This is where blog-bullying gets you

I am very late on the Alisher Usmanov case, but, here goes…

Alisher Usmanov is an Uzbeki-Russian billionaire who allegedly made his fortune in mining and possibly other activities. He’s quite good chums with the Islom Karimov, the president dictator in charge of Uzbekistan. And last month he started a bid to takeover Arsenal Football Club. His name was new to most, but not to Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who repeated several allegations he made in his book, Murder in Samarkand, about Usmanov and alleged he was not exactly Mr Squeaky-clean.

This was picked up by a number of other Arsenal blogs, and some political blogs, including Tim Ireland‘s. In turn Usmanov’s lawyers, Schillings sent cease-and-desists to all concerned. Most complied pulling the individual posts, including Craig Murray – although he has demanded they challenge him in court, which they have failed to do. This wasn’t enough though, and Schillings have also to the hosts for the blogs concerned and demanded they pull the plug on them entirely. The hosts spinelessly did so and as a result Craig and Tim lost their blogs, as did a lot of other people hosted on the same servers, including Boris Johnson‘s, which was even more absurd, given they had nothing to do with it.

This is both bad and good. Bad, because as Harry’s Place puts it, it is breaking self-published media “like butterflies upon wheels”. Schillings’ actions were outrageous and well beyond reasonablr. It also goes to show the unfortunate weakness of the panicky sysadmin who is willing to take down entire servers at the merest hint at a legal threat – aside perhaps there is a market for more robust webspace providers who take a harder line on bully-boy tactics?

But it’s also good, because it’s shown the strength of blogs and blogging in the face of such bullying. Had Schillings not pursued Murray and the Arsenal bloggers, the story would have most likely stayed there and no-one save for a few human rights activists and committed Arsenal fans would have known about it. Now pretty much every blog on the entire political spectrum has roused in support. For God’s sake, Iain Dale is backing Tim and Craig here – that is how badly you have fucked up. The end result is that everyone knows about it and copies of the allegations bound about. Ironically, Schillings boast about how they starve their clients’ anatgonists of publicity on their website – I doubt they will be doing the same in this case.

And now, something for me to confess: You’ll notice I have kept a moderate tone throughout and haven’t – this is because I don’t want my webhosts panicking and pulling the plug on this site at the mere hint of a legal threat – I have nothing to go on about whether they have done this before.

As well as that, I am an Arsenal fan, and I strongly oppose Usmanov’s bid for the club. I am also an administrator on Wikipedia, and I spend a fair bit of time there editing & publishing material about the club. In the interests of Wikipedia’s policies on neutrality and verifiability, I have put my own personal animosity aside and have been trying to keep the Wikipedia entry on Usmanov as uninflammatory as possible, and not mentioning the specific allegations (although it is quite easy to find somewhere that does from the references). Ever since the Seigenthaler controversy Wikipedia has got panicky over any sort of libel action and will usually delete anything they get a legal threat over and replace with a whitewashed version. I figured an article that doesn’t mention the allegations specifically but still discusses them is better than no article at all. But in the light of reading all the blog coverage of this now, I have my doubts: Am I right, or have I cowardly compromised? Your thoughts are welcome.

Further reading: Justin and doctorvee has a great roundup of blog activity on this, as does Mr Eugenides and Septic Isle. Unity at Ministry of Truth has a great analysis of how badly rigged the British libel law system is, and how dubious Schillings claims actually are. As of today, Tim and Craig’s sites are still offline but Tim’s got a temporary Portakabin-stylee blog charting the ongoing affair.