Language, and civil discourse

21 Jan

Civil Discourse


If you don’t use Twitter, you likely aren’t aware of the kerfuffle of the last few days over the use of the term “brokens.”

Really cool people spell it “broekens” or “broekns,” adding an inexplicable Afrikaans note.

In itself it’s not an exceptionally noteworthy kerfuffle, except that it does starkly demonstrate a current conservative attitude to those considered lacking in calibre, how they ought to be treated, and what should be done about them.

Briefly, exclusion is recommended as a method of dealing with Twitter “brokens.” This remedy will be familiar to everyone who has been following governmental human marginalisation projects since the LNP took office.

In the Twitter case the term brokens is used by one group to refer to another whose manner of engagement they consider to be detrimental to public discourse. It is explained here by commentator Mark Fletcher:

The term ‘Broken’ appears to have a few different accepted meanings. One interesting etymology is that it’s related to the phrase ‘Broken Records’. They are the people who endlessly repeat tiny fragments of argument, persistently and unceasingly. I tend to think of it in terms of Broken People: here are people who are fundamentally incapable of engaging with rational discourse… endlessly repeating tiny fragments of argument, persistently and unceasingly.

Fletcher has a point: there are people who attempt to engage in such a manner, and they’re usually referred to as “trolls.”

However, the term “Broken People” has far more levels of meaning than that of troll, a scary strange non-human who in fairy tales hides under a bridge, determined to prevent you from crossing. It’s disingenuous of Fletcher or anyone else to argue otherwise.

The term was interpreted by many people  as abusive, offensive, elitist and controlling, as well as labelling, and as stigmatising anyone with mental health issues.

Here is how Fletcher recommends we deal with Broken People:

Being able to label and exclude the Brokens is important as part of the creation of a quality public forum. We label and exclude trolls in the same way. Where trolls don’t want to contribute constructively to public discourse, Brokens are fundamentally incapable of doing so. We are not better off as a public by including these participants. What value is there in expending a large amount of effort trying to get the Brokens to a place where they can contribute constructively? It’s a better use of time to let them play on the fringes of debate rather than let them occupy the mainstream. 

What is striking is that Fletcher seems unaware of the wider implications of his remedy for silencing what he terms the “brokens.” This isn’t a term can that be stripped of its levels of meaning: there is no way it will be understood as referring solely to someone who mimics a broken record.

I decided to conduct a small experiment. I contacted Fletcher on Twitter and suggested that his attitude could be interpreted as advocating social eugenics. Did I really want to suggest that calling for a higher quality of public discourse was the same as the Holocaust, he replied.

I was astonished at the speed at which Fletcher’s argument collapsed into Godwin’s Law, as well as his apparent ignorance of the history of eugenics which predates Nazi Germany by some thousands of years. I responded along these lines and he immediately called me a “Broken.” All this took place in just four 140 character tweets, only two of them from me, so it’s hardly possible to accuse me of mimicking a broken record and justifying labelling me thus.

My experiment worked. I’d suspected all along that the term broken had little to do with broken records and everything to to do with contemptuous elitist abuse from those who claim to be primarily interested in establishing civil discourse by excluding those they claim are incapable of that level of engagement.

My message to Fletcher and his cohort is: if you desire civil discourse, first take note of your own use of language. If you aren’t capable of considering the connotations, subtle and otherwise, of the language you employ, you aren’t ready for civil discourse.


84 Responses to “Language, and civil discourse”

  1. John Samuel January 21, 2016 at 8:40 am #

    Well said. I’ve been following people on both sides of this and staying out of it because I just don’t know what to do.

    Anyone using the term “broken” should be treated warily, but one of them is Di Stefano from Buzzfeed which was the only news outlet to REALLY cover the Senate inquiry into Nauru. It’s just a mess and I don’t know what to do. 😦

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 8:54 am #

      Yes, it’s a mess, & Di Stefano’s part in it a puzzle. I deliberately didn’t attempt to unravel his muddle.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 21, 2016 at 9:33 am #

    “I was astonished at the speed at which Fletcher’s argument collapsed into Godwin’s Law, …”

    You shouldn’t have been, it being on Twitter, and given the enunciation of the lemma to Godwin’s Law took place on your very own blog! That lemma broadly saying that ‘the speed of approach to the probability of one is inversely proportional to the bandwidth of the medium in use’. (I’ll post a link to the embedded Twitter exchange shortly.)

    As to the (interestingly recursive) quoted paragraph of Fletcher’s argument, only the fact that I have never read ‘Mein Kampf’ holds me back from saying Fletcher is plagiarising Hitler. So I wont. However, I have read Lord Russell of Liverpool on the outworking of Mein Kampf, and perceive a connection, or more correctly the foreshadowing of a progression, in the sought for othering of the broekns. Hitler was always one for language rules, remember.

    But hey, in your storify link, did I read it right that Brough has now RESIGNED?

    That would bring joy to my oakie broekie heart, but only if we got to the bottom of it all.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. helvityni January 21, 2016 at 10:19 am #

    A timely post, thank you, Jennifer. Winning an effing argument, no matter how minor seems to the main game…it’s a battlefield, and it’s ugly.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. davechaffeyhippie January 21, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    Thank you for writing this article. I agree that any terms like broken or dysfunctional or mental or spiritual garbage or worse are just ad hominem attacks and shouldn’t be used by anyone genuinely interested in hearing what the ‘other side’ has to say. We pretty much all divide humanity into people like us and people not like us and use labels as some kind of tribalistic survival mechanism.

    Some on the left call those they don’t agree with on the left ‘regressives’. This is far less of a problematic term, but is still used to point out other people whose philosophies and methodologies they don’t agree with.

    The term troll is one most of us use at times for others, though I don’t think it has a single meaning. To me, deliberately provoking others to espouse the extent of their non-evidence based beliefs and uncivil tactics is trolling, but if it’s done without causing harm, I call it benevolent trolling. Calling other people out is an important part of civil discussion and I do it. I only exclude people when they are being abusive or threatening or inconsistent contrarians and fortunately this only happens rarely to me. Others cop it far worse. I always try to remember that we’re all human. Hitler was human too.

    I crudely divide people into those who are moderates and those who suffer from what I call extremism spectrum disorder (ESD). But I’ve tried to go beyond this two box approach. ESD is a spectrum disorder, and almost all of us engage in extremist tactics some of the time. I’m certainly not a perfect moderate and someone who encourages others to not vaccinate their children, as an example, is not a perfect extremist.

    As best I can, I try to point out extremist tactics when they are being used and try to defend my own worldview without using extremist tactics. I ridicule and attempt to marginalise extremism using humour but not individual extremists unless they’re at the far end of the spectrum and are most certainly causing harm to themselves and others. I have made an extremism bingo card that I use as a quick reference to remind myself of the common tactics employed by those on the spectrum. I also rely on others to point out when I’m using any of these damaging tactics to defend my ideas.

    I don’t claim to be right or have exclusive access to the Truth and am always looking for others to improve my ideas and methodologies in line with basic harm minimisation principles. I’ve written a fair bit on all this as have others, so it’s all laid out for those who wish to offer constructive criticism and be part of the continual improvement in how to get along with others without inflicting suffering.

    So now it’s time for this broken individual to venture off into cyberspace and do a bit of benevolent trolling…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

      Benevolent trolling: I like that phrase Dave.
      There’s such contempt implicit in the word broken when used against a person, and people actually do get broken, temporarily or permanently, by difficult circumstances in their lives. It’s a crap word to bring into a disagreement, and only shows how weak the abuser actually is.

      I like your way of dealing with social media.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Not Cool Kid Noely (@YaThinkN) January 21, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    Yet again, you take the words right out of my mouth. Well, actually no, you have articulated my thoughts on the matter so well, no way in hell I could actually sum up the issue as concisely as you have above 😉

    The arrogance of these ‘brokens callers’ is astounding. Quite frankly, to look down on Social Media punter who care – yes some may care too much and it can be rather annoying, but hey at least they give a damn about something – is sort of self-defeating. Most of these elitist cool kids would not even have a profile were it not for those same punters on the likes of Twitter reading or following them.

    The too cool for school attitude really gets up my nose. It reminds me of the cool kids in High school, they will decide what is important and what is not and dog forbid you try to buck the trend they have set. Considering the average age of the name callers, you really have to ask yourselves, are the just over-compensating now because they were NOT the cool kids at school?

    Either way. Glad you wrote this out and called out the arrogance for what it is. Everyone has different lives with different priorities, it is only realistic that they would also maybe rabbit on a bit too much about the particular issues that matter to them more. It does not make them wrong, just differing in priorities, which considering how much of the media is a white homogeneous type two trains of through limited arena, this is a good thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 4:19 pm #

      You know, Noely, all these ppl who are complaining have to do is use their mute or block buttons. I think it’s extremely significant that they don’t, & choose to create a social divide they think is in their favour instead.

      Thanks for the nice stuff you said, btw. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. townsvilleblog January 21, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

    My constant letters to the editors could be interpreted as “broken” I consistently write about inequality the excess of the rich, their inability to pay their taxes and the inequality of we pensioners compared to the real world.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 21, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I think I may just have an illustration of the elitism behind the ‘broekns’ labeling in action. One of the parties in the embedded (very short) Twitter conversation features in the @geeksrulz storify thread to which Jennifer has provided a link in her blog post. That party is not me, BTW.

    The tweet by me that features in the screenshot was in response to tweeted speculation as to why AG Brandis was avoiding giving reasons as to why Australia Post was being denied access to metadata which it had asked for as an aid to tracking down stolen mobile phones. It is to be noted that tweeps going on about ‘Ashbygate’ (and by association, I presume, Brough) qualified in the storify narrative for the label ‘brokens’.

    You can read my suggested explanation from the screenshot. It is to be noted that my tweet in that screenshot shows as having been ‘favorited’ by someone. A Twitter user can normally find out by whom their tweets have been ‘favorited’ by clicking the ‘favorited’ button on the enlarged display of the selected tweet. In this case all I got was a blank screen. I am suspicious that a Twitter disruption tool may have been involved, so I said so in the tweeted text that can accompany the screenshot image.

    Now being unable to find the tweep who awarded the ‘favorite’ is not of itself a huge deal. However @JoshGnosis is an acknowledged technical journalist with expertise in understanding the potential implications of phenomena such as I described for the dumbing down of twitter conversations that just might be getting a bit close to the bone in certain areas. Not the slightest sign of engagement was I able to detect.

    Nobody told me I was a broekn!

    PS. Somebody who can post links in tweets might care to give @geeksrulz a link to this comment. He assembled the storify.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

      This encapsulates rather well another aspect of this tweetstorm:

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

      You still can’t post links? Whom have you so grievously offended Forrest?


      • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 21, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

        I think it all stems from an interest I took in 2009 in the extradition of UK citizen Brian Howes to the US, one finally effected in 2012. Of course there have been a number of things since that that can now be perceived to be not unconnected upon which I have commented in what I now understand to have been a broekn way.

        Last Sunday I finally got to see the film ‘The Pianist’. I may have contributed in some small way to a stiffening of Swiss resolve in respect to the attempted extradition of its director by the US in 2009.

        I could go on, and would welcome any opportunity, but don’t want to sound like a broken record.

        It seems not only am I a broekn, but my Twitter is too.


  8. diannaart January 21, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    Really enjoyed this piece – a brief definition as thunked up by yours truly, is that the word Troll is a noun; while ‘broken’ is a description, and, as such, far more subjective.

    Also, ‘brokens’ suggests damage and is clearly a judgement on someone – not sure I would care to use this term at all – not that I’m perfect as I immediately thought of someone who regularly posts on AIM who appears stuck in the political era of Howard & Costello.

    Hmmmm, can I remain morally superior? Probably not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

      Good point about the subjectivity, diannaart, hadn’t thought of that.


  9. OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 6:06 pm #

    Although I am loathe to contribute more to this inane drama and don’t feel like there’s any way to have a constructive discussion with you, I feel like I should respond given that I feel the post unfairly targets me and unreasonably presents my argument. Further, I can see that more people are criticising me on the basis of your post than are following your link to my actual argument. Perhaps they will read this response before being so quick to judge.

    My post followed a long series of entries about the quality of public debate and about the need to improve the capacity for people who disagree with each other to engage meaningfully in dialogue. My main argument relates to the presentation of conservative viewpoints: why do we find so many right wing trolls being the voice of mainstream conservative opinion? What are the economic reasons for it and what are the political consequences for all participants in political discourse.

    I really didn’t think I’d be trolled by Broekns who were keen to start drama. A screenshot of my post was used by a few people in particular to stir up anger against me. These people were very clearly performing an identity online: look at the people who are trying to oppress us.

    Your first interaction with me was to say that my comment looked like a eugenics handbook. It is clear from your comments following this inflammatory statement that you hadn’t read the full article. It is clear from the comments in this post that you continued to read my article in light of the judgement that it was like a eugenics handbook. This is an unreasonable reaction to my position not because it disagrees with me, but because there is nothing even remotely similar between my position and eugenics.

    When I tried to engage you on this point by asking what you meant, you quibbled on whether or not eugenics necessarily entailed a comparison to the Holocaust. As if it mattered. In your post here, you claim that this is an example of Godwin’s Law, that I was invoking the Holocaust to support my argument. On the contrary, I was arguing that my position was nothing like eugenics, or the Holocaust, or anything remotely similar.

    As a result of the actions of you and people you encouraged, I received many more comments that I was somehow like Hitler. Even in the comments to this post, you have tacitly condoned one person stating that I might have plagiarised Hitler.

    This is absurd discourse. There is no way for me to engage with you constructively on this points because they are so far outside of the realm of the reasonable. When I finally dismissed you as yet another Broekn for precisely these reasons, you then claimed that this was because you were a woman who was disagreeing with me.

    The online reaction to the word ‘Broekn’ is very clearly a privileged reaction. It is people who feel that they should be able to dominate discourse with their perspectives. Sealioning me for three days, demanding that I engage with them seriously after they state that I’m a supporter of eugenics, or a supporter of a new Holocaust (against privileged white people) is not a reasonable way to behave. It’s not that you disagree with me, it’s that your approach to the conversation was to disregard any evidence that I wasn’t in support of eugenics.

    So we’re back to my point about Broekns. What value was there in speaking to you at all when it just resulted in this post which continued to unfairly present the discussion?

    The concept of Broekn is clearly a difficult one. There are some people — such as Rita Panahi — who use it simply to exclude people who disagree with her. And there are problems of understanding whose perspective is relevant when it comes to evaluating what is reasonable and unreasonable. I’ve been having really good discussions with people on the back of that post about those limits and those difficulties.

    Wonderfully enough, I’ve been able to use screenshots of your comments (and the comments of other people who responded) to show that, regardless of where we think the ‘grey area’ is about the line between reasonable and unreasonable, there are comments that are clearly unreasonable. Both people who were for and against the term ‘Broken’ could agree that there needed to be some term to describe the comments that were being sent to me and Mark Di Stefano. They were clearly not part of a reasonable discourse and there was no way to engage them seriously.

    It is odd that one of the comments to this post suggests that we could silently mute and block such unproductive people. That, for me, is far worse: at least with the term ‘Broken’ we can explore its limits, its uses and abuses. When we start censoring the language to make concepts invisible, we can’t have the dialogue that we need.

    So this was quite a long comment. I will no doubt get a lot of Broekns engaging in a point and giggle session. Probably a few more comments about how I’m a secret eugenicist, I’m sure. But at least it provides the intellectually serious readers of your blog with the other side of your hit piece.


    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

      Mark, thank you for your comments.

      I continue to disagree with your opinion that using words such as “brokens” or “Broekns” is in any way a contribution to civil discourse.

      No, you are not likely to reasonably engage with me after having set the tone for engagement by labelling me, and a whole other group of people as a “Brokens.”

      I am offended by your description of me as a “Broken.” As I have written practically nothing in any forum on the topic of the NBN, Ashbygate or asylum seekers, I do not in any way begin to fit your criteria for that labelling, so I can only assume you used it purely to be offensive.

      Indeed, I gained the distinct impression that anyone who disagrees with you is labelled a “broken.”

      Justifying the use of the term “broken” as a tool for exploration and discussion of abuse you and Di Stefano have received for using the term broken is bordering on the inane.

      I am at a loss as to understand why the term “troll” is inadequate for your purposes. You seem to have a great deal invested in your desire to describe others as “brokens”in spite of the mountains of evidence you have that the term is regarded as abusive, offensive, ad hominem, demeaning, denigrating, and entirely uncivil. So why continue to insist on its use if your goal is civil discourse? You obviously aren’t going to achieve your goal as long as you use the term, so what is your point?

      I have no problem with your need for a term other than Troll to describe the abuse you’ve received. But if civil discourse is your endgame, then wouldn’t it be more intelligent to choose a word that doesn’t cause such profound offence?

      It is still my opinion that your recommendations for dealing with those you term “brokens” smacks of a desire for social engineering. You recommend that “brokens” be marginalised, and silenced, yet in the above comments you claim to be concerned about censoring language.

      I don’t think you are a “secret eugenicist” or probably a eugenicist at all. I said in my initial comment that your paragraph read as if it came from a eugenics handbook, and I do not withdraw my opinion on that. I am perfectly entitled to hold this opinion and express it, just as you are perfectly entitled to label me and anyone else “Broken.”

      Yo nare offended by me likening your paragraph to a eugenics handbook, but I and others ought not to be offended by you labelling us as “brokens?”

      You write:”When we start censoring the language to make concepts invisible, we can’t have the dialogue that we need.” I totally agree with that. However, there is language you do wish to censor: the language of those you perceive as “Brokens”, including, it appears, myself.

      For someone who does not wish to continue what he perceives to be a “drama” you have certainly managed to achieve that goal.

      As long as you continue to use the term “Brokens” in its English or Afrikaans spelling, you will be contributing to the demise of civil discourse, as it is an uncivil term.

      I am not advocating that you be somehow prevented from using the term. Unlike your desire to silence “Broekns,” I have no desire to silence you. Use it as much as you wish for as long as you wish. Just be aware that people will protest its use, as is their right, and what you will achieve is a contest about the use of the word brokens, and not a civil debate on any other topic you claim interest in.


      • OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

        This conversation isn’t productive for reasons I’ve highlighted. I have no desire to continue this dialogue because I do not think that engaging with you is constructive.

        I would note that my post doesn’t direct anybody to abuse any particular individual. You haven’t afforded me the same courtesy and I continue to receive abuse that is indirectly instigated by you. The fact that the abuse I’m receiving is so exceptionally toxic and unreasonable further goes to show why we need terms like ‘Broken’ to describe people who are incapable (rather than unwilling, in the case of the troll) to engage with constructive discourse.


        • diannaart January 21, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

          “…why we need terms like ‘Broken’ to describe people who are incapable (rather than unwilling, in the case of the troll) to engage with constructive discourse…”

          Because, what we need are more terms of abuse… trolls not adequate enough?

          Liked by 1 person

          • OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 7:18 pm #

            Hi Dianna (?)

            I think we disagree about the nature of the phrase ‘Broken’. I take your point that it can be read as an insult. The Panahi case shows that fairly clearly. In my blog post (I’m not sure if you’ve read it), I use the word to describe a particular cohort of people — regardless of their political persuasion — who are incapable of engaging constructively with debate. The term is used not to abuse them but to have a shared language about whether or not to engage them for political benefit.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 7:28 pm #

              Then if a shared language is your goal, choose a term that does not carry such loaded meaning and doesn’t alienate.


              • OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

                Hi Jennifer,

                I don’t think engaging with you is going to be productive here. Cheers.


                • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

                  As this is my blog, Mark, I don’t think you can expect to comment here without engaging with me.


                  • OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

                    The problem is that you’re directing abuse in my direction. By discussing it with reasonable people in the comments, I can at least try to mitigate the damage you’ve done. I’m not sure why you’re responding to me when you have indicated that you’re not capable of having a reasonable discussion on the topic, and even refuse to apologise for targeting me for abuse.


                    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

                      Oh gawd.


                    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

                      If you take your choice of language from Rita Pahini, you’re setting yourself up as a target, Mark.

                      And if you choose to use such an inflammatory term, be courageous enough not to whine when others critique your choices.


            • doug quixote January 21, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

              Why would you bother to engage with trolls, of the broken or the unbroken types, at all?

              Liked by 2 people

              • OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

                That’s right. I’m saying that we shouldn’t.

                This post was a good example of a time when we might engage with Brokens though. I was being subjected to extreme forms of abuse and so felt I should write a comment so that reasonable onlookers could decide for themselves whether the abuse I was receiving was justifiable. Jennifer clearly thinks that it is, again showing why engagement with Brokens isn’t constructive.


                • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

                  I’ll ignore the verballing and gas lighting for now, Mark.

                  I have never said that I think the abuse you’ve received is acceptable. I don’t. My entire argument with you is your use of the derogatory term “Brokens” to describe those who have apparently abused you.

                  You obviously have no idea what that term means to very many people. You are engaged in some solipsistic performance in which you seem to think that because you mean something different from everyone else when you use the word, everyone else will a) know that and b) go along with your redefining of the term.

                  That doesn’t seem to be working for you.


                  • OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

                    Hi Jennifer,

                    I don’t think engaging with you is going to be productive here. Cheers.


                    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 7:48 pm #

                      Mark, nobody is forcing you to respond. You are leaving comments on my blog. If you don’t want to “engage “with me here, stop leaving comments on my blog would seem the obvious move


                • doug quixote January 21, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

                  I think I know a few of those you mention in your article The Empty Man . . . and yes we would be better off without them. I doubt whether they are “almost universally white, and overwhelmingly male” however. You’ll need to show me the stats on that one.

                  Of course, white males may have far more comments by volume than other demographics; that at least is plausible.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

                    My experience of Brokens is anecdotal, it is true.

                    I think Brokens by definition have to be white. There’s something about the white experience which gives them the sense of entitlement to make their demands of others. ‘I insist that you listen to me when [for example] I make a reference to eugenics while speaking about you.’

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

                      You mean like (for example) intruding on someone’s blog and insisting on leaving comments while simultaneously saying “I don’t want to engage with you?”


            • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 22, 2016 at 6:03 am #

              Perhaps the word you are looking for to describe those people is ‘untermensch’? What would be wrong with that?

              Liked by 1 person

              • diannaart January 22, 2016 at 9:34 am #

                ‘untermensch’ – ironic on so many levels.

                ‘bork’ – isn’t that what the Swedish chef on the Muppets used to do to chickens?

                No, sounds like he sang “mork, mork, mork”

                Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 7:15 pm #

          I’m sorry you haven’t found the conversation “productive,” Mark. I’ve found it extremely productive, but I wouldn’t describe it as an “engagement.”

          We do not need terms such as “broken” to describe people you regard as “incapable” of whatever it is you regard them as incapable of.

          I don’t regard you as in any way an arbiter of the language “we” need or don’t need, and exactly who comprises the “we” to whom you refer I don’t know.

          As I said, no one can prevent you from using whatever language you choose, however, if civil discourse is your goal, you need to bear in mind that the deliberate choice of offensive terminology will not result in you achieving that goal.

          Thank you for your comments.


    • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 21, 2016 at 11:24 pm #

      I like being the beneficiary of tacit condonation for what I might have claimed. Especially about Hitler. And especially when I didn’t, as I so expressly said.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Gina January 21, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

    When I read the word brokens, it conjures up the image of someone who doesn’t want to listen to you, for any reason, and puts out their palm as if creating a stop sign. It just generates an image of total ignorance from people that think they have a lot to say and in fact are wanting of any real discourse. It is almost like the dumb leading the dumb.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. doug quixote January 21, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    It is just another way of shutting down those who disagree with you.

    Whilst there are some commenters here (and several more over at Table Talk) who carry on with the “broken record” (a vinyl LP reference, either dated or elitist, take your pick!) style of single issue obsession, they are often justified in repeating their arguments in an ongoing debate.

    But they might try varying their comments a little.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

      Hi Doug,

      I recommend reading the blog post that’s being criticised. It notes at several points that the phrase also refers to people with whom we fundamentally agree.

      Your point about some people being justified in their repetition is a good one and a difficult one (and has been brought up elsewhere). One response I might make is that the sort of repetition that we’re talking about with ‘Broken’ is a sort of uncritical repetition, insensitive to the audience. But that’s where it goes into a bit of a grey area.


    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

      I haven’t got a problem with the use of the term “broken record” DQ. It’s completely different from “brokens.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • diannaart January 21, 2016 at 7:34 pm #

        …and just where does all this palaver leave the “squeaky wheel”?


        Liked by 1 person

    • silkworm January 23, 2016 at 10:19 pm #

      Hey Doug, care to elaborate on who at Table Talk carry on like a broken record, and what the single issue is that they carry on with?


      • doug quixote January 23, 2016 at 11:20 pm #

        No, they can remain nameless to protect their innocence.

        Some have their hearts in the right place; they don’t deserve any naming and shaming.


  12. OnlyTheSangfroid January 21, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    I’ll leave it there. The comments show that I’m open to reasonable critique, that I strongly disagree with the way I was characterised, and that there is a way forward for constructive discussion.

    I’ll leave it for others to decide whether or not making reference to ‘eugenics’ was reasonable, and I probably agree with the criticism of other people that even responding to your ‘eugenics’ comment was a mistake on my part.


    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 8:27 pm #

      I’ve lost count of the number of times in the last 24 hours you’ve claimed to have ended your contact with me then started it up again. Are you stalking me?

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 21, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

    This thread has become such phun! Clothed Villainy indeed.

    Just a word of caution. Things said in Afrikaans are not necessarily what their seemingly English translations might indicate. For example, what was perhaps interpreted as a post hoc compliment to the late South African Field Marshall Jan Smuts in the term ‘Slim Jannie’ was in Afrikaans an intended profound insult. ‘Slim’ meaning treacherous, ‘slimey’, perhaps being a good English translation.

    The South African war was the oven in which was baked the 1st AIF. And the 2nd AIF was a reheat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

      I don’t think broekn is even Afrikaans. It’s like borked.


      • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 21, 2016 at 11:11 pm #

        As if the Afrikaaners had been in fact Swedish colonists, you mean? (This is a test post, just to see if my posts are roundly borked.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson January 22, 2016 at 6:48 am #

          No they are neither borked nor broekn


          • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

            But it sure seems someone doesn’t want some of my tweets on display in your @noplaceforsheep Twitter timelines! I’ll try a little borking-by-embedding of my own, just for the record:

            Do you perceive a concerted attempt to keep a particular line of enquiry with respect to Brough off the public radar? What does that tell you: that I am broekn and paranoid, or that I may be on to something in that respect?


          • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 23, 2016 at 6:38 am #

            Not long after I had embedded the tweet containing the screenshot of the reported missing tweets, I revisited the @noplaceforsheep ‘All tweets’ Twitter timeline.

            The missing tweets had been restored to view!

            I had taken various screenshots of the timeline, so I knew at least I, if not Twitter viewers at large, was actually seeing something. A little scrolling soon revealed that whilst the tweets complained of as missing had been restored, others that actually had been posted and initially gone up on the timeline had now disappeared. This was an example:

            Let me make it clear that my reference to a ‘night supervisor’ is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I have no idea as to whether there is any ongoing real-time oversight of my Twitter account occurring, but it looks uncannily like it.

            My point is that if such ‘oversight’ really is the cause of these mysterious dissappearances of tweets, it says far more about the concerns of those maintaining the oversight than it says about me! And about the nature and/or vulnerability of Twitter, to which I sometimes refer jokingly as ‘’.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jennifer Wilson January 23, 2016 at 6:55 am #

              Well, you’ve suggested the existence of the oversight of a possible Twitter government, so you’re a menace, plus according to the criteria you’re also a *broken*
              Your tweets are selected at random for temporary erasure then returned when you note their disappearance. They’re messing with you, because they can.
              More seriously, it would be naive to think there aren’t watchers. I can only think they’re bored witless if they resort to tampering with innocuous tweets.


              • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 24, 2016 at 6:01 am #

                Your fall of shot.


                • Jennifer Wilson January 24, 2016 at 9:50 am #

                  LOL, does he really have so little in his life he has to make these tweets important? Does this qualify as being broken?


                  • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 24, 2016 at 10:17 am #

                    It is the winter of our dissed content, it would seem. Looking on the bright side of online life, it is perhaps the end of the beginning. The commencement of our, if I can be so presumptuous, very own mini Streisand Effect in the ongoing battle against the oppressions of the Lords Disruptive of the Interwebs.

                    Complete with embedded tweeted screenshots for those of little faith.

                    Die Schaffenschlacht: Sheep breaches the Sangfroid Line.


  14. Christine Says Hi January 21, 2016 at 11:20 pm #

    After hanging about the internet for a decade and a half, this is just incredibly familiar stuff. It’s like the worst of high school online, turned into one of those perpetual motion shiny ball things. I reckon it will go one of two ways. Way one: the chap deciding to limit discussion to people he approves of will eventually end up talking big to an increasingly bored, boring and diminishing group of followers, because the nodding dogs who agree that the trolls and brokens should be kept out in order to shore up their place on the popular team, will gradually toodle off to places where the unwanteds are present, because those places are lively and exciting in large part precisely because of the neverending arguments about trolls and brokens). Way 2: More and more people will agree with elite-guy and his way of thinking will be pre-eminent but more and more people will slip away to participate in avant garde-ish, non-group mindthink places, because it’s more groovy, rebellious and interesting, leaving a small bunch of elite participants enjoying the sound of their own voices in the echo chamber, and trying desperately to introduce ‘new blood’ by recruiting trolls and brokens. The lifespan of this process is probably faster than it used to be, but when I first started joining online groups it would take about a fortnight. I daresay on Twitter (where I do not go) it happens in 140 hours or something 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 22, 2016 at 6:51 am #

      Christine: Excellent analysis!! And you made me laugh.Of course you are spot on, and it’s brilliant that it actually works as you describe.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. the referral January 27, 2016 at 6:08 pm #

    What I find astonishing about this entire debate is that the term ‘brokens/broekens/brokns’ (PS: it has nothing to do with Afrikaans, BTW, like most internet slang it’s just misspelt for whatever stupid reason people came up with at the time – ‘teh kittehs’, babby, you name it) is that the big Twitter accounts I would label the lead ‘brokens’ dish out some of the most vile abuse, particularly towards women, I’ve seen in 7 years on Twitter. This is why I was surprised you were defending them, Jennifer. You have seen first hand what they are capable of (here’s a few examples):

    The comments here about Kathy Jackson feigning mental illness (I think she’s a disgrace & deserves to go to jail, but the comments on this IA piece are no better than you’d read on the Herald-Sun):,6992

    My second most RTd/Fav’d tweet uses brokens to describe journalists, including one from someone called @grey_ghost3150 who now goes by “A Broken, not bowed”. Because it’s OK to RT & fav a term if it’s used against your MSM/political enemies, right? Here’s the link, I tried to embed it as I deactivated my account but wordpress wouldn’t allow it (?):

    This post, from 2014, pretty much explains my thinking around the term. Strict adherence to a party or a worldview that is so narrow on any particular subject that every other viewpoint is either flat out wrong or a conspiracy:

    Twitter means people can say pretty much whatever they want – but no one has to listen. Muting, unfollowing or blocking people isn’t silencing, or being elitest. There’s no rule that says people have to offer confirmation bias. There’s no law that says, ‘you have to reply to every @ mention’. The sense of entitlement is staggering. “How dare you ignore me!” I’m going to passive-aggressively @ mention you in the middle of a tweet so everyone who follows you sees it!” No. The only person who determines what I see in my TL is me. If you repeatedly ignore requests to stop @ mentioning me, then I mute, unfollow or block. If you can’t entertain an alternate view, same. If you think any political party, leader or policy is flawless, you’re begging to be lied to and disappointed.

    I’ve stopped my infrequent references to brokens because, as I said, I’ve deactivated my account. That’s my decision. I might reactivate it, I might not. I will miss the various sport Twitter most of all. In the last two weeks I have been swarmed by MRAs, accused of supporting rape, etc. and now of demeaning people by using a slur against the mentally ill/child sexual abuse survivors by ALP supporters, at least one of whom is appropriating pictures of dead refugee children in some revolting way to link them with ‘media bias against the NBN cost the party the 2013 election’. As someone who is quite public about lived experience of both mental illness & CSA, it’s off the chain gaslighting.

    I understand that people are aggrieved at being labelled ‘broken’. I may be many things, but I’m not a bloody hypocrite. If, three years later, anyone is offended by it, but has used it (or worse, unmistakable slurs) against their political opposites then maybe this is a good time to think about how we *all* behave.

    I wish you and everyone reading this blog well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 27, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

      Hello, Kimberley, I tried to open the link to your post, but wasn’t able to, which is a bugger because I’d really like to read it.

      I had no idea you’d been subjected to such intimidation and abuse because you’d used the term. I don’t defend that treatment of you at all: it’s appalling.

      I’m not clear about who you think I’m defending: I didn’t actually think I was defending anyone, rather objecting to the use of the term in general, and here I think the problems arise: to me, the term is associated with fragility and brokenness as a consequence of illness, and or inflicted damage or both. The example you link to, what would king leonidas do, offers a completely different interpretation, and I’m guessing that’s the meaning you attribute to the word.

      I don’t defend people who are vile on twitter even if they consider themselves to be *brokens.* I had no idea you’d used the brokens word and been vilified by them for doing so.

      I know some of your work on mental illness and CSA and I’ve thought for a while that your write quite stunningly about both, and you’ve never struck me as any kind of hypocrite.

      I don’t read IA. I had a disagreement with Donovan one time & preferred to leave it at that.

      I had a good long convo with Preston Towers on Twitter about the use of the word, and I think that clarified some aspects for both of us.

      I really hope you want to come back to Twitter soon,especially for your sport, and for the others there who will miss your keen observations. I can only say I certainly didn’t have you in mind when I wrote about this issue, and had no idea you were involved in it at all. Regardless, I am very sorry to have contributed inadvertently to your distress.

      I very much appreciate you leaving these comments. Please take good care of yourself.
      All the best to you


      • the referral January 27, 2016 at 9:26 pm #

        Thanks Jennifer, I really appreciate the kind words. Yes, I have been singled out for abuse/harassment & intimidation. Firstly, I want to say I am no angel. I can be incredibly rude & argumentative on Twitter (you’ve seen it in full flight!)… but mostly I just try & engage with people who make me think, laugh & care.

        Briefly… PascalG went through a search & I was one of the people targeted by him – from what I saw, one of the few women. Instead of ignoring him, I engaged with him last week in an attempt to say, ‘you seem like a nice guy – please don’t put yourself in with the likes of Sortius etc.’ he kept taking screenshots & RTing them. That’s when people start piling on. I criticised Geeksrulz & a woman I had followed took screenshots & sent them around to a group of men who I had never engaged with but proceeded to insult me. When I challenged them directly, like most bullies, they lied. I became so upset I started screencapping them myself – that’s when I thought, ‘it’s not worth it’. It’s Mean Girls on steroids.

        I’m glad you had a chat with Preston. He had a whole parody account set up by one of these men. This person has met him in real life, so found it easy to ridicule his marriage, his profession etc. It is incredibly frustrating when you see people who can be pains in the arse but are genuinely good-hearted vilified and then see those same people say they are being victimised. I understand that by using this word, I have hurt people’s feelings, people I had never thought of when I used the word – honestly, it was a handful of accounts to me – and I am truly sorry for that. I can now see the ‘brokenness’ interpretation makes that much worse – but I live it. It boggled my mind that people think I would use a slur on mental illness or sexual abuse. It was very difficult last week to have people I respect/like/engage with regularly take me to task in public as a result of PascalG’s efforts. There’s criticism and there is a failure to acknowledge that there are very real reasons why it was ever something I wrote. I can’t account for other people’s actions; only my own. I am deeply sorry to anyone who was hurt by my use of the word & apologise unreservedly. All I ask in return is that there is a little more looking at what the main accounts are doing. PascalG’s language is basically GamerGate ‘war’ talk; he’s made a ‘brokens’ bot for god’s sake.

        Oh god I have killed your comments section with this! Take care, I will follow the blog & maybe I will start writing some more on mine.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson January 28, 2016 at 7:14 am #

          You’ve added more life to the comments section Kimberley, not killed it.

          You could write a post on this situation when you feel like it from a so far unheard-from perspective. It’s interesting and complex, I don’t think everything has been said about it by a long shot.

          Thanks for following Sheep – I probably won’t be as prolific here as usual because I’m writing a book and have time restraints for the next few months.

          Thanks for initiating this convo: it’s good to actually discuss something and try to work through it instead of the usual social media thing of swearing, blocking & sub tweeting we all resort to from time to time, I’m as guilty as anybody else of that.
          Best, Jennifer.


        • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 28, 2016 at 10:52 am #

          “Oh god I have killed your comments section with this!”

          No you haven’t! What you have done is stymied my screenshot opportunity. I had successfully driven every other avatar from the ‘Recent Comments’ display with a sequence of historically on-topic comments to the ‘Water Cannon’ thread. I was going to tweet that screenshot into Jennifer’s Twitter timeline (TL) as a vulgar form of advertising for the blog. Now you have ruined everything.

          Thanks for embedding whatwouldkingleonidasdo’s post on ‘The Brokens’. We tweeters of a lesser blog are indebted to you.

          Only the Sangfroid’s (@clothedvillainy) repeated engagements with Jennifer over ‘brokens’ both here and on Twitter provided some of the best online entertainment I have ever had. It was civil discourse par excellence. Reminded me of a young dog I saw once that repeatedly kept running into an electric fence: a slow learner. The dog’s name was ‘Lucky’.

          Liked by 1 person

        • doug quixote January 28, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

          Not at all. We like to take our time here, quality rather than quantity. 🙂

          There are people out there in the blogosphere who take great delight in trolling, seeking to flame and to get a reaction from other commenters and of course the blog host. Getting banned seems to be a mark of distinction for some.

          Others enjoy sealioning – a term I hadn’t seen before, and a wonderful addition to my vocabulary (!).

          You would make a fine addition to the blog, Kimberley.

          But don’t expect rapid-fire exchanges. Jennifer is a rare talent, when the mood takes her; alas, all too infrequently.

          Liked by 1 person

          • silkworm January 28, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

            Yes, sea-lioning. I have to thank Mark Fletcher (Sangfroid) for introducing me to that concept as well. A sea-lion is an intrusive troll who overpontificates, stonewalls, and accuses their targets of being irrational. There is no better exaple of sea-lioning than Sangfroid himself!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jennifer Wilson January 28, 2016 at 7:57 pm #

            DQ: What? Too infrequently? What?


            • doug quixote January 28, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

              You have a life outside this blog! That’s all I mean by that. I’d have you inspired and inspiring 24/7, if ’twas possible Guinevere.

              Liked by 1 person

  16. doug quixote January 27, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

    Apparently ‘brokens’ means different things to different people. If someone is a partisan of a particular Party and wants to spin whatever the Party does as acceptable, that means they are a political partisan, not that they are ‘broken’.

    Not by most definitions I have seen, anyway.

    For mine, a ‘broken’ will make a predictable and repetitive post upon a narrow range of topics, also predictable. Unless they are also abusive or malignant, they should be easily scrolled past.

    Those who are keen on use of obscure abbreviations (TL, MRAs, CSA) are at risk of obscuring their own point and incurring accusations of elitism or of speaking only to a clique.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 27, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

      They are Twitter abbreviations, DQ. That’s the clique. We have to use them because we only get 140 characters to get it all said. 🙂


    • the referral January 27, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

      Hi Doug… apologies for the abbreviations, that’s what writing in 140 characters does to you after a while!

      It’s quite disconcerting to see ‘elitism’ or ‘speaking only to a clique’ when I had spelt out that I am a survivor child sexual abuse (CSA). Abbreviating it sometimes is less triggering for me. I made the incorrect assumption that when I spelt it out the first time it would be easily understood. I should have put the abbreviate next to it so I didn’t have to write it again. MRA is more common (the loathsome Men’s Rights Activists). TL – that’s just my shorthand for ‘timeline’.

      Again, I apologise, but I would ask that you don’t make assumptions about people, and consider the fear that even discussing why I am upset with the appropriation of such trauma by men with thousands of Twitter followers, who regularly degrade & abuse women online made me hesitate about posting anything in the first place. I’m not a ‘cool kid’. I’m a 44 year old woman who has relied on Twitter to get me through many dark periods over the past seven years. I am no less passionate about my interests than anyone else – that was another really lazy line from someone, I can’t remember – that people who used ‘brokens’ were somehow less engaged in politics (or life or whatever). No. Not at all.

      I am very sad about what has happened, not because I want to sit around calling people names all day, but because of the many wonderful friendships I have been lucky to build from Twitter interactions.

      I am genuinely sorry to everyone I offended by using the term. I acknowledge that people are offended by it, and if I go back on Twitter, I know that I can and will do better. Being mindful of other people goes all-around, though. It is ill-considered to appropriate other people’s suffering to amplify the offense taken; and to use pictures of dead children is on another level altogether. All I was trying to do by posting my comment was to illustrate the point that there are patterns of abuse and poor form all round. I have seen it and experienced it first hand (from ‘cool kids’ & ‘brokens’). Most of the time I have just shrugged my shoulders & hit block. At other times I have let it get to me. My illness makes it difficult to keep things in perspective, and when men are abusing you, singling you out from hundreds of people then stalking your other social media platforms (which happened to me this week), it becomes hard to maintain any perspective at all.

      Just to clarify – I’m not a member of any political party, but I worked for the ALP for eight years. You are spot on about the predictable/repetitive post aspect – political partisanship is one thing, refusing to entertain other viewpoints is another.


      Liked by 1 person

      • doug quixote January 27, 2016 at 9:32 pm #

        Fair enough. One supposes that things are sometimes said in the heat of battle which might have been better left unsaid.

        There is a price for being a Twit. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person


  1. Water cannon. Free speech. The right not to listen. | No Place For Sheep - January 22, 2016

    […] robust exchanges of the last few days on the subject of so-called “brokens” and the need to control or silence their allegedly “broken” speech reminded me of Human Rights Freedom […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: