• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens vs Spinwatch

Here’s one I missed from a couple of weeks ago; the website SpinProfiles was recently temporarily shut down, after the journalist Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens made a complaint to the service provider; the project’s director David Miller writes:

Our SpinProfiles wiki website at www.spinprofiles.org was shut down by web firm 1&1 Internet on 21 June because we did not remove a profile on think-tank researcher Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, son of journalist Christopher Hitchens.

In an email dated Friday 18 June, 1&1’s lawyers said SpinProfiles must ‘immediately remove the profile’ by midday Monday, or face being shut down. Although 1&1 do not host our site, the URL is registered with them. They gave no explanation of how the webpage violated their terms and conditions except that it included ‘personal information’ we did not have ‘permission’ to use.

SpinProfiles’ editor David Miller wrote back asking for more precise details of the objection, arguing, ‘It is clear that the content of the webpage in question is factual and backed up by sourced information. It cannot be wholly contrary to your conditions of service…’

Meleagrou-Hitchens now explains himself:

About a year and a half ago, I was contacted by my former university, informing me that someone was using freedom of information requests to look into my academic past. The university secretary requested my permission to release the information, and although I was quite uneasy that a shadowy group was rooting around my personal life, I allowed it. It later turned out that the information request was made by a website called Neocon Europe, which is also run by Miller. They used the information to create a rather lengthy profile of me, in which I was presented as a sinister neoconservative thinktank “operative”.

Despite being very uncomfortable with Miller’s cyberstalking, I did not respond, and made no complaints. This remained the case until I was recently informed that in the past, Neocon Europe has published the work of Kevin MacDonald, who has expressed antisemitic views and has testified on behalf of the historian David Irving, to define neoconservatism.

…People who are profiled by his websites should be allowed to reserve the right not to have any association with him, and this was the primary issue upon which my complaint was predicated. I asked the site administrators that, due to the past publication of antisemitic views on Neocon Europe, my profile be taken down from the page. Instead, Miller’s team moved it to SpinProfiles, and it was at this point that their web providers took it upon themselves to shut the whole site down.

…”Watch” sites like these, although highly unpleasant, must be allowed to exist, but free speech cannot be taken as a licence to attack and harass political opponents while expecting no censure or response.

I’m not impressed with Meleagrou-Hitchens’ argument here: I looked at the offending profile on Google cache, and the only “personal information” consists of some details about his education. It contains nothing that can be characterised as personally intrusive or as harassment. The assertion that “People who are profiled by his websites should be allowed to reserve the right not to have any association with him”  hints at the suggestion that he was protecting his reputation from some sort of misrepresentation. But this is an insult to the intelligence: no-one who reads a profile of a person on a website assumes that the subject must be “associated” with the site’s owner, particularly if the profile is critical. Although he agrees that such sites “must be allowed to exist”, how exactly does his rather tortuous formulation differ from the more obviously absurd assertion that “People should have the right to disallow critical profiles of themselves on websites that expound political views that they find objectional”?

Of course, SpinWatch is controversial – and not just for the MacDonald fiasco, which resulted in an apology from Miller (the material had been added to the site by another researcher, and Miller removed it as soon as it came to his attention). An article at Standpoint by Shiraz Mather makes some substantive criticisms about the project’s methodology and focus; I agree that the term “neo-con” is thrown about too loosely, as are – worse than that – accusations of racism. Meleagrou-Hitchens also mentions an Israeli scholar named Sagit Yehoshua, who claims that important factual details about her on the site are incorrect. However, none of this changes the fact that Meleagrou-Hitchens’ form of “censure” and “response” to his own profile – a profile which he does not claim was libellous – is not attractive, and his justification does not redound to his credit.

(I should disclose that I have occasional contact of my own with the people who run Spinwatch, and they were helpful in relation to events I blogged here and here.)

3 Responses

  1. […] but they wrote nasty things about me!!! Richard Bartholomew calls this an “insult to the intelligence”. But actually, apart from the wailing, this is quite […]

  2. “People should have the right to disallow critical profiles of themselves on websites that expound political views that they find objectional”

    For AM-H, does this argument also cover profiling in print? Can Kissinger demand that AM-H daddy’s books are pulped, for instance?

  3. […] to Terrorism Researcher Posted on August 7, 2010 by Richard Bartholomew A few weeks ago I blogged on the dispute between Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and David Miller of Spinwatch. […]

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