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Censorship and intolerance at iVillage

iVillage is a large and comprehensive portal site dealing with many things of interest to women and families. One of the services there is a collection of discussion boards covering a wide variety of topics and interests, spread across several domain names but all under the iVillage banner. I participate in three forums which appear under the iVillage brand at parentsplace.com - "Vaccine Debate", "Vaccine Support" and "Non-Vaccine Support". My interest in these would be obvious to anyone who has spent some time at The Millenium Project.

On Thursday August 8, 2002, I posted a message to the Non-Vaccine Support board, responding to yet another mention of someone who was exploiting a dead child to spread fear and doubt about vaccines. My message was the same response I have made here and in other places to what appears to be a PR campaign. (You can see the text of my response message here.)

Someone did not like what I wrote and complained, so iVillage removed my message from their archives. They did not inform me of this, but instead sent me an email making specious claims about how I had breached their terms of service. My reply to this email appears below.


From: Peter Bowditch
Subject: Re: Board disruption
Date: 10 August, 2002

I have received the following startling email from you.

Dear iVillager, We are very proud of our iVillage Community areas and we attempt to ensure that our members will have a safe and pleasant experience in iVillage. It has come to our attention that you have been disrupting the normal flow of discussion on an iVillage Message Board.

I have not disrupted anything. I posted a reply containing my opinion about a matter raised by another poster. That somebody disagreed with my opinion is unfortunate, but that is their problem. If they believe that expressing any opinion which is contrary to theirs is disruption then they are either unfamiliar with the meaning of the word or excessively sensitive to anything which threatens their belief system. (I have used the pronoun "their" instead of "his" or "her" because the complainant is anonymous. I have more to say about this and fragile faith below.)

When you joined iVillage, you agreed to abide by our Terms of Service. Our Terms of Service state that board disruption is not permitted. Further disruption of a message board including attacks on other members of our community will result in the revocation of your membership.

As I said above, I have not committed any "disruption" in any way that makes sense within the conventional meaning of words in the English language. The only people mentioned in the piece I wrote were Christine Colebeck, Len Horowitz and Alan Yurko. Unless they are using very anonymous identities, none of these people are members of the iVillage community, so I was not attacking anybody within that community.

Harassing, offensive, vulgar, abusive or hateful communications -- especially those aimed at sexual orientation, gender, race, color, religious views, national origin, or disability -- will not be tolerated.

As I have done none of these things, I cannot see what any complaint was about other than an attempt to suppress my views and opinions. I am reminded here of Matthew 7, where Jesus compares a man building on rock to one building on sand. He was talking about faith, and I often come across people whose beliefs are constructed on foundations of sand and who, being aware of this defect, resist any challenge to those beliefs. This resistance rarely takes the form of rational debate, but usually consists of abuse, censorship or simply running away with hands over ears. The fact that my posting has been removed from the iVillage archive suggests that the latter two of these tactics applies here.

One of the principles of natural justice is the right for an accused to face his accusers. In this case, nobody bothered to contact me at my very public identity or even to respond on the relevant board. Instead, a vacuous complaint was registered. I still don't know who complained, and I expect that I would know no more if I were to see their iVillage identity. iVillage accepts anonymous membership and if my membership were to be terminated I could just join up again using a false name and an anonymous email address. I won't do this because I always post everywhere in a manner which clearly identifies who I am. This means that not only do I have to take responsibility for what I say, but I must be prepared for people to disagree with me and I must accept and deal with that disagreement. It is a pity that some other iVillage members do not apply the same standards to themselves. The only reason I could imagine for me to complain to iVillage about another poster would be a case where someone was pretending to be me (as happened at MSN), but identity theft is a long way from expressing a contrary opinion.

I am disappointed in the reaction of iVillage in this case for several reasons. One is simply the assault on free speech. If you are running a supposedly open discussion forum then dissenting views have to be allowed even if some participants do not like those views. Also, the precipitate action of removing my post suggests that the rights of upset anonymous people have more value than the right of others to be heard. Another disappointment is the tarnishing of the iVillage forum archives, as it now seems that these cannot be relied on to show an accurate record of discussions because some records may have been removed simply because someone did not like them.

As is my normal policy, your email to me and my response will be posted on my web site.


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