The Lure of the Internet – for better or worse

As regular readers know, I was attempting to go on an indefinite hiatus in the New Year, but my resolve lasted less than a month.

The Ontario leadership changeover brought me back, but it could have been any number of things. For I find in this world of instant information gratification we not only develop an insatiable news thirst provided by the internet, but we also seem to need to touch bases with others about these issues.

Possibly it’s a news addiction. The internet not only enables that need but feeds it and eventually it develops a life of its own.

And so when we come to the topic of Tom Flanagan we witnessed the online implosion of a prominent academic’s career over the course of one day – due to his remarks about the viewing of child pornography.

We collectively gawked at the virtual train-wreck with shock and morbid curiosity.

Idle No More supporters attended Flanagan’s Feb. 27 lecture  and posed a rambling question to which Flanagan could have responded in any number of ways but he chose to play the role of Contrarian Professor. Unwittingly he stepped into the digital abyss as the whole exchange was recorded and uploaded to YouTube. (Notice how Levi Little Mustache cleverly disarms Flanagan’s defenses with the Ikea Monkey comment.)

The next day Twitter lit up with remarks of disgust and disbelief. Flanagan was tried in the Internet Court of Public Outrage and instantly sentenced to public humiliation and loss of employment.

Some columnists like Michael Taube have since reflected, and cited the need for context and clarification before pillorying the man. However Christy Blatchford brought out a side of this discussion I hadn’t considered before: that the Internet itself has forever changed the way child porn is manufactured and distributed:

Where decades ago those who harboured sexual fantasies involving children might trade in the shadows a handful of well-worn pictures ripped from mail-order catalogues, the web has changed everything about child pornography, as it has about so much else...

She goes on to describe how the ‘system’ works today and it is not a pretty picture.
And so we witness and weigh the trashing of one man’s career and reputation against our own feelings of moral outrage and instant ability to vent them.

Did Tom Flanagan deserve this virtual tar and feathering?

I have no answer for that. I only know that the Internet and social media make it all so easy.

*   *   *   *

Update

Megathanks to Gabby for a link to this comment at SDA by Jason Michael Hastings who was at the event:

…At 7:45 pm the floor was opened up to a question and answer period. Up to this point, the lecture had gone like any other. Once the q/a period began the rabble rousers of the audience made their presence known for the next two hours. Talks like these usually attract about 20-40 listeners in Lethbridge, from my past experiences. The q/a period goes on for about 30 minutes. A question usually takes 30 seconds to two minutes to present with a two to five minute response.

The night Flanagan spoke the room was filled to capacity, perhaps 120 people. There were people from Calgary who drove down to attend. 60% or so were Native, not typical demographic representation, and 80% pro Idle No More supporters. For the next two hours the “audience” controlled both the question and answer portions of the period. The atmosphere turned from academic presentation to town hall forum airing of emotionally driven grievances. Very few were interested in what Flanagan had to offer. Some so called questions took up 15 minutes of time. In many instances, Flanagan was treated like the PM and accused of all sorts of things and was even attacked personally. The audience booed, hissed, and hollered over each other in attacking Flanagan for the two hour q/a period. Towards the end it was visible that he was frustrated, worn out and tired. It is in this context that the child pornography comments need to be placed...

This entry was posted in Crime, Ethics, Law & Justice, Twitter, YouTube. Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to The Lure of the Internet – for better or worse

  1. Liz J says:

    Interesting Editorial in the Ottawa sun today: “Not the time to turn the Page”.
    I tend to agree with it. For the Government not to re-hire or replace Kevin Page would not look good.

  2. Liz J says:

    Oops, my apologies, didn’t mean to comment OFF TOPIC on this new thread!

  3. Richco says:

    Very good post Joanne.
    In the rush for headlines and “gotcha” journalism, context is all too often lost. It happens in every form of media and can be found in large markets and smaller ones.
    Sometimes the Internet and social media ramp up that feeling of act/comment now, think later.
    Is anyone really safe when they comment on social media anywhere? I personally don’t believe so. Internet and what’s on it is forever and can come back to haunt us in ways we haven’t thought of yet.

    • Joanne says:

      Thanks Richco.

      In the case of Tom Flanagan, I wonder if he knew he was being recorded? In any case his remarks were not well thought-out nor well-expressed.

      • Richco says:

        Right next to Blatchford’s column is another one that’s worth a read by Andrew Coyne entitled “Top Court Passes the Hate-Speech Buck” (looking at a hardcopy). It’s Coyne’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision on hate-speech this week.

        Taken with Blatchford’s column it too touches on the effects of social media and the Internet on free speech. Actually there’s a bit of cross over between Coyne’s column and Blatchford’s.
        Coyne ends his column with this: “..we need not be actually jailing someone to see how speech might easily be suppressed, in the fevered times we live in. A case in point was provided this week by the firestorm over comments by Tom Flanagan, the prime minister’s former advisor. I offer no defense for the content of his remarks: there is none, in my view. In a way, his sin was the reverse of the court’s: If the court was too willing to ban speech without evidence of harm, Mr. Flanagan was unwilling to ban it even where the harm, as in child pornography, is self-evident.

        But for goodness sake. He was not engaged in making child pornography. He did not council others to make it. He offered a mistaken assessment of where and when criminal sanctions ought to apply to it: mistaken, eccentric even repugnant. But that’s all it was. Unlike the Court, he is in no position to impress his views on the rest of us.”

        • Joanne says:

          Interesting comparison Richco. And thanks for taking one for the team by reading Coyne’s column and giving us that info. I find him just a bit too wordy and arrogant but he does write the odd good piece.

  4. fh says:

    here are some quotes I lifted from Bearsrant and I recommend everyone visit his blog I found it helpful in understanding my feelings
    “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Noam Chomsky ( I am not familiar with this man )
    “Freedom of Speech does not protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit.” Jim C. Hines ( I am not familiar with this man)
    “Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as Public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.” Benjamin Franklin
    I found the Bear wrote a profound well thought out post and well worth your time to visit and read
    turn down your volume before visiting as he has a music video playing can be turned off right lower corner

    • Richco says:

      I think Wynne’s up to her eyeballs in all of this boondoggle. She’s all for hearing herself talk but she’s all platitudes and fluff.

      Here’s another good Ontario related column from today’s NP. Also a good read.
      http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/03/01/scott-stinson-now-kathleen-wynne-knows-why-dalton-mcguinty-quit/

    • Richco says:

      “Ontario faces an unpredictable (and expensive) energy future that will dwarf the sunk costs of those cancelled gas plants. MPPs are bitterly divided on those questions, and aren’t in a hurry to answer them. More on that in coming columns.”
      The most important statement in Cohn’s piece IMO.
      In the National Post article there’s a paragraph that goes in to the bigger picture of just how much trouble Ontario is in re: energy….thanks to the deals made by the McGuinty government. I tried to highlight that paragraph but it’s not working for me.

      • Martin says:

        If the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is admitting that power rates are $200 m more then they should be under current FIT tariffs, I think we can assume the figure is more than double that amount. Other organizations have predicted this scenario and put the figure much higher.
        When even papers like the TorStar are writing critically on Liberal policy on renewable energy, I think that Wynne has a problem that goes far beyond any communication strategy that she has lined up so far as a solution. The entire GEA is being shown to be detrimental to Ont energy needs.

        • Joanne says:

          Martin, I agree. I think Wynne was selected as leader by her party because of her background as a negotiator, but that isn’t going to solve our fiscal and energy problems. She loves the word “conservation” but that just isn’t going to cut it in the real world. I don’t give this government much more time. Ontarians are finally realizing what a bill of goods they’ve been sold.

          • Richco says:

            Well this is interesting for two reasons; 1) of course Wynne may out fundraise her opponents if she’s got the unions feeding the kitty. 2) Hudak and the PCs have had a very good week in and outside of the leg. IMO. I think that’s the reason for this column to be honest.

            I did wonder a bit about the quote by Ciano re: the internal memo re: holding back campaign financing, but I understand it. I just hope the PCs can afford the election that they’re calling for. The memo. and this article muddies those waters. Which I believe is the intention.

  5. Gabby in QC says:

    Joanne said: “I only know that the Internet and social media make it [tarring & feathering] all so easy.”
    And that is what is so surprising about Tom Flanagan’s off-the-cuff comment in that university setting. How could he be so naive as to think his comment wouldn’t have far-reaching reverberations and that someone wouldn’t consider recording his comments, even if they were limited to the topic of the lecture (aboriginal issues)? He should have known there would be people inimical to his POV on those issues in the audience.

    • Joanne says:

      Gabby, I agree that Flanagan was incredibly naive. He should have realized he was being set up and measured his words more carefully.

      • Gabby in QC says:

        That’s why it’s so surprising from such a usually astute political observer.
        But it’s an example of the usual “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” scenario. Politicians and public figures in the political sphere, especially and almost exclusively conservative ones, are usually accused of not being transparent, of being vague, of not answering questions, of relying on talking points … yet the minute they stray from their text, wham! It’s off with their heads!

        I think it would have been fairer for the CBC, which has used Flanagan’s services for a number of years, to have had the decency to allow him to appear on the Power Panel, perhaps alone, to explain himself. Instead, we got Evan Solomon’s expression of outrage and the CBC’s statement:
        “… While we support and encourage free speech across the country and a diverse range of voices, we believe Mr. Flanagan’s comments to have crossed the line and impacted his credibility as a commentator for us.”

  6. Gabby in QC says:

    On the issue of freedom of expression itself …
    I don’t know how Tom Flanagan might argue the so-called harmlessness of viewing child pornography. Maybe he would tie it into other controversial pictures, like the Danish cartoons. I don’t know, he might refer to scholarly works on the subject. His original 2009 comment at another university setting, coupled with the one two days ago, shed little light on his thinking on the matter.

    However, from my non-scholarly perspective, it is my impression that absolute free-speechers (like Tom Flanagan ? and other libertarians, be they on the left like Chomsky or on the right) might argue that it is wrong to self-censor for fear of offending. Well, IMO, freedom of speech is not absolute. I think some have mistakenly interpreted the original notion of free speech (freedom to express opposition against a potentially oppressive government, part of the US Bill of Rights adopted back in 1791) with the ability to say anything, no matter how vile, in any situation — the so-called right to offend.

    • Richco says:

      typical NDPQ fh. They don’t even know who their competition IS in Quebec. Hint. It’s not the Conservatives. This is too funny. I’m pretty sure Stephen’s just shaking in his boots….not!

  7. ed says:

    The NDPQ have been sending brochures to Quebec households for over a year. What they do is attack PM Harper on everything just like the Bloc has been doing for years. No brochures coming from the Conservatives or the Liberals during the same period.

  8. Gabby in QC says:

    Still on the matter of Tom Flanagan’s comment … read Jason Hastings’ (March 2, 2013 1:41 AM) explanation over at SDA of what transpired during that lecture a few nights ago; it sheds some light on the event. http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/archives/free-tom-flanag.html#comment-803844

    • Joanne says:

      That’s a fascinating link, Gabby. It really does support my theory that Flanagan was ‘set up’ and worn down to the point where he made a badly-explained statement.

      I wonder why he didn’t just shut down the whole Q&A period when he saw the hostility of the audience. He must have been either naive or stubborn. (Adrienne Batra makes a similar point here.)

      BTW another great comment here at SDA by Patrick B.

  9. ed says:

    Interesting article on censorship by Pierre Bourgault, the late Quebec separatist:

    Fight against evils, don’t censor them.

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19841117&id=ln0xAAAAIBAJ&sjid=o6UFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4304,2866597

  10. old white guy says:

    i think i agree with your internet comments. i am a political/information junkie. before the internet i read numberous newspapers and other publications. today i am finding that much of what i encounter is beyond stupid and it is starting to annoy me. i also would like to take a break from the net. net seems to be a word that applies, once in it it is difficult to get out. intellectual giants such as fanagan hold no interest for me and it is depressing to think that anyone anywhere would think child porn or the viewing of such would be acceptable. freespeech on the other hand is being curtailed in canada and that has to stop. time to throw a little notwithstanding at the scoc.

    • Joanne says:

      i also would like to take a break from the net. net seems to be a word that applies, once in it it is difficult to get out.

      Exactly. You can try to uplug for a while but in the back of your mind you’re always wondering what you’re missing. Meanwhile real life can pass you by.

  11. Liz J says:

    There’s one thing that links to all the media hysteria over anything perceived to be a gotcha that might lead to the big gotcha,the core of which is the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper. Never has there been such obsession with a PM in my memory, he can barely breath without sparking negative comments. Never mind he’s doing a good job keeping us afloat when even our Southern neighbour is flailing in debt, that’s too good to speak of, it’s a positive when only negativity makes the news.

    Can anyone name more than one Liberal senator who is being investigated?

  12. Martin says:

    I am saddened that Tom Flanagan’s distinguished career as an author, political commentator and advisor ended on such a sour note. His intemperate remarks, which I’m sure he regrets, pretty well ensured that it would.
    I will miss him as designated conservative on CBC Power Panel. I only made sure to watch the panel when he appeared, if only to listen to his comments. Almost always I was in agreement with his views, and especially appreciated his flippant, off the cuff remarks. Similar remarks in a carefully scripted media world probably ensured that he would get into trouble at some time.
    He will be very hard to replace on the panel, as one always knew he was the conservative spokesman. For some of the others, it is not always easy to tell. Some days CBC doesn’t seem to bother with a token conservative.

    • Fay says:

      I will also miss Tom flanagan on Evan solomon’s Power and Politics panel. It did a great job of subtlety mocking the CBC. he forced Evan into discussing subjects by wearing a costume. I am sure Evan is very pleased to see the end of tom Flanagan.

      • Jen says:

        CBC owes Flanagan some support or else Flanagan can and will use CBC against themselves. CBC didn’t hire Flanagan to talk positively about the PM. No siree, CBC hired him to speak negatively.
        CBC uses people to speak against the government as well at canadians.

    • Joanne says:

      I will miss Tom Flanagan too. I wonder if CBC might consider asking Ian Lee to replace him? Not exactly a conservative pundit but he sure does have a good media presence and business smarts.

      • Martin says:

        One of TV great moments was when Flanagan told Solomon he was a climate change denier, Solomon got so flustered he almost swallowed his notes, and went to a commercial break.

        Tim Powers is a good commentator, makes the conservative point in an affable manner, seems to be respected by the others. Perhaps he could be a replacement.

  13. Richco says:

    O/T – Ontario politics. Hudak had a stellar week last week. Even though one of his motions was defeated in the house, the whole PC team was on point all week.

    Wynne? Not so much. She’s still speaking in platitudes and hoping that she can talk her way out of McGuinty’s legacy. She can’t.

    Here’s a pretty good piece on how Hudak’s turning things around.
    http://www.torontosun.com/2013/03/02/tom-flanagans-career-killing-comments-on-child-pornography

  14. Gabby in QC says:

    Re: the Tom Flanagan affair:
    In the past, I’ve expressed doubts about the value of apologies. To me, they seem to equal
    1. bending to pressure to avoid further piling-on from one’s adversaries.
    2. a somewhat vague admission of guilt demanded by the inflamed court of public opinion.
    3. a conformity to standards set & espoused by the very adversaries one is trying to fight.

    Tom Flanagan has been described by his friends as a fervent defender of individual liberty and that is the gist of his comments on viewing child pornography: that “people should not be jailed for their taste in pictures.” That is why I think Tom Flanagan should NOT have issued an apology, especially through CBC. What he should have asked for is a ten-minute segment with Evan Solomon to explain his POV.

    Let me state unequivocally that I disagree with Tom Flanagan’s comment on viewing child pornography, i.e. as he expressed it in that off-the-cuff remark. I also generally disagree with libertarians’ POV on free speech and freedom of expression. I believe there are limits to free speech, limits which ideally should be self-imposed rather than by governments. However, I would expect everyone, especially those who present themselves as standing among the compassionate tolerant progressive ranks, i.e. those who “get it” like Evan Solomon often says, to allow Tom Flanagan a hearing before dumping him on a heap of perverts.

    • Joanne says:

      What he should have asked for is a ten-minute segment with Evan Solomon to explain his POV.

      Absolutely. And I bet once things calm down a bit he may seek out a non-partisan venue to express what he was thinking. At least that is my hope.

      • Gabby in QC says:

        The thing is … what is considered a “non-partisan venue” anymore? Unless Tom Flanagan decides to start a blog. He apparently was scheduled to retire — prior to this incident — from the U of C at the end of June, so maybe a blog would be a good venue for him to express his POV on many topics.

        You know, he was presented as the “conservative” spokesperson on P&P, but he more than once disagreed with Harper Government public policy positions. For instance, on legalizing pot, which is another favourite among some libertarians on either side of the political spectrum.

        I wonder about Alyse Mills, the blonde lady who recently joined some Power Panel discussions. So far, I’ve found her articulate in presenting the conservative POV but I read something here which sowed some seeds of doubt. I frankly don’t remember how I got to that article yesterday, but this surprised me:
        « “… as a Conservative I don’t support going through Great Bear. Tankers down there frighten me,” said Alyse Mills, a former longtime federal Liberal who joined the Tories a year ago. »
        Yet the lady on the PP often refers back to the Reform Party. So who IS Alyse Mills? Or do I have her name wrong?

  15. Bubba Brown says:

    Mr Flanigan should explain his thinking on that remark.
    It sounds like a pile on of epic porportions, tired, fed up and being talked over for 2 hours by a partisan crowd is certainly a factor.
    Did Mr Flanigans former proximety to the PM made this crowd want a punching bag.
    Natives don’t much like Mr Flanigan.

    Interesting about the “net effect” Jo.
    It is somewhat addictive to know what is going on, we certainly would not be well informed if our news came from the networks.
    If we did not tune in would we miss something?
    Probably.
    The so called leadership race of the Liberanos is a case in point.
    So many storys within storys, the son of a former PM running against his fathers mistress, sounds like Italy.
    Bunga bunga.
    Justin Trudeau is the third Liberal I have heard say that Canadians need to get to know him better.
    Mr Dion and Mr Ignatieff said the same, the former could not sell us his green shift.
    The latter high speed rail between TO and Montreal and universal day care.
    They don’t appear however to want to hear our concerns, and needs.
    Liberals always want to give us peons something we never asked for and don’t need.
    I am glad to see you back Jo, the politicians all need to be watched very carefully.
    Mr Muclair having defined the oil patch as a disase is contemplating “Housing” for the needy.
    I guess he could call it the “Muclair MacMortgage Co” what could go wrong…………..
    He reportedly has loads of experience with mortgages.
    We have to keep watching Joanne.
    Besides the bastards are entertaining.

    • Richco says:

      “If we did not tune in would we miss something?
      Probably.”

      In the traditional sense and with traditional media we may miss something, but I have found that those who are interested enough usually have a varied sources for their information. Those who aren’t interested and never pay attention likely don’t miss anything at all.

      Wasn’t Pierre Sr. split from Maggie before Ms. Coyne came in to the picture?
      Mistress may not be the correct term.

      • Sandy says:

        Pierre was already in his late 60s/early 70s when he had the affair with Coyne. Margaret was married to someone else or might even have been divorced to her 2nd husband by then.

        So, Coyne was his girlfriend, ladyfriend, paramour, companion, whatever. Mistress is when the lady gets all her living and personal expenses paid. LOL And, that certainly would not describe Deborah. A lawyer and very independent from what I understand. She knew he would never marry her and yet she was okay with that.

  16. fh says:

    O/T
    the opposition is convinced that the Conservative Government of Canada is doing nothing on the Environment this report seems to prove that they are doing much and much more needs to be done
    http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_cesd_201212_03_e_37712.html

  17. Bubba Brown says:

    Right you are Richco! The Trudeaus divorced in ’84 and Pierre’s only daughter was born in ’91.
    Perhaps “baby mother” would have been more correct.
    Anyway spring has come to Qualicum!
    The herring Fleet is in! tide is out! scroll down for Qualicum beach cam
    http://www.visitparksvillequalicumbeach.com/cms.asp?wpID=480
    I cut the lawn for the first time and I resolve to walk my little dog more than I blog.
    Will keep reading though.
    Pounded a couple of chicken breasts thin add ham, pesto, mustard and gran padano.
    roll’em up! egg wash and panco crumbs , salt ,pepper, garlic and smoked paprika woo hoo !

    • Sandy says:

      Oops Bubba. I didn’t see your reply.

    • Martin says:

      Thanks everyone for the definition, I hadn’t realized the nuance involved,
      I was really focused more on the description of Coyne relative to Justin: Step companion? What is the proper term? Does indeed seem like Italy.
      All leadership candidates other than Trudeau have a low profile, but Ms Coyne is totally ignored by the media.

    • Joanne says:

      Cut the lawn?? We still have snow up to our knees here.

  18. ed says:

    Garneau issued a challenge to Trudeau for a one on one debate, what happened to that? Never heard a word sense. If the Liberals had brains, they’d go with Garneau. Trudeau makes Iggy look good. LOL

    Is there any possibility that Flanagan’s comment was not what he really believed?? Sometimes we make flippant remarks when we are tired. We do not really mean them the way they sound. Sometimes it’s just a stress releasing comment. I think we all do this at times. So maybe the culprit was his tiredness. As we get older, it’s probably more likely for that to happen. Nonetheless, we must take responsibility for what comes out of our mouth. On the other hand, if he meant what he said, I totally disagree with his point of view. In my view, nothing is more sacred than our children.

  19. ed says:

    Yeah, we have snow everywhere as well. Bubba knows how to rub it in. LOL

  20. Joanne says:

    As I mentioned earlier in this comment thread to Gabby, Tom Flanagan is speaking out in the print edition of today’s National Post. The piece is entitled, “The Quality of Mercy”.

    If anyone can find a link please post it here. Thanks.

  21. Pingback: Let he who is without sin… | Blue Like You

  22. ed says:

    “Never heard a word sense.”

    Correction: never heard a word since. — just proved my point about “as we grow older.” :-)

  23. Pingback: Joanne: Let he who is without sin… | Jack's Newswatch

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