The Foel Tower Agreement: A manifesto for creating a healthier public sphere for a diverse city.

Birmingham has a young, diverse, integrated population. The city council declared it a city of sanctuary, it has a history of attempting to welcome people of all creeds and faiths. However it also has a history of tension and politics that has attempted to sow division for its own ends. In many ways we are at a point where there is a fork in the road about which sort of city we want to become.

During the 19th century clean water was in short supply in Birmingham and there were major epidemics of water-borne diseases including typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea. Birmingham City Council under Joseph Chamberlain, set about finding a clean water supply for the City. James Mansergh identified the Elan and Claerwen Valleys as a place that could supply the water, and the Foel Tower is the starting point of the 73 mile journey of the water from the Elan Valley to Birmingham.

With the creation of online distributed discourse there are a number of publications and organisations acting as hosts for the civic debate — and they have a responsibility to make that debate clean and safe. Elan Valley water rather than Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’.

Birmingham has an opportunity to lead in this space, as it did in public health all those years ago. So we urge people to press those with the power to influence the debate to sign up to this manifesto:

The Foel Tower Agreement

A manifesto for creating a healthier public sphere for a diverse city.

We call all organisations, individuals, publishers and publications that host online debate about and in the city to work to create a healthier public sphere for a diverse city.

These hosts should commit to the following principles in hosting online debate.

  • Publish openly moderation policies and standards.
    Ground rules are valuable and are a way of setting the terms of a healthy discussion. This agreement is a good start, but more detailed policies should be tailored to the platform and the host organisation.
  • Read each comment on a branded space in a reasonable time-frame.
    Within core usage hours this should be a maximum of one hour, although it could be longer overnight for example.
  • Remove hate speech immediately, and ban users that commit it.
    This would include acts such as deliberately provoking hatred of a religious, racial or other group, distributing racist material, inciting inflammatory rumours about an individual or group.
  • Challenge misrepresentations quickly.
    If a commenter is mistaken or makes obviously false claims then there is a journalistic responsibility to relay facts.
  • Make corrections in a timely and obvious manner.
    A trustworthy publication has the moral authority to host a respectful debate.
  • Consider the closing of commenting facilities on topics likely to provoke divisive and angry debate.
    It’s not censorship to not host debate, people have many opportunities to contribute their opinions. The duty of publications to host debate does not trump that for a clean public sphere where people of all kinds can feel safe.

Please join us in asking Birmingham’s publishers to keep debate safe and clean. Sign the petition now.

Author: Jon Bounds

14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands 2008, subsequently not placed. His new book about visiting every seaside pier in England and Wales — Pier Review — has been described as “On the Road meets On the Buses”, it's out now. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama to be performed on Twitter and founded the famous blog Birmingham: It's Not Shit.