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Beware The Geeks

The British Chiropractic Association’s decision to throw in the towel against Simon Singh has continued the debate about the need for libel reform.  What the events leading up to this capitulation also show is the increasing resolve and influence of those who are online.  The geeks, if you will.

Nick Cohen’s piece on the Guardian website, “Now charlatans will know to beware the geeks” is interesting stuff, telling how the author attended a gathering in support of Simon Singh…

Far from being depressed, the audience turned into a heaving mass of furious geeks, who roared their anger and vowed that they would not rest until they had brought down the rotten system. The “skeptic movement” (always spelt with “k” by the way, to emphasise their distinctiveness) had come to Singh’s aid.

And lo it came to pass that the online support for Simon Singh increased.  Many chiropractors making the very claims Singh rebuffed found themselves subject to formal complaints.  McTimoney chiropractors were told by their association to take down their websites and remove leaflets

… the energy and novelty behind the campaign came from skeptics connected by the net. Within a day of the chiropractors giving the court their argument that they could help sick children, scientists online had taken it apart brick by brick until nothing was left but a heap of rubble.

Meanwhile, their allies tracked down the web pages of every chiropractor in Britain who was claiming they could treat asthmatic children and reported him or her to their local trading standards officer

Now all this won’t come as a surprise to regular readers and folk who’ve been online a while and learned a few things.  It seems the BCA was a bit lacking in its awareness of the online community.  Recently we’ve had Anonymous campaigning against Scientology, a grass roots backlash against Phorm which saw them slink off to South Korea and Brazil, an ongoing campaign against Nestle, Jan Moir & the Daily Mail lambasted for distasteful comments, Paperchase being bought to book for selling items plagiarising an independent designer’s work and the I’m A Photographer Not A Terrorist campaign – all powered mainly by the connectivity the internet and social networking gives us.

In their arrogance the BCA have fallen foul of the law (a pity proceedings had to go to appeal before the three highest judges in the land but we can thank Mr Eady for that) and of vox populi.  If you are going to make claims then you should have evidence to back those claims up.  Simon Singh felt he saw none and said so.  The BCA got legal on him so the bloggers, nerds and geeks went to work on the BCA.

Let’s take a brief look at the nerd, the geek, the blogger.  What do these people (and I include myself in their number) do well?  They can assimilate and assess information quickly; they think logically and pick flawed arguments apart very well.  Some of us see through spin, mendacity and obfuscation, dispatching it over the mid wicket boundary of crap with the Mongoose cricket bat of fact.  A lot of us are not afraid to say what we see as wrong.  And boy can we spread the word like wildfire.

As the number of people online and access to sites like VFPJ, NoDPI and the many other excellent sites which challenge the unethical, illegal, wrong, et cetera increases, the geeks of whom Nick Cohen write can only include more in their number.  More informed people means that those in the wrong will be held to account more often.  No longer is it just a couple of journalists who should be avoided for fear of their uncovering dirty deeds.  Now with Freedom of Information requests, some serious determination and spare time anyone could uncover something they see as wrong and start a campaign to expose and right it.

It isn’t rocket science to figure out that bad news travels faster than good news in this internet powered age.  No longer is the “any publicity is good publicity” adage true.

As Nick Cohen said

I suspect that politicians… will find that they will face unrelenting scrutiny from equally smart and committed opponents.

They already are over the Digital Economy Bill.  And their responses have shown just how ignorant both the Houses of Parliament can be.

We are geeks.  We are many and every day we become more.  Beware the geeks.

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