UK “Liberal Hawk” Blog Taken Down After Legal Threat to Webhost

First, it was an Uzbek billionaire. Then, it was a Nigerian homeopath. And now…some left-wing activists have followed suit in dealing with on-line criticism in the UK, not by argument, but by making libel threats against a webhost. The result – as before – is that a blog has been taken down without any actual legal action having taken place, such is the fear around British libel laws.

But also, as before, news of the take-down has travelled widely around the internet. Here’s the story:

Harry’s Place may be removed (or rather have it’s DNS disabled) after a ‘complaint’ to the company that our domain name is registered with.

We assume after threats were made on the weekend that this ‘complaint’ originates from Jenna Delich or her supporters.

Though we have not yet seen the complaint submitted, we assume it runs along the lines that pointing out that Ms Delich linked to the website of a known neo-Nazi figure and former Ku Klux Klan leader is defamatory.

…This is extraordinary since Ms Delich has not denied that she circulated links to David Dukes website. There would be no point since the evidence is in the public domain.

Nevertheless, a malicious complaint has been made to the company hosting our DNS.

The background concerns a message list for members of the University and College Union (UCU), where discussion has been going on for some time over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and whether Israeli academia should be subject to a boycott. Harry’s Place takes a “liberal hawk” line, and its writers are often keen to claim that those who support the boycott idea are motivated by anti-Semitism. Some members of the list have leaked various messages from the list to Harry’s Place, usually from certain pro-boycotters who appear to have written things which do not redound either to their ethical or to their intellectual credit. However, from one posting on the site that I can recall, some of the leaked messages were presented in a way that seemed to me unfair to their authors.

Delich’s message, though, clearly reflects poorly on her:

In support to your link this may be a long but also an interesting reading:

No comment necessary. The facts are speaking for themselves.

Delich apparently pleaded ignorance when what David Duke actually stands for was pointed out to her, but obviously this was an absolute gift to Harry’s Place, which promptly posted a photo of Delich with the caption “Sheffield-based academic, Jenna Delich – links to far right websites associated with the Ku Klux Klan”. This was ungenerous – she only did it the once, and she conceded that she shouldn’t have – but this is not a topic on which opponents are inclined to be generous. Delich showed, at best, incredible lack of discernment in linking to such a source, and the consequences are bound to be harsh. And waving lawyers at webhosts is only going to make it worse.

UPDATE: Ministry of Truth points out that the hyphen in the photo caption may be the crucial issue:

If you’re minded to take the photograph, and its caption, entire out of its original context then you could, at a stretch, argue that the word ‘links’ may be being used as a noun in the sense of indicating an association between Delich and David Duke, rather than as a verb indicating that Delich had made a connection to David Duke’s site by sending UCU members a hyperlink…

It seems to me that there might also be an issue around whether “links to far right websites associated with the Ku Klux Klan” means either (a) it’s her regular habit to make such links; or (b) she did it once recently, and her lack of discernment means she might well do it again. Interpretation “a” is indefensible, but it could be argued that it is no more defamatory than “b”, and hopefully a judge would decline to squash free speech based on such a semantic point anyway. However, we won’t ever know: if Delich (or whoever made the complaint) were serious about court action the HP authors would have been threatened rather than the webhost.

Further details here.