No danger to free speech? the “Seismic shock” incident

NOTE: I revised this post, after further details became available.  I have now revised and updated it again.  I’m beginning to wonder whether this is about free speech at all.

I was idly reading a blog or two while downloading Cramer’s catena, and I stumbled across this, which excited me so much that I felt I had to write.

At 10am on Sunday 29th November 2009, I received a visit from two policemen regarding my activities in running the Seismic Shock blog. (Does exposing a vicar’s associations with extremists make me a criminal?, I wondered initially). A sergeant from the Horsforth Police related to me that he had received complaints via Surrey Police from Rev [Stephen] Sizer and from Dr Anthony McRoy – a lecturer at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology – who both objected to being associated with terrorists and Holocaust deniers. …

The sergeant made clear that this was merely an informal chat, in which I agreed to delete my original blog (http://seismicshock.blogspot.com/) but maintain my current one (http://seismicshock.wordpress.com). The policeman related to me that his police force had been in contact with the ICT department my previous place of study, and had looked through my files, and that the head of ICT at my university would like to remind me that I should not be using university property in order to associate individuals with terrorists and Holocaust deniers (I am sure other people use university property to make political comments, but nevermind).

Now I didn’t know any of the background about this.  Index on Censorship were also interested:

Blogger Seismic Shock, a Yorkshire-based student, received an alarming visit from local police late last year. Seismic … had been heavily critical of Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer on his blog, alleging that Sizer associated with Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites.

On 29 November, he received a visit from local police, who advised him to remove certain posts from his blog. The police officers maintained that this was an “informal chat”, but the blogger, understandably intimidated, agreed to remove his original Blogger site, while maintaining his WordPress blog.

Index on Censorship has made numerous attempts to contact West Yorkshire Police in order to clarify a) under what authority the blogger was visited by police and b) what potential breach of law had been commited by the blogger that warranted such a visit.

I am a non-combatant on the politics in all this.  Indeed it seems this is a matter of politics, pro- or anti-Israel.  But I am definitely a combatant on the idea that the police should come round “for a chat” with bloggers. 

Many people now know the techniques of “lawfare” piloted in Canada and ably documented by Ezra Levant.  It doesn’t matter whether the victim is actually found guilty.  The technique is to hound them through the courts, with endlessly drawn-out (and expensive!) “investigations”.  The process is the punishment.  In consequence, we may look with very nervous eyes at events such as these.  If the police are called out because of our views, who can be safe? 

I was angry, as most of us would be.  I decided to look into this a bit.

UPDATE: The police have now issued a statement:

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “As a result of a report of harassment, which was referred to us by Surrey Police, two officers from West Yorkshire Police visited the author of the blog concerned. The feelings of the complainant were relayed to the author who voluntarily removed the blog. No formal action was taken.

I have also been reading the Seismic Shock blog.  It’s somewhat distasteful.  The general impression is of a campaign of posts designed to smear Steven Sizer and Anthony McRoy, in order to intimidate them from expressing their own views.  This, of course, is also an attack on free speech.  (I am not a combatant either way on the political issues between the two sides).

I find myself torn.  A case of genuine harassment — of net-stalking — is a different matter from issues of free speech.

In the UK, only the rich can go to law.  Everyone else is basically without options.  If someone started a campaign of vilification against me, designed to intimidate me from expressing my views, I would have few options but to go to the police.  It seems that this may be what has happened here.  What else could Sizer and McRoy do?  Material pumping out on the web, designed and arranged to smear them, drip drip drip?

But … I am still uncomfortable with this.  Do we want bloggers being vetted by the police?  Yet, what do I do, if some anonymous swine sets up a hate site directed against me, and designed to ruin my reputation, cost me my job, my career, whatever?  What would you do?  Is this what we’re looking at?

I still don’t feel that we have got to the bottom of all the issues here.  But it is clearly more complex than I first thought.

UPDATE 2:  I’m beginning to get a very bad feeling about the claims about “freedom of speech” being deployed here.  The more I look into this, the more complex it looks.

All of us, I take it, are in favour of free speech online.  None of us are keen to have the police appear if we say something someone else doesn’t like.

But that doesn’t seem to be the issue.  The Seismic Shock blog ran a campaign targeting Sizer and McRoy personally, again and again and again.  Every post was “Anti-semite! Anti-semite!” and so on.  That’s not free speech; that’s intimidation.  The object, plainly, was to demonise these two men, and thereby silence them.  The comments added by others on these posts are often simply hateful.

I have not read through all this material.  A few I have seen, more or less accidentally.  Here he gloats that a sermon by McRoy has been removed by a church.  Here he quote mines that sermon with a lecture delivered in Iran, to accuse McRoy of hypocrisy, insinuating that McRoy shares Madhist views (when he knows that McRoy is describing how these people see themselves).  Here he sneers at McRoy for being polite about the Iranian despot whom he was forced to endure, plainly just out of malice.  Some at least of his allies do the same.  Here’s an example, posted today, in which Mr Sizer is demonized for the fact that some other site had pirated his book!

The funny thing is, I more or less share Seismic‘s views on Israel vs Palestinians.  But I do NOT share his idea that personal intimidation and abuse is a legitimate form of debate.  Still less do I endorse his attempts to ruin the careers of two blameless men whose only crime is to hold a political view — admittedly a mistaken one — with which he disagrees.  Shrieking “Nazi! Nazi!” is just as bad as shrieking “Jew! Jew!”, and indeed tends to be pronounced in the same way and for the same purposes. 

I am certainly in favour of free-speech.  I am NOT in favour of intimidation, or censorship by intimidation, as a means to stifle free-speech.  And the more I look, the more it looks to me as if we are all being scammed.

Did his victims do the only thing open to them, by going to the police and complaining of harassment?  The evidence was clear, and the material — which we have not seen — evidently grossly offensive; and the author made no attempt to defend it but backed down.

I would suggest everyone interested in free speech start looking at what Seismic Shock has been doing.  If I am right, he hasn’t been exercising free speech, but instead has been running a campaign of intimidation, designed to stifle the free speech of Sizer and McRoy. He’s been questioned because this was harassment, pure and simple, rather than a political offence. 

I could still be wrong.  But I have this bad feeling…

UPDATE 3 (26/01/2009): I’m still not sure about this, and have wavered again since I wrote yesterday.  I really, really do NOT want to see bloggers interfered with by the police.  Seismic’s posts may have been incessant but … were they harassment?  Were they intimidation?  Only one side is speaking here, so we must be sceptical.  But …. I don’t know.

A lot of those attacking Stephen Sizer are plainly doing so because they don’t like his politics.  Well, I don’t either; but that isn’t the issue, and it confuses the issue, for me anyway.  Dunno.

UPDATE 4 (26/01/2009): A comment abusing me personally has appeared below, and has been linked to with approval by Seismic.  It’s interesting to see this play out, and how each side behaves.

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76 thoughts on “No danger to free speech? the “Seismic shock” incident

  1. “The Seismic Shock blog ran a campaign targeting Sizer and McRoy personally, again and again and again. Every post was “Anti-semite! Anti-semite!” and so on. That’s not free speech; that’s intimidation.”

    Dear Roger,

    This is a very spirited defense of a man whose credentials you, I suggest, you haven’t troubled to look at. Before I went with my own post on the subject, I didn’t know about both participants in the squabble and spent some time reading blogs by both. Every fact presented by SS seems to be incontrovertible, leave alone his political credo and/or style (which could be sometimes a bit over the top). There is nothing libelous in SS’ writings. The pitiful retort by the pastor: “I have never knowingly…” shouldn’t deceive anyone.

    Now to the definition of “harassment”: The act of tormenting by continued persistent attacks and criticism.

    The pastor doesn’t stop his questionable activities. I don’t see any good reason for SS or anyone else to stop criticism. Besides, criticism of a blogger could be easily ignored.

    What couldn’t be ignored is the mere idea (fully realised by the vicar) to resort to police to stifle someone. Notice that one can imagine a reverse situation, when SS calls upon police services to stop the pastor disseminating some unseemly material – but he hasn’t done so.

    I have supported in the past the rights of anti-Israeli bloggers to publish free of censorship, and my scorn for the pastor doesn’t really relate to his political views, reprehensible as they might be. It is his actions that disgust me.

    And you may want to ruminate more on the fact that in UK police finds it normal to act on such a flimsy complaint. Something doesn’t smell right indeed, and it’s not SS.

    Regards.

  2. I do believe that Google cashe can show you material from the deleted blog. As a long-term reader of both seismic blogs in my opinion this was not net stalking, slander or a scam it was reporting what Sizer wrote, said, did and preached & reported on his blog and others (it only mentioned McRoy a few times).

    Sizer and McRoy are friends so we can ask who asked who to join them in the complaint. Seismic wrote about many other people and issues and was a prominant anti-BNP blogger, in fact Sizer hardly got a mention for more than six months before the police visit. Maybe Sizer was missing the oxygen of publicity seismic gave to him!

    This was not “designed to smear them”, it was holding them accountable to what they were saying and doing in public.

    Sizer promptly closed down the comments section on his blog over a year and a half ago when people started to interact with him directly about these issues. Not long after this Seismic Shock came on the scene and Sizer himself used to comment on the original blog, though none of his answers were satisfactory and he took the hump that Seismic would not meet him for a coffee and decided to smear seismic on his own blog claiming he was Israeli intelligence and various other people. Sizer even enlisted the help of an ex-military man calling himself “mordichai hacohen” to threaten seismic and this ex-military guy claimed on seismic’s blog comments section that he was hunting him down and sizer was paying him to do it!

    The fact that the blogger deleted the blog was simply the fact that he had two uniformed police officers in his house and he was still in his pyjamas feeling just a tad intimidated.

    So Roger I encourage you to think again, seismic does not shriek nazi nazi as an accusation to sizer, it questioned why a vicar would be so happy to continually share a platform with nazis, holocaust deniers, antisemites, Iranian profesional holocaust deniers, appear on Press TV the Iranian propaganda channel, go on a Hezbollah TV invite to Lebanon etc… There were in fact times when Seismic praised Sizer when he stood up for persecuted Christians in Iran. There really is more to this story than you have realised so far.

  3. Hi Snoopy,

    Well, I’m in this one accidentally. Someone shrieked “free speech online!” and “the police are stifling me!” and of course I took an interest. But I’m finding that the man who shouted “wolf” is intimidating free speech by others. You know, that changes my perspective on this.

    I defend the rights of any man who is being vilified in order to silence him, because I hope someone else would do the same for me, if the case arose. Wouldn’t you? Free speech, you know.

    Whatever his political views — which amount to no more than hostility to Israel (which is not a sensible position, I agree) — everyone has the legal right not to be harassed. If a man is friends with unpopular overseas groups, that is his choice. (In the case of Anthony McRoy, it isn’t even his choice — he has to be on reasonable terms with the Iranian despots because he is a scholar of Islam and they could make his job impossible very easily, which means saying a few platitudes). It is a free country, after all. Hey, we tolerate George Galloway, who used to flatter Saddam Hussein grossly.

    Demonisation of someone else is a deliberate choice, you know, and a nasty one. I don’t like that, whoever is the victim. A campaign of personal vilification is harassment, and that’s why the police got involved. And they did rightly. There’s no free speech issue in this, any more than if SS had circulated leaflets in the neighbourhood with this stuff.

    I’m only interested because the aggressor in all this, Seismic, yelled “free speech”, and of course I wanted to defend that. I care about that, as you do. But the trouble is that it looks as if the free speech issue is being abused.

    Yet in this country we really DO have a problem with free speech. There really IS a situation not far away when people will be visited by the police for what they say online. Dammit, I want us to save our firepower for when we are REALLY in danger, which will certainly happen very soon. Instead we’re all shrieking “wolf! wolf!” in a case where there is no danger. In fact SS is abusing the “free speech” defence to defend intimidation. That is WRONG.

    At least, that is how I read the situation. I don’t care much about the politics on either side, actually, only about the free speech issues. That’s why I don’t take much interest in the “But haven’t you seen that he is a vile Jew/Nazi/whoever..!!!” rhetoric. I don’t care much either way about that stuff. I care about free speech.

    Please … step aside from the politics, and look at what is happening here. Think about the free speech issue, not the politics. Once you remove the question of political agreement, we have someone attempting to silence his enemies. THAT is wrong.

  4. Aslan,

    Thanks for your note. Of course I don’t know the back history. I’m just looking at what is happening here and now.

    I know more about Anthony McRoy than I do about Stephen Sizer, because of my interest in Arabic Christianity, a field which overlaps with his area of work. He seems to be a good guy, and doing good work which is in the interest of us all (on both sides of the argument here). So when I see Seismic quote-mining a conference he went to in Lebanon — I went and looked at the online article, and read it all, so I saw the quote-mining — in order to vilify the guy, I wake up. I can’t see that as free speech; that’s demonisation.

    I know that McRoy has to keep on reasonable terms with the loonies out there, because otherwise he can’t work. That’s his job, to be a scholar on Islam, and he isn’t one of these wretched politically correct creatures either. He’s doing good work in finding out what Islam really is teaching on the ground now. So in his work, he has to be polite to people like Hezbollah. To demonise him for this, as if he were a Moslem-about-to-be-suicide-bomber… that’s really nasty. It’s hate. It’s harassment.

    I saw one post in which Seismic stated that he had posted many many times on McRoy. Would you care to be the subject of endless anonymous posts, designed to cast everything you do or say in the nastiest possible light? I wouldn’t! Hey, you’re posting under a pseudonym, Aslan — that says that you know this can happen, and that you really DON’T want that sort of treatment. Nor would I. And if it happened… what would you do? Wouldn’t you go to the police? What else could you do? If your job and your reputation and your livelihood were threatened by some scumbag posting endless stuff against you personally?

    Blogs targeting private individuals is a nasty business. That’s not free speech; that’s very close to hate, and it looks a lot like harassment.

    I know very little about Stephen Sizer, except that he clearly is an anti-Israel person. Well, I don’t agree with that position at all; but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether someone is allowed to speak his mind or not. Sizer is entitled to, without harassment. That is the law, that is right, that is what we should all want to see.

    There’s nothing wrong with documenting that various people are up to no good. On the contrary, that is in the public interest. It steps over the line when it becomes a personal vendetta against relatively unimportant and powerless people going about their daily lives in order to silence them. Surely?

    My interest is free speech. We need it, and we need a guarantee of this. That’s why we’re all excited.

    I still don’t like the police getting involved, tho. But … you know, Seismic posts anonymously. That is, he didn’t want to be held accountable for what he said. But he wants others to be?

    The censor, you see, seems to be Seismic, not Sizer.

    Of course I may have all this quite wrong. But … there’s more to this, I am sure.

  5. Regarding your attack on anonymous posting, well it is a fact of internet life isn’t it, such is the internet, I read your name here but still have no clue who you are and if it is a real name. BTW Seismic has revealed his true identity, even if he didn’t the police found him and he is in point of fact being held accountable.

    Seismic did not make anything of the police visit until Sizer started to misrepresent it and use it to bully another blogger.

    No one has stopped Sizer or McRoy speaking their mind, they are not private individuals, they put their views out their publically using their positions as leverage. There is no censorship of them just many unanswered questions.

    Asking questions is not harassment, sending the police around to you is.

  6. I don’t think that “asking questions” is what Seismic was doing.

    But the issue here is whether there is a threat to free speech. I can’t see one. What I can see is a load of people engaged in political trench-warfare.

  7. The simple fact is that Seismic brought to the world’s attention the fact that a C of E vicar had, among other things, circulated material written by antisemites and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. That’s not harassment or even libel by any stretch of the imagination. The obvious thing would be for Sizer to give a proper explanation and apology. To date he has done neither.

  8. I am indifferent as to whether Seismic has made a great revelation in telling us that his politics are different to those of Mr. Sizer. But posting endlessly shouting “anti-semite! anti-semite!” is not discussion, not revelation, but intimidation.

  9. Roger,
    Sorry but I can’t see where Seismic has “endlessly [or at all shouted “anti-Semite! anti-Semite!” – and even if he had done, the response from Sizer would have been to meet it with logic and factual repudiation, not calling the cops. You’ll notice that Sizer threatened another critic with police action, whilst his non-response to the actual issues raised took some people aback:

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/03/21/if-i-was-stephen-sizer-christian-antizionist-james-mendelsohn/

  10. Hi Dooley,

    Sure. Well I could be wrong. But I went to Seismic’s website to see what it was about and that was the stuff that I found. He has posted about Steven Sizer interminably, you know. Once you do that, once you post endlessly negatively about a person, someone who isn’t really a public person, the rules change. They must do. There are real people involved here.

    You know, that’s why people post anonymously — they understand that they may be attacked, and injured, unless they hide their identity, just because someone doesn’t like them. It can be pretty nasty out there.

    I don’t think that accusing someone of being an “anti-semite” is a form of criticism, you know; it’s an attack. It’s a political-racial-whatever label, not a descriptive one. It’s done to intimidate and manipulate, not to illuminate. I don’t see how someone could respond to it without accepting the accuser’s categories, like all these terms.

    Thanks for the link. I’m really not at all interested in the issues, outside of the free speech issue, so I’ll duck that one.

  11. But … I must add that I STILL am not sure where the right and wrong on this is. What MUST be wrong is getting the police involved in censoring opinion. That we can all agree on.

    But there is so much being said which really amounts to “I disagree with this guy therefore what he does is wrong”, that it is very hard for me to see what the rights and wrongs are.

    And only one side is speaking. So… how can we be sure about all this?

  12. So in his work, he has to be polite to people like Hezbollah. To demonise him for this, as if he were a Moslem-about-to-be-suicide-bomber… that’s really nasty. It’s hate. It’s harassment.

    Mr. Pearse, either you’re obstinately committed to being disingenuous in your remarks, or you suffer from a reading comprehension disability that calls into question your effectiveness as a blogger. Joseph Weissman reported some of the contents of a paper Mc Roy delivered in Iran which inter alia contained the gem that ” just as Jesus inspired Christians like William Wilberforce to fight against slavery, so too the Mahdi inspired Hezbollah to commit suicide bombings in their fight against Israelis”.

    Weissman didn’t even remotely “demonize” McRoy, nor did he even remotely suggest that McRoy was like a “Moslem-about-to-be-suicide-bomber”, rather he merely reported McRoy’s credulous contention that a fair analogy can be drawn between Jesus inspiring Christians to fight against slavery and the Mahdi inspiring Hizb’allah to perpetrate suicide/homicide bombings against Israeli civilians, combatant and non-combatant soldiers alike. Beyond the mere reporting of some of the content of Mc Roy’s paper delivered in Iran, Weissman provided no passing judgment, because for people unlike yourself and McRoy, a favorable comparison of indiscriminate homicide/suicide bombings to a non-violent campaign against slavery is blatantly a morally demented analogy.

    That you Mr. Pearse, find such an analogy not only worthy of apologetics, such as the profoundly lame and indefensible pretext that Mc Roy apparently had no other choice but to offer such an analogy in order to “keep on reasonable terms with the loonies out there, because otherwise he can’t work”, (did the Iranians hold a gun to his head and demand him to compose and stand behind such a demented analogy, or else?), but also referring to the mere reporting of Mc Roy’s analogy as “demonization”, “close to hate”, “harassment” and “censorship” of Mc Roy, speaks miles about your disingenuous and unfounded attacks against Weissman and your utterly demented moral compass.

    As to your inevitable upcoming response to my comment, I might as well inform you that I have no intention of ever visiting your blog again after I post this comment, so say what you will. As far as I’m concerned responding to your drivel once is in itself more than enough of a waste of my time.

  13. Um, well I read McRoy’s article. He was going through Mahdist thinking, listing how contemporary events lined up with it. That didn’t look like endorsement, so much as description to me.

    Then I find this:

    “That you Mr. Pearse, find such an analogy not only worthy of apologetics, such as the profoundly lame and indefensible pretext that Mc Roy apparently had no other choice but to offer such an analogy in order to “keep on reasonable terms with the loonies out there, because otherwise he can’t work”… speaks miles about your disingenuous and unfounded attacks against Weissman and your utterly demented moral compass.”

    Nasty.

  14. Roger Pearse, you’re absolutely right that these people (there is a group mentality to it) run a campaign of intimidation. And intimidation is intimidation whether it’s online or not. As you say, real people are involved, and I think they forget this. I applaud you for changing your mind on this one, and also for being ready to change your mind again should more facts come to light.

  15. Thanks for your note! I appreciate the support. Yes, I wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of what Seismic has been handing out, over a period of months and years if I understand correctly.

    But there’s several issues. There’s a BBC article which I haven’t managed to find yet, asking where IS the line on what we should say online? Of course I’m all in favour of free speech; I’m not in favour of online lynch mobs.

    But yes, I don’t feel I know all the facts. I really don’t.

  16. Roger, come on, are you suggesting that now you are facing an online lynch mob because you are being argued with? I hope not! Who are “these people” that Anon talks of? Look at the comments pages of Seismic and you’ll see he gets his fair share of abuse, and he takes it like a man, even when BNP priest Robert West suggested certain BNP heavies would love to “meet him” he didn’t go crying to the police.

  17. Hi Aslan,

    Hey, you know that things online affect real life. That’s why you post anonymously! So… if *you* don’t want overspill, imagine how someone who spends months having his character attacked for his political views feels. You wouldn’t like, nor would I, so I don’t think we should dismiss it.

    There’s got to be a line somewhere. In law there is — it’s called harassment. The question is whether this is what we’re looking at. I can see that there is a case.

    But I can also see the other side of it. I don’t want to see policemen vetting posts. I don’t want to see people use policemen to stifle their critics.

    So… where is the line? Not sure. But we need to see both sides. And we need to be properly informed, and I’m not sure we are.

    Just my thoughts, of course.

  18. Roger, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with that last comment. There is a line, and I think SeismicShock over-stepped it. I think sometimes people don’t take time to empathise with other people and imagine how others will react to things written about them.

    You are a voice of genuine reason in this whole farce.

  19. Thank you for your kind support, which is appreciated.

    I can empathise here because I had the experience of being lynched online fairly recently. This included attempts to damage my reputation generally and interfere with my life elsewhere as well, all by anonymous posters. Now I’m a hardened veteran of online nastiness, and little impresses me; but if I had not been, I would have been terrified. I think it wouldn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of Seismic’s blogging about someone over and over.

    But … I’ve also been thinking about it from the other side. Presumably Seismic wants to deal with someone peddling what he sees as genuinely dangerous stuff. His chosen method is of exposure and documentation, rather than refutation. But if we say what he did is wrong, how *should* he have done it? And there I find myself stumped. I’m not sure what the answer is.

    We do need people willing to expose rotters online. “Hurt feelings” are often the cloak of a rogue, as the libel courts could tell. We need to be able to do this, without fear.

    So… it IS about a line, about what should be acceptable and what should not. Some people, professional politicians, are fair game. Ordinary people with no money or power less so.

    But … do we want the police to set that line? If not, online people need to develop some sense of what is and is not acceptable.

    I have long felt that trolling and the like online will eventually precipitate censorship. I hope that this is not the point at which it happens. The merits of free speech online are far greater than the risks; at least, so far.

    I remain, therefore, thoroughly ambivalent.

  20. That’s a good point. For my part, I think he could have made his crticisms in a far more respectful way.

    I don’t know if you’ve looked at Sizer’s blog, but in it there’s a post where he tries to ‘reconcile’ himself with SeismicShock, and as far as I know was rebuffed.

    So I think you’re right, there is a line, but I think SS stepped over it. He could have presented his crticisms in a much more graceful way. All of us get excited from time to time and say and write things we shouldn’t, but over a period of months…that’s too much.

  21. I don’t know about respectful, tho? Let him call him names, if he wants. Let’s have free speech. No-one was ever the worse for being called a bastard.

    Hey, Mr. Sizer may *deserve* to be called names! He is, after all, pushing some policies which few of us might entirely agree with. Come, let us abuse him thoroughly! Let us revile his politics, his religion, and his hairdresser. None of us should be above that. That isn’t intimidation, it’s normal disagreement.

    What makes me nervous is the relentless microscope over everything he does over months… that’s a different thing to me. That feels like stalking.

    I did see that Sizer had invited Seismic to talk it out. But the latter declined. If Seismic hates him that badly — maybe for good reason — why should Seismic agree to be schmoozed? So I don’t see that as a problem.

    There are things we should not agree to, people we should decline to have anything to do with. VirtueOnline described the technique of desensitisation, where someone is brought to accept something revolting by being exposed to it while relaxing. It’s used as a technique to destroy opposition in the Episcopal Church of the USA. Why allow this ploy?

    Let’s imagine that Stephen Sizer is a man of evil intent, personally vile, dishonest, slippery or whatever. Would we want to sit and have him try and charm us? I hardly think so. So I don’t think that is really the issue. The disagreement is political, not personal, anyway.

    I don’t know. Maybe you and I are just too nice for all this!

    But … getting policemen involved also feels like crossing a line. That said… what else could Steven Sizer do?

  22. Well, I think that if you’re going to criticise someone then you should at least be willing to hear them out.

    As you said, though, the disagreement is political, not personal, or it should be. The problem is that from Sizer’s point of view, and indeed to me, it looked pretty personal. Harrassment aside, that’s actually a sign of either intellectual or moral weakness on the side of SS, or a combination of the two.

    Anyway, I’ve said my piece, and I think I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for responding anyway!

  23. No hassle!

    They say that, before you criticise some people, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That will help, because, firstly you’ll be a mile away when they hear it and secondly you’ll have their shoes.

  24. Hi Roger,
    You need to read this post Stephen Sizer wrote

    http://stephensizer.blogspot.com/2009/09/seismic-shock-one-year-on.html

    Then link to his open letter to Seismic Shock

    http://stephensizer.blogspot.com/2008/11/open-letter-to-mordechai-ben-emet.html

    Dear Mordechai,

    I promised to write one more time and offer to meet, as Jesus instructed us to do in Matthew 18, in response to your decision to use an anonymous blog to criticise me repeatedly since September.

    You also gained access to our church facebook account without revealing your identity and then wrote to many of our church family to warn them about me, including children who were, not surprisingly, disturbed as were their parents. You also wrote anonymously to the hosts of various conferences I was invited to, to urge them not to allow me to speak. You know from the responses you received, some from Messianic leaders, that they share the Apostle Paul’s disdain for your methods. (this is just the opening, not Sizer’s full open letter)

    I certainly wouldn’t call what Seismic Shock did acceptable. It is stalking and intimidation. Contacting members of his church and CHILDREN? This was what was turned over to police as well I assume.

    Look at the closing to the open letter:

    p.s. Why are you using the IP address of Agaf HaModin, the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate?

    So I guess when he registered his blogspot that was what he registered to be his url.

  25. Hi Robin,

    Many thanks for these details, which had escaped me. Yes, this looks a lot like cyber-stalking. That explains plainly why Steven went to the police.

    I didn’t understand the last bit. But unless he has a static IP address, it couldn’t be meaningful, surely?

  26. If I were Seismic I would not accept an offer of coffee from Sizer either, especially with the dangerous and powerful friends he has!

    The IP address acusation is surely nonsense, the police traced it to Leeds Uni, so Leeds Uni is now the Israeli intelligence!

  27. The IP address accusation sounds really odd.

    But if Stephen Sizer is as anti-Israel as he appears, he might well be prone to believe some of the dafter conspiracy theories around.

    Remember, tho, that Seismic was using yet another identity when he was interacting with people at that time, and the name chosen might have some other background that we don’t know.

    I’ve already been bitten once, taking things at face value on this. So I’m grown suspicious of everything I hear. So should we all. This is NOT a simple “freedom of speech” issue. There really is a genuine case of harassment, if Stephen Sizer’s letter above is to be believed.

  28. Ok, just seemed you had from previous comments.

    Let’s not forget, here is a uni student, a young uni student for goodness sake, holding and besting an influential establishment figure in debate. Sizer didn’t like the strong style of debate, but he has used very strong language himself against those he diagrees with.

  29. How do you know that Sizer’s version is true how can someone gain access to a FB account, is he accusing him of hacking FB now? Loads of people use FB for political causes, including Sizer and his vast network of anti-Israel activists. Sizer paid some ex-military type to hunt down Seismic, there is a photos of him and Sizer on his blog, it was this ex-army guy that made the IP accusation, with no evidence. It was as if he was painting a big target on the blogger for anti-Israel extremists to aim at.

  30. I think these are reasonable questions to ask.

    The reason I believe at least some of what Stephen Sizer says on this is that I can believe the police would take a lot more notice if toldthe following: that someone anonymous had obtained access to a facebook group by deception and was using this to upset children; had sent messages to professional colleagues, was running an anonymous campaign of hate. They’d pretty much have to take account of that. That would explain what would otherwise be an inexplicable over-reaction to some tosser yapping on the web.

    How true all of that is, I don’t know. But if these are the REAL accusations against Seismic, then of course it becomes a rather different issue from the free speech issue we started with. (Which is the only one I care about).

    If they are true, of course, Seismic was probably lucky to get away with a caution. I think they probably are true. The police would hardly have moved without some evidence. All Stephen Sizer would have to do is refer the police to some of the people involved.

    Likewise I don’t think that Seismic is a reliable witness. Hey, he’s a student, after all, and we all remember how we were then! Also he is a man with a mission. Since I read through the whole lecture by Anthony McRoy, and found his presentation of it seemed misleading, I feel that we have to step back, that we cannot simply accept his picture of events (which is not the same as saying that he is acting maliciously; I will give him the benefit of the doubt until I find otherwise).

    So… scepticism time. Is there any reason why you or I should get involved in this personal attack by Seismic on Sizer? Why we should take sides? At the moment, I greatly fear in case those of us concerned about free speech are being suckered by Seismic into shrieking at Sizer, as a way to attack his enemy. There are people who will do that. I don’t know Seismic. I do know he runs a site vilifiying people. Suppose he would stoop to this? After all, it’s working — Sizer IS being demonised across the web. But justly? That I am not at all sure of.

    There’s loads of sympathy for Seismic, because we all blog and we can all imagine the horror of the knock on the door. But few of us can imagine a personal campaign of hate against us, and the helpless feeling you get in the face of it. Most people aren’t thinking, aren’t questioning Seismic’s spin of events. There’s no-one willing to ask whether Sizer — whose politics are not mine — is actually the victim here. Well, I will keep asking it, because if *I* was the victim here, I would hope that at least someone would try to check the facts on each side.

    Never mind the politics. Imagine you were Stephen Sizer. Would you like to be treated like this, if this is what happened? I wouldn’t. I won’t blame a man for calling the police, when I would do just that in those circumstances and it is the right thing to do.

    If, that is, all this is true!

  31. But Roger, this FB stuff was not mentioned by the police to Seismic. I read Seismic and don’t see a campaign of hate, just very strong critiques of Sizers writing, speaking, crusading against Israel and his defamation of all his fellow Christians who support Israel. He has written some terrible stuff about other Christians, none of them called the cops on him.

    Sizer is an influential man with powerful friends who has made much worse comments about other people than has been made about him on the Seismic blog.

    Sizer should thank Seismic, his book sales will probably go through the roof now and he will be lauded by the anti-Israel lobby as a hero.

  32. Hi Roger,

    Thanks for taking the trouble of detailed and considered reply. It is rare that the issue like this could be discussed without flaming.

    I agree that the question of freedom of speech should be separated from the political one – in this or any other case. Indeed, as I’ve mentioned, I have campaigned with other bloggers for freedom of speech of a few anti-Israeli bloggers.

    However, when you say that you want to save the firepower for the time (which I hope wouldn’t come) when we shall really need it, I would like to point out that freedoms (including the freedom of speech) are not ncessarily curbed by a single attack, it could be, and is done gradually in many cases, and our response should be a counter-attack in any, even seemingly unworthy case. And this case is worthy – mainly due to police involvement.

    Another point I would like to settle is your insistence on Seismic Shock “intimidating free speech by others”. Leaving aside the level of obsession you have noticed in SS’ writings (and I, as other readers of SS blog, tend to disagree with you on the point of obsession) – how do you compare a verbal attack on a blog with a visit by police, as far as intimidation of free speech is concerned?

    I would strongly suggest that critic, verbal or written, casual or “obsessive”, has nothing to do with freedom of speech of the person(s) being criticised.

    And that calling upon police is real intimidation and real attempt to curb freedom of speech.

    Regards.

  33. Hi Snoopy,

    I agree with your point about gradual erosion entirely; indeed I had been wondering about this. It is the evils that appear gradually that are hardest to resist.

    Then you ask how I compare a verbal attack on a blog to a visit from the police. There is no comparison between the two, of course.

    But … that’s not what the situation is. A year of constant personal attacks online on an ordinary person… that’s not the same thing. And then there is the question of whether Seismic went further still, and started emailing Sizer’s work colleagues, infiltrated a facebook group under a false name and used it to hurl insults. If you were on the receiving end of that, from some anonymous person, what would you do?

  34. Hi Aslan,

    Is Sizer in fact an influential man? (I’d never heard of him, I must say).

    I think I’ve already dealt with the other issues, you know!

  35. I’ve seen a case that really DOES have implications fro free speech today.

    The TES published this:

    “Howard Fredrics, who worked at the university as senior lecturer of music between 2003 and 2006, was convicted at Kingston Magistrates’ Court of harassing Sir Peter Scott via postings on a website, http://www.sirpeterscott.com.

    Dr Fredrics was found guilty in his absence, having failed to appear for the hearing last month, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He will be sentenced later this month.

    At the trial, Sir Peter said the site was “intended to embarrass and humiliate” him and that some of its material, such as an allegation that he was a friend of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, was inaccurate. He added that he had met Dr Fredrics only five times.

    Finding Dr Fredrics guilty, Judith Jewell, chairman of the bench, said: “We believe the course of conduct he pursued in setting up this website was intended to harass Sir Peter Scott … he ought to have known that such actions would amount to harassment.”

    Dr Fredrics has used the site to expose controversial practices at Kingston in recent years. In 2008, he posted a recording of lecturers pressurising students to inflate their National Student Survey responses.”

    The site is:

    http://www.sirpeterscott.com/

    and it looks like perfectly fair comment (whether or not justly), and holding a bunch of well-paid bureaucrats to account. THIS is the sort of thing we need to be worrying about.

  36. On the Facebook matter. Christ Church Virginia Water Youth Ministries has a Facebook which is now set to Closed: Limited public content. Members can see all content.

    If an account is not set to closed like this one is now, then all friends show. Facebook allows anyone to send a message to anyone without being their friend. I have done this myself on many occasions.

    In fact, in cache you can see that Facebook account used to be open with all friends showing. Just google it and you will easily see that

    On the ip address, people get tech lingo mixed up all the time. The account that Seismic closed was a blogspot account. On blogspot when you open a blog you can set your URL to show up however you want it to if that url is available. I suspect that this is what Sizer meant rather than ip.

  37. Hi again, Roger,

    I think that we have worked out all the points of contention save one: “If you were on the receiving end of that, from some anonymous person, what would you do?”

    I have already been on the receiving end, in lesser extent though. My solution: ignore the other guy. Believe me, it works given sufficient time.

    I think that, since we’ve agreed that use of police in such a case is not a solution, my option is the optimal one.

  38. So SnoopTheGoon, please do not ignore the information I provided just prior to your post concerning the Facebook account for Christ Church Virginia Water Youth Ministries
    First, whoever has a Facebook account, log in and then do a search. You will come up with this

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=2229738732&ref=search&sid=532031139.2171864475..1

    Notice the privacy setting for that account:

    Closed: Limited public content. Members can see all content.

    Now that you have done that, google “Christ Church Virginia Water Youth Ministries facebook” then go to the cache for that.

    Notice anything which fits in with what Stephen Sizer wrote (as in the facebook WAS set to where friends were showing but that Facebook account has now been set to the highest possible privacy setting):
    “You also gained access to our church facebook account without revealing your identity and then wrote to many of our church family to warn them about me, including children who were, not surprisingly, disturbed as were their parents.”

    Are you prepared to say that if Seismic Shock was doing precisely what Stephen Sizer stated he was doing, contacting by message, which you CAN do on Facebook without being friends, if he was STALKING the members of the Christ Church Virginia Water YOUTH MINISTRIES this should just be ignored? I am American but am fully aware that the UK has much stricter laws concerning this sort of activity, and even here in the US if minors were being contacted in this fashion law enforcement would immediately step in if contacted.

    These are not the actions of a “blogger” if Seismic Shock did this, these are the actions of a STALKER and it is HARRASSMENT. Law enforcement did not confiscate his hard drive for the heck of it.

  39. The police didn’t confiscate anything, this is untrue, according to the West Yorks Police all they did was recover files from Leeds Uni IT dept.

    Sizer is very influential in the Christian world, just have a look at his Wiki entry, which looks very much like something he wrote himseld 😉

  40. Robin that is the setting now, who is to say that it was always like that and who is to say it was Seismic that allegedly sent an hitherto unspecified message. What was this message anyway??? Maybe it was the other Mordechai the ex-Marine that Sizer hired who was causing mischief? Anyway sending a message on FB is hardly stalking. This seems like smoke and mirrors to avoid the issue that Sizer is the one who called the cops.

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