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Plashing Vole

Hi. I'm Plashing Vole, the academic who was targeted by the Sun on Sunday. They didn't run the story last week, but there's an outside chance that they'll use it at some point in the future.

For me, one of the salient points of the whole affair was the sheer inequality of scale. I think of the Sun's defence of press freedom, and the number of times they've used that to make tasteless, even abusive comments about public figures on a daily basis - and yet they've picked up on a very, very obscure person, gone to an MP from 250 miles away and constructed a story. Clearly free speech is reserved for them, rather than as a general principle.

Like you, I don't think there's any news value in this at all: I can't think that the Sun's readers will be at all interested in this: it just fills space while extending the Conservative discourse about academics being subversives. Luckily, my university was very supportive. They're aware that my real name and institution never appear on my Twitter feed or blog, and that I've never claimed to speak for the university, so they told the paper that it didn't see why it should comment. That the newspaper and Tory MP should involve my employer and political party really bothered me: it's more than confected outrage, it's McCarthyite.

I completely agree that academics should engage in social media and do so with character. Institutional versions are often bland and pointless. On my blog, I talk about news, politics, pop culture and literature, as well as teaching and my life as an academic and union rep. Most of this is quite boring for passers-by and my readership is quite low, but that's OK. Now that I know that hostile national newspapers are collecting this stuff, I might find myself unconsciously censoring myself, which is the antithesis of why I became an academic.

Thanks for your piece - you highlighted the issues much better than I did!


I'm not sure I share your optimism about universities standing up to political pressure. PV's reference to 'support' isn't really enough; they don't have to just 'stick up for the victim', but also attack the offender.

Luckily, this is a storm in a... thimble. But since HE is so mired in finances now, political pressure can combine with financial pressure to spawn - at the least - self-censorship. Society has to grow up about SN.


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