Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Crisis in Wales, Archaeological 'Debate': Mobbing and Crazy Claims on Facebook. Just a Typical Day in 'Professional Archaeology' in Britain [UPDATED]

That there are a number of people out there in the World Wide Web that are not very comfortable with blogs like my own and Heritage Action's, is not surprising. They are mainly those engaged in Collection-Driven exploitation of the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit (artefact hunters, dealers, collectors, that kind of folk). These people habitually engage in all sorts of behaviour to discredit the authors of texts that present artefact collecting in a wider context and challenge the glib back-slapping of the pro-collecting lobby. They will apply various tactics to try to dissuade people from paying attention to what is written here, or to try and block them from being expressed. In fact the disruptive behaviour of metal detectorists from the UK in particular is a major reason why I decided to take my discussion of the issues to my own corner of the Internet where it would not disturb people that do not want to read about these issues. What is disturbing, and indeed shocking, is to see archaeologists siding with the collectors and engaging in the same sort of disruptive behaviour. This has happened before, over on the old BAJR forum (run by David Connolly) for example.

Over the past few months, the moderator of the Facebook page of RESCUE, the Trust for British archaeology (with some 3120 members) has from time to time posted the odd link to a post on this blog that in his judgement conservation-conscious members might be interested in knowing about. The ethos of RESCUE, as the name suggests, is based in a concern for the conservation of the archaeological record. That too is one of the concerns of this blog, so posting - among a plethora of others - a link or two to a post raising an issue of concern should not be all that controversial in such a milieu. At least that is what one might have thought.

But this is Bonkers Britain on the eve of a damaging but popular Brexit. There 'anything goes', and it was not the case that the sort of topics this blog raises can be discussed there. First of all - since its an open group - the metal detectorists lurking there were often the first to react to the posting of a link to PACHI - react that is with the typical metal-detectorist-insults that was the whole reason I resigned from trying to discuss these issues on archaeological forums in the first place. But Rescue members were perfectly tolerant of their usual ad hominem/ad personam nastiness. But there was seldom any meaty discussion from the archaeologists. For most of this time, one of the FLOs , in the spirit of true exchange of views, no doubt, was insistent in trying to use that Facebook group to shout down the views expressed - nota bene - on an external blog. If you follow those threads through, it can clearly be seen that - as in his Twitter vendetta - he was however less keen to actually discuss the issues raised. In a post here I describe the reaction that was the result of the group's administrator posting a link to a text here about a misidentified artefact and how the PAS database is maintained. It was not well received: "go away Barford" was one (university) archaeologist's reaction. Or there was deliberate obfuscation (loud accusations that a map of England used on my blog somehow 'alienates' the Welsh) that hogged the attention that prevented the actual issue raised being discussed. There was little reaction from other members (or the administrators) to any of this - these examples of as one member put it n

Early in the morning of the 13th January 2019, the group administrator posted on the RESCUE Facebook page a link to a text of mine that had been written three days earlier PACHI Thursday, 10 January 2019, 'The Scale of the Artefact Hunting Recording Crisis in Wales'. A rather vanilla topic one would have thought, and in keeping with my long-standing interest in the fate of the PAS in Wales (Na i PAS ar gyfer Cymru: No to a Welsh PAS).
The first I knew of it was about mid morning when I came across a reference on a metal detecting website about the ruckus that a post of mine was apparently causing on the RESCUE Facebook page. When I followed the link I was astonished to find pandemonium had broken out. I was less astonished to find that the reason for this was not what I had actually said about the crisis that the evidence that post presented (see here - one day after the fuss started) - but a whole series of personal attacks on its author (in absentio). Just after I got there and after a list member (Connolly) demanded that he 'explain himself', the group administrator (Chris Cumberpatch) resigned as a result of the list members' reaction.

It is difficult to discern what the problem was imagined to be. Some of the people joining in the happy slapping obviously had not actually decided for themselves if it was the text of the post to which a link had been posted that was alleged to contain 'offensive material' (it did not - as those folk could have checked for themselves of course before writing about it). This was, however, the claim from a number of members (e.g., Sadie Watson Chris wasn't targeted, the blog posts he linked to were the problem. They directed deliberate slurs on people, mostly women). Other members were joining in the mobbing because they considered its author was in general a venomous and even dangerous individual as well as deceitful (Westwood: 'once again (sic) Rescue are reinforcing they (sic) are not a safe space for female archaeologists (sic) and they support the fake news from this blog. Very disappointing'). So the issue seems not, for most people to have been the actual post to which a link was given for those who might be interested, but merely about discrediting its author and the external source to which the link leads.

[In passing in the latter context, it is rather odd to note that that on that Facebook page never before had anybody ever questioned the nature of the external source (or person of the journalist or what other things he has written) in the case of any other link the administrator posted to that group's page. Chris Cumberpatch usually managed to find several fresh news items every few days to link on that Facebook page. Bonkers]

I will leave it up to the reader to look through this blog as a whole (10500 posts it in fact contains) and check out whether there is any truth in the generalisations that it embodies "sexist" language directed at women (or men) or that its author habitually targets women with "deliberate slurs" (because they are women?), or that I seem to be a dangerous person for a woman to have online contact with... or all of the other slanderous nonsense these people were publishing about me on the public page representing an archaeological organisation. 

So who was involved in this sustained archaeological-mob behaviour and why? The breakdown is pretty informative, by numbers of comments under the 'Wales' link [UPDATE 27th Jan 2019: the thread has now been deleted] and then the self-justifications after Chris Cumberpatch's resignation announcement: Benjamin Woodward 12 comments, David Connolly 8 comments, Sadie Watson 6 comments, Rachel Grahame 4 comments, Prof Raimund Karl 2 comments (and possible traces - comment by DC - that one earlier one may not now be visible), Alice Cattermole 1 comment, James Hodgeson, 1 comment. Note, where this can be determined, these are professional archaeologists in Britain, not enthusiastic amateurs.  There were 11 responses to the bullying in the first thread by RESCUE Council members (Spencer Carter, Dan Phillips - who 'apologised' for me, apparently not actually knowing what for - and Jude Plouviez), and over 22 miscellaneous posts mostly by single individuals under the resignation thread.

I think it's fairly clear what's going on. Westwood has been conducting a personal vendetta against me and Heritage Action for at least the past year, so it is not surprising to see that it was he who was egging along the others in these attacks. Dave Connolly (BAJR) is an archaeologist who is a special case, he long ago declared himself to be great pals with artefact hunters and therefore for the last twenty (!) years has not found himself able to agree with anything at all of what I say about Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record - but on the other hand is frustrated by an inability to show on archaeological grounds where my take on things is wrong - mostly though through lack of trying. Prof. Raimund Karl, well, that's obvious, he keeps writing stuff to show that 'metal detectorists' in Austria and the UK are cuddly, I tend not to see any justification for the cuddles when discussing what he wrote. Sadie Watson and Alice Cattermole earlier had strongly disagreed with me on the issue of dealing with false identifications in the PAS database in a previous discussion on the same Facebook page (the discussion mentioned here). 

What is clear however that until the 'Wales' thread was closed by the replacement group administrator [UPDATE: it was deleted two weeks later], nobody much was concerned enough to read the post to which the FB link led, and actually give any consideration to the issue of the recording crisis in Wales that it raised. More than that however, this mob behaviour by fellow archaeologists was intended (it seems) to get me - or at least links to my blog - barred from a facebook page by making all manner of hysterical (and false) claims about me. To their shame, what they achieved by their uncontrollable behaviour instead was the resignation of Chris Cumberpatch as the group administrator:
Suzanne Haigh So sorry to hear this, shame you let the ignorant win. [...] [at instigation of WestwoodI have not followed the 'debate', but sounds more than a debate if Chris has to resign. I am interested in metal detecting but he has posted nothing that has upset me and I am willing to listen to both sides of any story.
Rachel Grahame Very sorry to see this post Chris. Something has gone very badly wrong here.
Anne Given [...] I'm disappointed when serious Archaeological matters are side-tracked by playing the man/woman not the topic.You [Chris] don't deserve to be a casualty and neither does Archaeology. [...]
Chiz Harward [...] I have however also been saddened and worried by posts on here where there has been a total lack of moderation of bullying comments when Paul Barford's posts have been shared here.There is a difference between hosting free debate, and allowing repeated bullying and harassing of posters to go on. It's happened a few times and must have been a known issue and to let it happen again is not good. This has not been a one off, and reflects badly on Rescue. [...] I hope Rescue continues to have a presence on social media, but I do hope that is a more nuanced and reflective presence, and in particular that any bullying comments and behaviour are swiftly dealt with.
Colin Forrestal I'm sorry Chris why have you let the bullies win. [...] [at instigation of Westwood] I have read the piece it is still up on FB. What I have read makes no mention of anything sexist, though I didn't follow all links. The piece I saw would not be out of place in any debate on the subject. Chris I believe posted this, like I would have in all honesty. to stimulate debate on the topic. I think criminal activities in archaeology should be eradicated. Instead suddenly the debate is about sexism. The article I read mentioned people's papers and pointed out that the PAS is starved of funds and resources and that in Wales the problem apparently is getting worse. These I feel are important issues especially if people are crossing borders to exploit differences in law and its application. So where are these 'sexist' statements. Not in what I have read that is still on line.* [after more instigation by Westwood] Yet it is Chris that is getting it in the neck. The post as it stands is actually a reasonable post. So why is Chris targeted [? ...] I also know how Facebook can be played with to make you look to be in the wrong. Been there have that T-shirt. There are many thought police out there that take delight at destroying a person's reputation because they may not agree to the methods employed to achieve the consensus aims. They are still bullies.    
Alex King I'm out of here. I joined the page for relevant archaeology presented with neutral professionalism, certainly not vitriol or bullying from any quarter - there's enough of that elsewhere at present. The hostility seeping from some of the posts objecting to tone elsewhere would be laughably hypocritical were it not the case that a third party has felt the need to fall on their metaphorical sword over the issue. Babies and bath water spring to mind.
I think there is at least one issue that is worth thinking about here. Suppose the text that was linked on the Facebook page had been one by me about a lack or of heritage thatchers in Wales and a number of buildings that were in danger of being damaged through faulty roofing, would it have received the same attention from the Facebook archaeo-mobbers?

*Rachel Grahame's surmise that, before the fuss began, the article might have contained the "sexism" irrationally claimed by the baying archaeo-mob (but it was removed by me or Chris, which is why Colin cannot see it), is wrong. No such deletions were made - indeed it is difficult to see where in that post one could even put such remarks in that post. Neither is there "sexist language" in the texts linked to in that post that Mr Forrestal had not checked. BTW, Mr Forrestal misread my intent, in the post he commented upon, I was not talking about illegal detecting or differences in laws between one region and another. 

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