alan, your opinions are not the problem. My problem with you is that you have literally hijacked my blog. You write obscenely long comments, often having little to do with the post in question; pick apart tiny points that distract from the original purpose of the post; have copied & pasted lengthy discussion threads from other sites; and as I said previously, use the blog as your own personal soapbox, or taking a less insidious view, as a chat room forum. I know it’s a tough distinction, because the blog invites discussion, but you’re the only person who has ever had a problem understanding the different mediums.
On that note, this is my fundamental issue with you, and why I do wonder if it’s not in the best interest of the blog – and lactivism, for that matter, which in its purest, most altruistic form, I respect greatly (ie, Best For Babes, PhD in Parenting) – to block your comments. You mentioned Fifi’s departure, which was a situation that upset me greatly; made me question the nature of the blog, and my intentions with it – but ultimately, that was one individual, among many, and I learned a valuable lesson, which is that you can’t please everyone. (I’d also add that we never had any such drama on this board until you showed up, and brought out the worst in everyone with your behavior; another reason I struggled with my comment policy for the first time in the history of the blog, even though we’d endured some pretty intense attacks prior to your arrival). That incident was also behind my change in comment policy – as I explained, this should be a place of support, first and foremost, and if I feel that atmosphere will be threatened by a particular comment, I will have to consider denying it. Yes, it’s censorship, and I hate that it has to come to that. But I need to protect the nature of Fearless Formula Feeder. It has always been intended as a place of support for all women, regardless of background or infant feeding history. As long as you have come here to listen to others, and be listened to, in a sensitive, non-judgmental way, I applaud that. That doesn’t mean I won’t allow comments insulting the blog, or my intelligence, or my morals. But if someone is argumentative towards a woman who has come here and had the courage to voice unpopular opinions, or her darkest thoughts, then we’ve got a problem.
Some part of me actually thought your presence could be a good thing, in showing the ugliness that is extreme lactivism. On the other hand, I think it does a real injustice to the admirable women who are lactivists for the right reasons. I may not agree with them; they may make me irritable at times; but I have learned to respect them and admire them. I feel their conspicuous absence from what I’ve unaffectionately dubbed “The Alan Chronicles” speaks volumes. I feel it is insulting to them and their cause to have you held up as the only example of lactivism on this blog. That, in my opinion, is doing far more harm to your (assumed) cause than this blog could ever do.
Still, I wouldn’t have censored you, and wasn’t planning on it, until you crossed a line and threatened me in your email this evening. It is people like you who endanger free speech in our country by essentially trying to muffle those you don’t agree with. And before you throw that back in my face, I want to be crystal clear – my urge to ban you comes from your behavior, not from your opinions. I hope more people with opposing viewpoints would come on here and comment; I think I need to trust that they will see I’ve never banned anyone in the past, and will most likely never have to do again in the future, unless of course you come back using a pseudonym, which I wouldn’t put past you. I’ve never encountered anyone like you before, online or off; I believe in the inherent goodness in people, so I assume that most folks who come on here and stick around will do so out of genuine interest in an open exchange of ideas, not as some sort of masturbatory experiment.
Freedom of speech is great, but when there are Neo-Nazis spouting hate, or anti-gay groups hurling insults, I start wondering where we draw the line. I’m not sure integrity, in that sense, is worth sacrificing morality or better judgment. This is where I am left.
And that’s all, folks.
And thoughts from the peanut gallery?