Mother of all internet rows

Quite a row is brewing between the internet site ‘Mumsnet’ and a writer of childcare books Gina Ford. It appears that Ms Ford, who has neither children nor childcare qualifications, takes a very structured and almost militaristic approach to childcare. She advocates strict regimes for children and parents, including feedingon demand and allowing babies to cry for up to an hour.

She has been the focus of many heated conversations on the Mumsnet site, and last week one of the posters jokingly suggested that Ms Ford: ‘straps babies to rockets and fires them into south Lebanon’.

Ms Ford reacted angrily and tried to have Mumsnet shut down. In the end, she was able to have the comments removed, and the poster wrote an apology, worthy of the most ironic Slugger: ‘I apologise profusely to any childcare guru that I may have offended by suggesting that they are involved in military action in Lebanon and her followers for suggesting that she/they strap their babies to weapons of mass destruction. I have read her book many times and I can confirm that this IS NOT suggested as part of any childcare guru’s recommended routine. I apologise to any new mums who may have been confused by my post and would advise that if you are considering utilising your baby in any sort of warfare or military conflict, please speak to your health visitor first.”

The Mumsnet statement is well worth looking at, as it illustrates how active and usefeul the site is, and feels that the actions of Ms Ford and her legal team amount to a violation of their right to Free Speech. Another key point in the debate is that they are defending the posts as they discuss her methods, and not Ms Ford personally. The relationship of posters on a Board is likened to patrons in a Bar:

In all of this, the relationship between Mumsnet and the posters on our boards is analogous to that between a pub and its regulars. If the publican overhears a patron making a profoundly unpleasant remark, or if someone draws his or her attention to such a comment, he might be expected to pitch him out of the bar. But to suggest that the publican should be held legally responsible for everything said around every table in his establishment simply doesn’t make sense. Pushing this analogy a little further, Ms Ford asking DSC to shut down Mumsnet is the rough equivalent of demanding that the owner of the pub freehold shut down the place because one of the regulars said something defamatory.

In the absence of adequate legislation to protect the host, Mumsnet has issued a warning to all posters to refrain from discussing Gina Ford on the site any longer.