The BBC has joined Fedi… a bit. They’ve started a six month experiment with a Mastodon server for a handful of BBC general accounts (R&D types, Radio 4, 5Live) (i.e. not individuals). Note, BBC News is not one of these accounts (but Radio 4 is).
This is, one the one hand, great. We want big organisations like BBC (and other media organisations) to run their own instances and the BBC doing this is a huge step.
Now, BBC is not very popular among a certain section of Fediverse users who have been fairly instrumental in building the community. So, unsurprisingly, there is already talk of defederating from the BBC server on account of it’s institutional transphobia, racism and support of far right arseholes. Some instances (mastodon.art being one of the big ones) have pre-emptively put the BBC instance on the road to defederation.
The problem is though that social.bbc – as it currently stands – is unlikely to breach most servers’ conduct codes and most admins are not going to understand what the problems this instance can cause are or how to balance that against the “it’s the BBC, how can we defederate the BBC?!?” problem.
And I get it. The BBC is doing what we, kinda, want to see news organisations doing. Spinning up their own instance to be a trusted source. The trouble is that it is not this lovely impartial thing that it claims to be – it is rotten to it’s core. The reaction to Nigel Farage’s bank account – when the papers were released they showed he didn’t meet their criteria and they weren’t willing to waive those criteria because they didn’t want to risk being associated with him. And the BBC didn’t point this out, they went with his “entirely political decision” narrative and issued a grovelling apology.
Why is the BBC a problem?
The BBC – especially its News division – is institutionally transphobic (among other things). Most Trans folks will refuse to work with them and those who have complain of bait-and-switch tactics where they are suddenly thrust into a “debate” with a transphobe instead of the interview they were expecting. BBC News will not allow a trans person to appear without a bigot as balance, but sees no problem with platforming bigots without a trans counterpoint.
And here is another problem. The BBC is not frothing-at-the-mouth angry, shouty aggression. Instead it is laundering transphobia for “respectable” mainstream discussion.
What is the BBC’s Balance Problem
BBC hides all this behind a fucked up understanding of “balance”. It points out that “across the range of its offerings” there are a range of views. But this tries to equate a character in a drama or a trans artist on a culture show with outright attacks on us in the News. This tries to equate an 11pm documentary on a minor channel with a segment on Newsnight calling us all groomers.
It also fails to account for how the balance of the science and public sentiment do not reflect the level of coverage the BBC puts out. Their understanding of “balance” is that scientific and social consensus needs “balancing” with crackpot conspiracy theories and extremely uncommon examples – time and time again. This was a major problem with its Climate Change coverage for a long time and led to a very critical report. They have learnt nothing.
I stopped trusting BBC news many years ago. Elton John and David Furnish had just adopted their first child. Simple news item. Except that this fact needed “balancing” with the opinion of Stephen Green of Christian Voice who was given a pulpit to say bigoted crap about queer folk.
The BBC constantly pushes an anti-trans narrative in its reporting which has led to multiple protests. They fell over themselves to report on “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”, they delighted in bigging up Kathleen Stock’s claims of being the true victim of Trans Right Activists because of her “Gender Critical beliefs”. No matter how often we complain, no matter how much we highlight the links between editors and transphobes the BBC claims “balance” and “nothing wrong here”.
Units of Bigotry
This then brings up the biggest defence of BBC being on fedi, and instances not defederating. It basically takes two forms –
- The BBC is HUMONGOUS and different bits do wildly different things
- The BBC also does X, Y and Z – usually with specific examples
This is essentially Carbon Offsetting for bigotry – Bigotry Offsetting, if you will. And here, we run into a problem. Carbon Offsetting has a way of measuring Bad Carbon and Good Other Actions. It has many criticisms (is offsetting exactly your carbon share of a flight an appropriate response, the Carbon Capture offered by trees is long term while the carbon dumping of a flight is immediate etc.), but it has a “unit” if you like to measure these things.
So, what is the unit of bigotry? How many episodes of Doctor Who need to feature Yasmin Finney in order to allow BBC Newsnight to do a transphobia? How many trans background characters offset the Lowbridge article on Trans People being a threat to lesbians – and how many trans camera operators balance her lies about no trans people being involved in the piece when she had interviewed one and then elected not to include her comments and concerns about her main source? How many times does Yasmin Finney have to appear on BBC Breakfast promoting Heartstopper to “balance” the BBC’s breathless coverage of Keira Bell’s win but comparative silence at subsequent loss? What’s the right offset for Kathleen Stock being allowed to present herself as “cancelled” for “just believing common sense facts about biology” with zero pushback?
BBC Won’t Break (Common) Fedi Rules
Because these are all Institutional accounts rather than personal (so far), the likelihood of targeted or outright harassment being displayed is fairly low. But, if they follow their Twitter styles, they will share clips from their output which will include these transphobic ideas and biases and as an institution they continue to present these ideas with absolutely no criticism.
This, coupled with the “BBC is too big” will undoubtably leave many instances unwilling to defederate.
Ultimately, I don’t know what the answer is. The BBC does have a huge and diverse impact on culture and society. Defederation will not change that and having official sources is a good thing. However, I also know that I used to think the same for the BNP and UKIP – at some point, that they became too big for no-platforming to hold, that careful platforming would allow the ideas to be challenged. The problem is the BNP, UKIP, The BBC and bigots don’t respond to challenges. They live in a weird unreality bubble which they are trying to expand. We meticulously take down one delusion and they switch to another in the pack of cards they have, we chase that one they switch again and, eventually they come back to the first and we have to repeat the cycle. We cannot win the debate against them because they are not playing by reasonable rules. And they set the rules. They are getting their “common sense” messages amplified and given a veneer of respect and our careful responses are utterly buried. We have to try other tactics. But is a fediblock the right tool?
I don’t know, but I lean towards blocking and let them see just how society views them. But this only works if we all commit to it.
And frankly, I think BBC R&D already knows what the public thinks of BBC’s transphobia and other bigotry.