The Gist: It’s Been a Week

From posters to tanks, Tories and tax to the price of a name. This is the Gist.

The Gist: It’s Been a Week


Paschal Donohoe made an error and then he explained how it happened and paid the few hundred of extra funds he shouldn’t have got back.

Last week’s Gist didn’t think it worth mentioning and left the door open for this week’s Gist to tell you how correct that was.

In the main, the entire thing had the air of a roomful of drunk uncles at a wedding roaring at each other that one of their number had forgotten to do up their fly, only to find they had a similar difficulty, ending in a quiet mass rezippering amongst the crowd.

Except typical weddings don’t have a gaggle of people outside the window shouting about the Great Zipper Scandal that may be about to break.

This was one affair where nobody wanted to stay for the afters.


The country is just resting in their account

In the U.K., a minister and Chairman of the eternally ruling Tory party was sacked after threatening to sue reporters for accurately reporting an ongoing tax probe into avoiding approx £30m in tax.

He wasn’t sacked straight away, just after days of Prime Ministerial dithering had holed the new PM’s pledge for probity in Government below the waterline.

This all happened because the Tories are at the stage of political calamity where even when they are forced to do the right thing, they will only do it after reaping all the damage of preferring the wrong thing first.


Slow Tracks

Germany agreed to send its tanks to Ukraine, after its own Tory-worthy stretch of dithering. We have yet to see if the tanks will be delivered in time to be used before next Winter.


Delay, deny and wait for them to die

The Daily Mail reported on the latest revelation from the Dept of Health whistleblower that the Government, across many different Ministers, had agreed an aggressive litigation strategy aimed at people in nursing homes and their families.

Facing the possibility of having to repay billions wrongly taken from people in nursing homes, the Government agreed to a series of policy positions which effectively established “delay, deny and wait for them to die” as a cost saving measure.

Now, there is a theoretical basis for this sort of approach when companies do it- they are meant to be sociopathically devoted to increasing profits for shareholders at the cost of everyone else.

In contrast, the Government of Ireland exists to act in the interests of the citizens but was here deciding to take steps to minimise those citizens’ recovery of their own money. This suggests one of two explanations. Either the State is not run for the benefit of its citizens, or the people who manage the State prefer institutions to humans.

The events of Ireland’s first 100 years of independence suggest these are not mutually exclusive explanations.


A post by any other name

There were further calls to somehow (the details are always elusive) make it illegal to write words on the internet without accompanying them with your real name.

For people who are not whistleblowers, vulnerable people, victims of domestic abuse who have fled abusers or a member of a historically ignored or oppressed social or ethnic group, this doubtless sounds like plain common sense.

And, because for some reason (see above) the political and commentary classes tend not to be any of the above, this idea comes around over and over again. And, every time it does, it falls to people who have spent more than twenty minutes cumulatively across their lifetimes thinking about the consequences of such a policy to explain why it is a terrible idea.

Here’s a researcher from the MIT Media Lab Centre for Civic Media:

“According to a US nationally-representative report by the Data & Society Institute, 43% of online harassment victims have changed their contact information and 26% disconnected from online networks or devices to protect themselves [see Amanda Lenhart, Michelle Ybarra, Kathryn Zickuhr, and Myeshia Prive-Feeney. Online Harassment, Digital Abuse, and Cyberstalking in America. Report, Data & Society Institute, November 2016. ].

When people do withdraw, they are often disconnected from the networks of support they need to survive harassment. Pseudonymity is a common protective measure. One study on the reddit platform found that women, who are more likely to receive harassment, also use multiple pseudonymous identities at greater rates than men [see Alex Leavitt. This is a Throwaway Account: Temporary Technical Identities and Perceptions of Anonymity in a Massive Online Community. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer
Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, pages 317-327. ACM, 2015 ]."

In contrast, while the harms of a real name requirement are measurable and confirmed, there is no comparably conclusive evidence that bringing one in solves online misbehaviour.

Not everyone wants a byline, or their photo and name hung on lampposts. It is a test of empathy for those who do want those things to understand why what works for them might not work for others.

Removing anonymity is not a magic bullet for ending online abuse, but is a surefire way of silencing voices who have historically had no safe way to be heard.