Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Friday, November 04, 2005
Is this reaction to the French riots typical? I found out about this one from "Ritter" in the Biased BBC comments. The "underprivileged youth" angle that the BBC took regarding the riots was predictable, but of equal interest to me was the very different reaction from readers of the BBC website.

Some background: the BBC website's Have Your Say feature, which used to function like a newspaper letters column, has now moved over to a forum structure. Readers can send in comments and recommend those of other people. My impression is that now that the published comments are no longer selected by editors (although they are still moderated) their average character has changed.

When arranged in order of numbers of recommendations, the most recommended comments were overwhelmingly hostile to the rioters.

I am well aware that comments fora can become skewed by a vociferous minority. (This is not necessarily good or bad in itself - that all depends on the minority concerned.) This is particularly true when the forum is fairly new and may not yet have been discovered by a wider public. Another reason for questioning whether this response is typical is that being in English it will be skewed towards Anglophone respondents. There were quite a few Americans comparing, some with good grace and some with ill, the French view of the exaggerated accounts of mayhem in New Orleans with last week's hitherto downplayed events in France. Furthermore it seems likely that more white than North African-descended Frenchmen and women will speak English well enough to wish to comment to the BBC.

All good reason to wonder it if means anything at all. And yet ... just look how far you have to read before you come to any suggestion that the grievances of the rioters justify riots. One way in which consensus opinion changes is when scattered individuals become aware that many others share their opinions.

UPDATE 7 NOV: Also see this post.