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By Jason Michael
Angela Haggerty has decided that enough is enough. Too many people have lost patience with CommonSpace constantly platforming Labour and promoting Jeremy Corbyn, and they are messing up the comments. So she’s shutting them down.
So it has finally happened. Angela Haggerty, before cutting and running to take up her place as news editor at the Sunday Herald, announced that “indy media” website CommonSpace would be closing down its beleaguered comments section. According to her statement the Common people wanted to “create a more radical space for people to network, discuss and organise,” and that the below-the-line comments had become too much of a hassle for the small team to moderate and police.
As always, the super progressive, über radical – they always have to call themselves “radical,” always thinking-outside-of-the-box alternative media jockeys at CommonSpace had to blame their readers for the unmitigated shitshow their website and social media have become:
We’ve realised how negative and unproductive it can be as a forum. There is often bickering between users, or nasty, hurtful language directed at our writers, and that’s before we even get to the incessant spam comments.
So, interpreting for the neds – Rab McGlinchy style, what Haggerty is actually trying to say here is that her readers; the many generous independence supports who have been funding the site over the past three years, have finally gotten sick of CommonSpace acting as a fifth columnist backdoor entry point for Scottish Labour. This all came to a head late last month when Alasdair Clark published what amounted to a promotion – complete with a handy link – for Scottish Labour’s alt-media website The Red Robin. Matters came to a head only after the site had been told off repeatedly – in the comments – for pulling stunts like this in the past. This wasn’t a once off. It wasn’t a mistake or an error of judgement. CommonSpace has effectively become Labour’s secret radio within the independence movement.
Baron Willie Fleming of Twechar (@Willie_Fleming) March 14, 2018
Labour doesn’t need to be given a platform in the indy media. The British Labour Party and its Scottish branch office have no shortage of platforms in the mainstream media, and there are plenty of national newspapers that can safely be described as Labour papers. Even The Red Robin is big media pretending to be alternative. Unlike the genuinely independent and alternative media, it will never be short of a few bob to go about its mission of targeting the Scottish voters Labour has haemorrhaged since 2014. The last thing it needs is an extra wee punt from an outlet claiming to be on our side.
But there’s the thing; CommonSpace isn’t on our side. At best it is neutral. It pretends to be a platform for pro-independence voices, while in actual fact it carefully hedges its words. CommonSpace styles itself as “new,” “alternative,” or “indy” – that is “independent” as opposed to pro-independence – media. It never actually nails its colours to the mast. Rather it presents itself as a platform on which the entire spectrum of opinion can be voiced. Yet even this isn’t quite true. The voices CommonSpace commissions with the donations it receives are left of centre, to Labour, to “radical left” – whatever the hell that means.
None of this has gone unnoticed and the organisation has felt the growing kick back in its pocketbook and in its comments. Haggerty’s answer to this, rather than simply facing up to the criticism, has been two-pronged; going full Brezhnev she has at once closed down the comments and invited readers to sign up to CommonSocial – yet another McRobin franchise; a fenced-in alternative to Facebook where all dissent can be (ahem) dealt with – or go proper old school and write a letter to the editor. Either way it amounts to the same thing, CommonSpace will control all discussion on its content.
Maighread McBeth vss (@margaretmcneil4) March 14, 2018
Very shortly, according to the stats published by WordPress, this blog will have reached half a million readers. Random Public Journal will routinely get between five and ten thousand clicks a day, it gets plenty of attention over social media – getting as much as seven thousand shares on Facebook alone on a single day last week, and this is a small, very modestly funded blog run by just one guy. Better stats than this are found on Wings, Wee Ginger Dug, and IndyRef2. Like my own, these are all relatively easy to run online operations. Not one of us has had to shut down the comments. So why is it so different for CommonSpace?
CommonSpace no longer shows how many social shares its articles get, but going by its Twitter account – where it never gets more than seven retweets (and that’s death for a blog by the way) – it can’t be getting many reads. It isn’t getting any shares. Of course, this is all part of why Angela has clamped down on people using their “distinct voices” on CommonSpace’s comments. Most independentistas, the people who initially backed the site, have voted with their feet. It is struggling to bring in the funds it “needs,” while Stu Campbell at Wings Over Scotland can get twice what he asked for within a week. Those who have hung about the comments section have done so either in the hope that it will get better – which it won’t – or to vent their frustration at what it is doing and so becoming what Haggerty dismisses as mere bickerers or spammers.
It is a bad sign indeed when a so-called alternative media site – that is a website established because it has been shut out by the mainstream – feels the need to shut down comments and conversation, and attempt to cynically control all discussion related to its content. This is pretty much the sign absolute that it has outlived its purpose and usefulness.
CommonSpace: A New Media For A New Scotland?