MumsNet and Gina Ford

August 8th, 2006 at 11:28 am by james

We found out yesterday that Gina Ford, author of The Contented Little Baby Book and others, is trying to have the MumsNet parents’ peer-support network shut down because of some allegedly libellous statements made by members in discussion. In an effort to avoid being shut down MumsNet has banned all reference to Gina Ford on their website. It is fitting that an action apparently born of ignorance has led to a reaction that is in nobody’s best interests. You can read the MumsNet statement yourself.

Somewhere between 60,000 and 250,000 parents use MumsNet as a support forum, with somewhere in the region of 10,000 posts daily. Gina Ford’s actions are petty and outrageous. It’s gratifying this morning to see many mainstream papers picking up the thread:

The baby guru who threw her bottle out of the pram Daily Mail
This is my favourite: “Perhaps she is just at that age where she needs to test the boundaries. Or maybe she didn’t have her afternoon sleep.
Whatever the reason, Gina Ford has launched into what can only be described as an old-fashioned tantrum.”

Mothers’ website falls foul of Queen of Routine Independent
Childcare expert threatens to have website shut down Guardian Unlimited
Childcare guru goes to war over website Times Online

Posturing of this kind is always annoying – the story thus far is:

  • Gina gets offended by MumsNet postings
  • Gina gets her lawyers, Foot Anstey, to get antsy with the group of mums who run the website
  • The website goes further than is reasonable in accommodating her demands (they deleted entire discussion threads)
  • Gina’s lawyers continue to threaten legal action unless MumsNet pays damages and legal fees
  • MumsNet refuses and Gina’s lawyers go to the website hosts demanding that the site be shut down
  • In a last-ditch effort to avoid legal action MumsNet bans all reference to Gina Ford on their website
  • Gina is labelled a petty cow in every major paper and online forum in the UK
  • So why‘s she doing this again? There should be additional penalties for time wasting.

As much as the hype around Web2.0 and online communities (like they’re new) annoys me, this seems to be an example of someone who either doesn’t begin to understand the phenomenon, or is just unbelievably stupid, suffering irreparable reputational damage as a result of her ignorance. Her solicitors at least should have known better. If she’d let it lie after her initial complaint this would have fizzled out, but now it’s being picked up by hundreds of thousands of people who see the integrity of their online communities being threatened.

If anyone from MumsNet is reading this, my suggestion is that you propose marketing Gina’s farts online as nursery air freshener to help her cover her legal fees. Book sales might not cover it …

10 Responses to “MumsNet and Gina Ford”

  1. Ben Says:

    You’re not into web 2.0?! Go MumsNet!

  2. Lisa Says:

    Gina Ford is a disgrace. she claims to only be writting her books for the good of the parent, then why shut down what is a vital lifeline to many parents everyday!
    I am afraid that she’s behaving like the spoilt child that her book claim to avoid.
    She needs to grow up and stop acting like a child in the playground.

    You go mumsnet we are all behind you!!!

  3. james Says:

    Hey Lisa – thanks for stopping by. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

    Ben, I’m very much into everything that Web2.0 includes, but think the name exists predominantly as a handle for consultants and venture capitalists. I prefer to think of the web as constantly evolving.

  4. james Says:

    Here are the latest statements from MumsNet and Gina Ford.

  5. Harriet Johnson Says:

    If she closes down an entire website, oh boo hoo. All the women who seem to get off on bitching about complete strangers will just find a new cyber playground. There are plenty of parenting websites that fit the bill for all those insecure individuals who aren’t happy unless they’re bitching about celebrities or people who don’t “fit in” on their sites.

    I couldn’t care less about her parenting theories, if I don’t want to know about them I won’t read her books, it’s that simple. But that website were unprofessional in their dealings with her. Nobody deserves to be treated like Mumsnet treated her. If this is what it takes to get site moderators to learn to treat individuals decently then I think she’s done a great service to all women everywhere.

    You can tell how civilised a society is by how it treats its minorities. Parenting websites run their minority voices off the site and bully them mercilessly, with defamation, ad hominem attacks… it’s truly horrible. I have seen it myself many times and it stinks. It’s about time they picked on someone who actually has the clout to fight back. Well done Gina Ford!

  6. james Says:

    Thanks Harriet – that’s a refreshing view in the current climate! I do find it interesting that it is only people who neither care what Gina Ford has to say nor, apparently, know much about the content of the dispute who are coming out in her defence. MumsNet was admirably professional in their handling of their dealings with Gina Ford; balancing their legal risk against the protection of the freedoms of their members couldn’t have been easy.

    Your points about moderation and minorities are more interesting. The web is widely recognised as perhaps the only medium available to minorities to make their voices heard to a worldwide audience precisely because of the absence of controls. “Minorities” in society should be afforded the same rights and freedoms as everyone else in the society. A “minority voice” is a different thing entirely, it’s a player in a debate, which if protected would lead to an absence of debate, which in turn would lead nowhere at all. That’s why minorities need special protection. The level of debate varies by forum online just as it does in society, which is why treatment of minorities needs to be understood in the context of “a civilised society”, not the context of an individual forum.

    Your view that anyone with enough cash should be able to shut down a site that offends him/her is abhorrent. How can you discuss minority protection in the same breath as that? Your suggestion that all parenting websites are stomping grounds for playground bullies is equally absurd.

    I agree that there is a very interesting – and probably very long – debate to be had about the role of moderators on websites … at least in this society where freedom of speech is not entrenched in law.

  7. Harriet Johnson Says:

    James, thanks for your response. How do you know that parenting websites are not stomping grounds for playground bullies? Do you frequent them yourself? I was an online poster on one for about a year and have lurked for years since then and could give you many examples of times when peple who are a bit uncouth, the tall poppies, people with opinions that differ from the majority, have been bullied in obvious and subtle means and often have been hounded off the site. You don’t have to lurk for long to see this sort of thing play out. For the two thousand posters who are ganging up on the one it’s all a jolly lark and makes the internet a fun and exciting place to post, but if you are that one poster, God help you! It’s horrible.

    I don’t agree with the idea that people with cash should be able to shut down websites just because they disagree with them. But I think that if a website has proven that it cannot police itself it should be shut down. I don’t agree that people should be hurt and victimised for the sake of “free speech”. I don’t agree with the concept of “free speech” without reservation. I have many reservations. And I think that if the websites were shut down nobody would really suffer. After all it’s just a modern form of communication. Parents in the 60s never had parenting websites, and they muddled through, so if they disappeared now from the face of the Earth I wouldn’t shed a single tear. But I admit I am biased!

    If you post a lot on a messageboard you get to figure out how the place works and I know that on the board I was on, the moderators were also the posters, and any “hot” thread with a lot of bullying and fighting was always on the front page. The moderators know about these threads and they’re not stupid, and they COULD intervene and close things down, but a lot of them choose not to because they are the biggest bullies of the lot. Drunk on power and getting off on being the most popular, thinking with one mind with the rest of the mob who are trying to bully someone off the site. You think I sound paranoid, but I am speaking from bitter experience. This is the sort of thing I wish could be wiped from the face of the internet. So, with the GF case I think it’s a pile of cow-cookies to say that the moderators “cannot keep up with a busy site” when there are lots of abusive posts about someone. Either they should close the threads or put offending posters on pre-mod, like the BBC website does. There are many ways around this cyber-bullying problem. The only reason the site hadn’t done anything so far is because of their sheer complacency. The moderators obviously think that celebrities are fair game and deserve a pop. But they don’t, nobody does. Common decency should be adhered to and minority voices should be respected, otherwise like you say, debate dies to nothing!

  8. james Says:

    Nicely done, Harriet. I can’t comment on your own – obviously bitter – experience, but your final point is well made. Thanks for stopping by …

  9. Harriet Says:

    Thanks for responding. Pleasure to converse with you.

  10. Charlotte Says:

    Apparently Gina Ford has as many, if not, more supporters on Mumsnet as she does detractors. I think it’s a pity that the blanket action she is calling for will also silence her supporters. While I don’t like the idea of people being as severely judgemental as many apparently were about Ford (some of the comments were bizarre), I also think that it smacks of control freakery to try and shut down a website that supports thousands of parents.

    One thing Gina Ford will never understand is how it feel to be stuck at home with small children, trying perhaps to install a routine and failing because it’s just too hard and you’re just too exhausted to give it real effort and your four-month old baby is RESISTING. Much nicer to be a rich celebrity who can afford to bring in a Gina Ford and let her discipline the baby with rigid routines, controlled crying, and four hourly eating regimens. Much easier to be a Gina: swan in, fix things because you’re not emotionally attached, and swan out again. See, I’m judging her too! There is something about this woman that is SO controversial!

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