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.

  • eranu

    gina’s picture looks a bit scary. but apart from that id say shes right. her regime might be a bit too strict, but it works. the babies following it sleep through the night. theres your answer.

  • Miss Fitz

    Maybe thats why she’s so controversial eranu: I totally disagree. I always pikced mine up when they cried, and fed on demand, slept when they slept. All slept through the night from almost the beginning. She apparently causes fierce debate on the site, and has very pro and anti camps

  • Keith M

    I’m afraid that I subscribe to the old joke that children were like farts; you can just about stand your own, therefore when I see someone being accused of “strapping babies to rockets and firing them into south Lebanon” I’m thinking that’s a stroke of genius, killing two birds with one stone 😉

    Seriously this Ford woman appears to have gone totally OTT. Most websites are quite reasonable to deal with. If you find anything personally defamatory just contact the site and almost always it will be removed and you’ll get an apology.

    It’s a good job people on Slugger are a lot more thick skinned (and indeed for some “skinned” is superfluous).

  • Miss Fitz

    Keith
    I posted it to demonstrate those points, and the still grey area that exists around libel and defamation on sites.

    Also, I thought it was interesting that while the site felt that playing the ball not the guru was sufficient, her legal team appear to hold a different view, and are considering High Court action

  • DK

    “her regime might be a bit too strict, but it works. the babies following it sleep through the night.”

    No they don’t – not in all cases. It’s too strict a formula that attempts to put all children in the same hole, whatever their shape. Routine is critically important, but GF’s approach is too restrictive and inflexible to be applied without a great deal of pain, where adapting routines to your own and babies preferences works far better.

    Feeding on demand is probably OK for first couple on months, but then you need to start a routine – but base it around the rhythms that you’ll have noticed in the first couple of months.

  • Animus

    This shows that Ford is a total control freak, abd god help her infant charges. She is one of a host of childcare ‘experts’ who advocate a certain way of child-rearing (not all fo them are so anti-child). I have never heard any of the others throwing the dummy out of the pram so dramatically.

    I think this illustrates another important point about the relationship between so-called experts and their intended audience and the relationship between the audience and each other. GF can control the message she send out, but she can’t control what her audience does with it. She may be dismayed to know that toddler groups up and down the country are libelling her all the time.

    While Mumsnet may require that posters don’t refer to GF directly, you can bet they will be creating a nickname for her and talking about her in some other way. Those who already hate her will have their worst fears gloriously confirmed and those who thought she might be reasonable will question whether or not they want to follow the advice of someone so neurotic. This is not the kind of PR Ford really wants, is it?

  • Jo

    “If you find anything personally defamatory just contact the site and almost always it will be removed and you’ll get an apology. ”

    I’m afraid this is, quite simply, not true.

  • eranu

    she has 12 years experience of looking after 300 babies. to me that suggests that she knows the best way to manage a baby, that is in the sense of the body being a machine that is managed and maintained. a bit like looking after your car. no emotions involved though, but the people following her methods in the article had success.

    i agree its far too strict to follow everything all the time. but i think its better to follow her instructions to some degree than to try and do your own thing when you havent a clue how to do it.

  • na

    Ah but Jo, you tend to confuse the meaning of defamation. You seem to think it refers to unidentifiable, fictitious internet persona, it doesn’t.

    Most will laugh off complaints of defamation from anonymous complainants. Some even laugh at such complainants.

  • Miss Fitz

    Eranu
    Child psychologists demonstrate that the most important time in a child’s life are from birth to 2 years old. This is when the child attaches to the care giver, and allows the child to form emotions and attachments that mould it’s emotional ability and capacity for life.

    Leaving a baby to cry for an hour is cruel and went out years ago.

    When I did my midwifery training in Drogheda, we usesd to have a lot of single, middle aged women who were absolutely expert at telling women how easy child birth was, and how pain could be controlled. When I was a single woman, delivering babies and giving advice, it was all so simple.

    When I was in labour, I believed everything I had been told until about the second contraction. You never saw an epidural being requested so quickly. Honestly, if you haven’t raised chidlren from infancy, 24/7, you are clocking if you think you can tell others how to do it.

  • Miss Fitz

    Jo
    Have you tried to have a comment removed from Mumsnet?

  • Animus

    Eranu – she has never had her own baby. I know that doesn’t automatically make her wrong, but she has no concept of what breastfeeding is actually like, or the intensity of the parental bond. It just isn’t possible. She may be able to provide some guidance, but I wouldn’t trust someone on babycare who lacked that kind of knowledge. Spending a work day with a baby is one thing, parents are on call 24 hours, at least in the early days.

    Experts like her contribute to parents not following their instincts for child-rearing. Parents have been raising children for thousands of years without the help of Ms Ford. And in fact, many of her methods have been found wanting in terms of forming a secure attachment to the parents. She looks after babies, she has no idea how they turn out as adults. What I find most offensive about Ford and her ilk is the idea that they are absolutely right – no room for manoevre or treating a baby as an individual. That’s where your analogy to a car breaks down.

    And as for success, you can read lots of articles of parents who were in despair when Ford’s methods didn’t work. It reminds me of the religious cult of parents who beat their chidlren for every infraction. Their motto is “well, it works!” But at what cost? One has to think of the long-term.

  • Jo

    Miss Fitz,

    I was referring to Keith’s comment which in turn referred to “most sites being reasonable to deal with.”

    In relation to Mumsnet (which I have personally found helpful and supportive, I have nothing but admiration for the witty way in which this woman’s issue was handled. I had no respect for her previously and even less now. The word “anachronism” occurs for some reason.

  • eranu

    miss fitz / animus. i havent really got anything more to say about it. id be in danger of arguing about something i dont know enough about.
    just to say that with her experience she probably has some good ideas on the mechanics of looking after a baby, not the emotional side though. so if anyones having trouble it might be worth having a look at what she says.

    happy parenting !

  • Harry Flashman

    We here in Asia have a much more holistic, nuanced approach to child rearing than is practised in more supposedly “advanced” western societies.

    In our home when my six month old son cries at 3am we find that the best approach is to roll over, put a pillow on our heads and let the maid sort it out.

    . . .er, I’ll get me coat shall I?

  • DK

    Harry,

    There is a site called, I think, badmother.com or similar where parents share their stories of how they dealt with Children in a less than ideal way such as: putting them to bed in their school clothes to save time in the morning, letting the childcare centre do the potty training, etc. etc.

    My favourite one is the repeat play option on the “baby einstein” range of DVDs. Excellent.

  • na

    It seems threats of legal action usually win out in these cases. Mumsnet completely buckled in face of pressure. Even Mick has removed all sections of comment before because of the threats of legal action from a journalist (though the complaint may have been legitimate all the discussion around or near the offence was obliterated)

    It seems that many internet sites while unable to fully monitor open commenting are also unresourced to find a solution, as happened with Mumsnet banning all talk of the author.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    eranu: “i agree its far too strict to follow everything all the time. but i think its better to follow her instructions to some degree than to try and do your own thing when you havent a clue how to do it. ”

    Yeah, but watching my infant nephew playing his parents like harps (and hearing of worse from his parents), she may have a point, albeit one she hammers home far too hard.

    The little rotter screams until someone gets him in the middle of the night and then makes cute until the wee hours, making cranky when the effort is made to banish him back to his crib.

  • Nestor Makhno

    So getting back to the point.

    If I say that I think Gina Ford straps babies to rockets and fires them into south Lebanon, will this entire thread disappear with the first threat of legal action?

    Mick?

  • dear god

  • na

    The Sunday Times reports that MCD are involved in legal action with boards.ie over comments on the Oxegen concert. Seems the hosts removed all comment and banned further discussion but the case seems set to continue and a disgruntled contributor has set up a site devoted to discussing MCD without censorship. (http://www.mcdwatch.org/)

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2091-2310469,00.html

    Irish law covering defamation on the internet has not been tested in the courts. It is unclear if website owners can be held responsible for comments posted on their site by others. A source in MCD said it believed websites should be held as responsible as a newspaper.

    The boards.ie site is ranked as Ireland’s 18th most popular site, ahead of the RTE and Aer Lingus sites. John Breslin, the owner of boards.ie, was unavailable for comment, but wrote on his blog that the MCD letter was among a number of legal threats he had received recently.”

    (emphasis added above)

    It seems that internet sites are happy to buckle when legal action is threatened despite the possibility they may not be liable for comments. A test case seems needed to clarify the situation but at present financial might seems to be able to bully compliance from website owners.

  • na

    More on Brelin’s blog.

    http://www.johnbreslin.com/blog/