Service providers – take a stand against Atos…

What are Atos up to? Do they seriously believe that they are above criticism? It would certainly appear so judging by their current, and arguably illegal, behaviour.

You may well have heard that Atos, who carry out medical assessments for ESA (and soon to be turning their baleful attentions to DLA), on behalf of the DWP, have been instrumental in getting several blogs and websites shut down which they consider have been libellous towards them.

But, and it’s a big but, Atos have not obtained a single court order, or been compelled to prove their allegations of libel. Their tactics have been nothing but bullying and bullshit.

What staggers me, though, is how absolutely craven the hosting services have been in shutting down these operation – essentially, after being shouted at by Atos, they’ve just pulled the plug.

But why? If somebody approaches a service provider mouthing threats and generally behaving like a schoolyard bully, they should be firmly told to shut the fuck up and, if they feel they can prove their case, go away and don’t come back without a court order. That’s not happening. Why not?

So, in the interests of self-preservation, I wrote to my blog’s hosting service, WordPress, to try to establish what their policy would be, and that they would, in fact, hold out for a court order:-

Subject: Are you easily intimidated?

Here in Britain, a company called Atos, employed by the Department of Work and Pensions to assess disability benefits claimants, is currently threatening hosting platforms to bully them into taking down blogs and websites which they feel are unduly critical – no court orders, just bullying.

I have also been critical of Atos (I, too, am seriously disabled – I’m dying, in a nutshell – and my disability benefits are under threat**), but I have deliberately used more appropriate forms of words, I believe, in order to avoid allegations of libel. I am confident that I have broken no laws.

So I guess my question is, will WP stand up to Atos if they come for me and my blog (not to mention other UK disability blogs hosted on WP – an awful lot of people are critical of Atos, who actually are responsible for several deaths and a huge amount of misery and poverty), especially if they don’t have a court order?

Simple threats have no legal validity.

And should they somehow manage to obtain a court order (personally, I think they’re running a bluff – getting court orders to silence every critic would be hugely expensive, and I would stress that while some hosting services have panicked and taken down blogs, websites, and support forums, no court order has so far been forthcoming), I would really like the opportunity to remove whatever they consider libellous – not lose over three years work.

Thank you in anticipation.

Ron Graves.

**Right now, everybody on disability benefits is at risk, including you, whether you know it or not.

Personally, I believe that I have chosen my words carefully enough to avoid allegations of libel, but right now, that doesn’t matter, as nobody is challenging Atos to prove their case, and it is absolutely essential that they star doing so – and also reinstate those blogs and websites that they have so cravenly and improperly already shut down

Of those sites closed down, a couple have – at best – been immoderate in their choice of words, and you really can’t afford to be so cavalier, you have to choose your words carefully – accusing Atos of murder was always going to come back and bite you in the ass, but one, a support forum, was shut down based on the content of a private, closed-to-the-public section – the equivalent of trying to legislate against dinner-party conversation.

When it comes to allegations of libel, though, you simply cannot say “Atos is killing people,” it is a clear libel, no matter that you genuinely believe it to be true. However, saying that “People are dying as a result of the actions of Atos assessors,” is, I believe, demonstrably true, in that some terminally ill people have been adjudged fit for work, and have subsequently died before their appeals could be heard. Several others have taken their own lives, either as a result of being wrongly assessed, or out of fear of being so treated.

It seems to me, however, that Atos are not remotely concerned about libel in most cases, but simply setting about systematically shutting down its critics – of which there are very many – regardless of the fact that no person, or organisation, or government, is EVER above criticism. Not even me, hard though that might be to comprehend! 😉

We have the press and broadcast media holding the government to account – or, at least, a small part of it, the BBC seems to have become a government toady – but nobody seems to be attempting to hold Atos to account except private individuals,  mainly bloggers, against whom Atos is currently waging war.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if hosting services didn’t have the balls of a whole battalion of eunuchs – cowardly fuckers.

In addition, it is entirely improper to shut down entire blogs, websites, or forums for the sake of a few words, without at least giving the owner the opportunity to remove or change the offending words, even with a court order. Natural justice demands that people be given the chance to abate the alleged libel, not lose years of work at a stroke, as has happened in several cases. And always remember, in the case of alleged libel, accusations are not the same as actuality – no court order, no validity.

So, those of you who represent hosting services’ legal departments, for pity’s sake grow a pair! Abide by the law, and send any bullying ass-wipe from Atos packing with a flea in their ear, and make sure they come back with a court order or not at all. And never forget that, without bloggers, many of you would be out of work.

15 thoughts on “Service providers – take a stand against Atos…

    • Oh, they’ll reply, eventually!

      My main concern is that, by writing this, I’m putting myself in harm’s way, but it needed saying because there’s no point in just moaning amongst ourselves. We should be writing to the papers too – I think I’ll just mail out copies of this post, it says what needs to be said.

  1. Once again Ron, you have inspired me. I noticed a curious absence of certain updates from certain services that I had been using for information and support. I have definitely noticed a ‘reorganisation of the online landscape’ regarding any searches and links that I have made. This must be stopped. Plain and simple. Time to get out and put my ass on said proverbial ‘line’! ATOS? A mere corporation. Not beyond reproach, by any means. Problem is, WHO or WHAT is letting them bully and intimidate? Hmmmm…

    • I’m about to email a slightly modified version of my post (same text, with an explanatory header), to as many newspapers as I can find newsdesk addresses for. It wouldn’t hurt if we all did something similar.

  2. Right. I’ll do a little intelligence gathering, write something, and see what I can do. I’m in the Northeast so I’ll check out some locals too. But, I’ll do the big boys first.

  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly, no one can be allowed to use bullying tactics to silence critics, what happened to free speech?
    I would like to send a copy of your article to my MP if you consent and ask his opinion, I have found him to be very helpful in the past.

    • Ah – free speech is one thing – once you commit it to writing, the rules change considerably. But, yes, send it wherever it might do some good by all means.

      I’ve sent it out to all the national newspapers, except those hiding behind paywalls.

  4. Ron,

    I’ve got a suggestion, just in case. WordPress has an excellent utility for exporting your blog, which you could use to create a backup of your work so that you don’t lose everything you’ve written. That way, if ATOS comes after you and you get shut down, all you have to do is import to a new blog when you beat them.

    I live in the US, and I’m horrified that so many hosts are shutting down sites with no court orders, just because some company is claiming libel. I’d love to see everyone who’s been shut down without a court order file lawsuits against the hosting providers and ATOS, but I doubt it will happen. Most can’t afford the legal fees, although since many of the hosts appear to be in the US, it might be an option to approach the ACLU for help.

    • Hi Wendy,

      Yep, I back up as a matter of routine about once a month – everyone should really, though WP used to frown on that. Right now I’m backing up after each new post. I think I’m safe, as I normally take great care over the form of words I use, but there’s no way to know what they’ll take offence at (many bloggers believe you can say whatever you like with impunity – they’re learning that you can’t), though a commenter, last night, did try to get me to publish phrases that would have dropped me in it if I’d been foolish enough.

      I’ve written to WP, asking them to confirm that they’ll insist on a court order before taking any action, if I do come unstuck. No reply yet.

      Ron.

    • I know there’s a belief among some bloggers that they should be able to say whatever they like on their own blog. They’re wrong. You never have been able to say what you like. Even in the US, the 1st amendment is not always a defence against a libel charge. I’ve had a look at your blog, and there’s every chance you’re on Atos’ shit list but, hey, I’m not coming with you.

      I’ve also left your URL, though I was tempted to delete it, so that other readers can see why I have no desire to be associated with it on any level.

      I go to great lengths not to libel anybody, including Atos – I value my blog too much. I’ve been highly critical of Atos for quite some time, and at length – there is no law against valid criticism, which is a universe away from libel. And then you come along and drop a list of words and phrases that have caused others to lose their blogs and websites into my comments and expect me to publish them.

      Doing so would put me at the same risk as CarerWatch, who were dropped in the mire by their commenters. That wouldn’t be bravery, that would be dumb. So, sorry, never gonna happen. If it comes to a campaign against Atos, then I’m in, but giving them the opportunity to pick us off one by one is plain foolishness.

      Plus the fact that I am simply not prepared to put at risk over three years work, and many thousands of words of benefits, disability and mobility advice, as well as all the other stuff that’s in my blog’s almost 1,400 posts. That, too, would be foolishness.

  5. Ron you will know about the Debbie Carr story and her use of “down and outs” to refer to ESA claimants, how would Atos H stand if the remarks were made whilst she was at work, ie in working time.
    Would Atos be libel for her comments ? or am I being naive.?

    • There were several Atos employees being abusive about claimants on Facebook – Atos is allegedly “investigating”. Probably means they’ll get promotion!

      Sadly, there is no such thing as “Group libel”. You can only libel an entity, like a person or a corporation, not something as vague as a group of people. Regarding the actions of Atos, though, I would refer you to this subsequent post in which the ways Atos should be making its claim in order to prove their case within the law https://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/atos-and-allegations-of-libel%e2%80%a6/ Clearly, they haven’t done that.

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