The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs


by Sunny
12th April, 2011 at 6:24 pm    

Women’s Views on News has an article criticising the comments that many feminist articles on CIF get.

Instead of dealing with these misogynistic and deeply offensive comments, CiF allowed them to dominate the thread.

The editorial team must be aware of the power of their online platform, and their trusted name, and how damaging it is when set to promote an agenda which is discriminatory and founded upon misleading facts and lies. So, why is it doing it?

As a writer for CIF (but I criticise the Guardian enough so I’m not doing this merely because they occasionally pay me for articles) – I’ve also had similar comments being chucked my way. So I sympathise.

But ultimately I sympathise with the CIF crew, partly because I face similar complaints at Liberal Conspiracy.

I think there are a few ways to approach this.

A conflict of rights
Big blogs have to weight up the right to free speech and a mix of views (which we believe in) within the boundaries of the rules. The rules are that misogyny, racism, homophobia, ad hominem abuse etc is deleted. But the line is not always clear-cut and I constantly get abused for being a ‘censorship nazi’ (which I relish). Most of my co-moderators are more afraid of deleting comments in case they get it wrong and are criticised over it heavily.

So it becomes a tricky balancing act to ensure that people are allowed to say things that others find uncomfortable or distasteful but are still within the boundaries of civil debate and not bigoted. I’m not saying this line is always navigated perfectly. But there will always be some comments that people find racist, homophobic or misogynist because the intention is inferred rather than written outright. In those cases we have to judge the intention of the commenter, and this is not always straightforward.

The numbers are large
CIF gets tons more comments than Libcon does, which makes it harder to police and harder to quickly judge whether a comment is out of order or not. I’m not always around to moderate comments – and even then its post-moderated. This means people don’t have to wait for comments to be approved before carrying on a debate.

This works on LC because most people are well-behaved (and I’ve rooted out trouble-makers) and on CIF it would be difficult otherwise as they have so much debate going on. But its near impossible to police debates so tightly that all debates go in the right direction. It frustrates me as it frustrates Natalie Hanman of CIF when debates get hijacked. But its difficult to justify deleting a comment that does not strictly adhere to the direction the editors want it to go into.

But it is neither about just feminist topics (any topic can get hijacked, and lots of debates turn into arguments), nor is it that we encourage such people. It is the nature of popular sites that they attract a range of readers.

It is also my view that left-wingers prefer ‘safe spaces’ more than right-wingers: and so they end up dominating on Twitter (which is why I add Twitter trackbacks to articles on LC to reflect that), while right-wingers spend more time commenting across blogs. Our posts on the economy for example turn up right-wingers who work in finance. We can’t ban them nor stop them from spouting right-wing economics. The job of lefties should be to argue back (in a civil manner of course).

There will never be a happy medium
Those hoping the situation can be resolved if enough pressure is put on the Guardian are wrong, I think. It won’t happen. However there are technical solutions I would say they should take up (a popular one is where comments flagged up as ‘offensive’ by enough fellow readers) automatically gets a negative ranking and is then ‘hidden’. It can be viewed by people who want to view ‘all comments’ but won’t appear by default. Slashdot.org had this version of commenting.

Gawker and others also implemented a version of this last year I believe, which gave long-time loyal commenters some extra power in being able to ‘hide’ offensive comments. There are several variations of this.

In the end I would say this. Neither CIF nor Liberal Conspiracy are, by the nature of their popularity, ‘safe spaces’ where one side can just talk amongst themselves with given assumptions (though LC rarely hosts articles by right-wingers as CIF does). I also think engaging with right-wingers sometimes makes them more sympathetic to leftie positions than if they were banished to right-wing websites.


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32 Comments below   |  

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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  2. Mark Pack

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  3. Mark Pack

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  4. AnneMarie Cunningham

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  5. AnneMarie Cunningham

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  6. Mary Hamilton

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  7. Leon Green

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  8. Marc Bagur

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  9. stephanie wojcik

    RT @dominiccampbell : Intersting RT @sunny_hundal: The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://t.co/8i6Wlww


  10. Tim Hardy

    On trolls and safe spaces. Interesting RT @sunny_hundal The difficulties in moderating large websites/blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  11. Double.Karma

    RT @bc_tmh: On trolls and safe spaces. Interesting RT @sunny_hundal The difficulties in moderating large websites/blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV


  12. mathewlowry

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : The difficulties in moderating large websites and blogs http://bit.ly/gdUkUV




  1. Leon — on 12th April, 2011 at 6:40 pm  

    The censorship line is bullshit, people have the ENTIRE internet to express themselves on; if they don’t like that their ignorance isn’t tolerated on a site, fine go find one where it is or start your own!

  2. Kismet Hardy — on 12th April, 2011 at 6:59 pm  

    I think it’s pretty clear cut. Smeone on here had a go at a commentator (it could be douglas) because he referred to a woman by her first name and that was somehow viewed as sexist. That’s bollocks obviously. But if someone says ‘women are useless, shut up and piss off back to the kitchen’ or someshit, then it’s blatantly sexist. Similar with racism. Someone supporting an EDL blokes right to speak out or even agree with his point of view is fair enough, saying ‘muslamists fook off back to mecca’ isn’t. I think a good moderator generally knows the difference between what could offend some sensitive soul and what’s just bang out of order

  3. Leon — on 12th April, 2011 at 7:01 pm  

    Well said Kismet.

  4. mathew — on 12th April, 2011 at 7:55 pm  

    One of the best things you can do for someone who pushes the envelope in the comments and “don’t follow the direction the editors want” is to censor them and send them “somewhere else”.

    They can then legitimately say that the site owners have their fingers in their ears and are going “Naa Naa Naa” to block out opposing views. And they’d be right.

    The pursuit of ‘safe sites’, where everybody agrees with each other, is a recipe for groupthink. That’s the place more extreme views tend to evolve. It’s not the way the internet can best be used.

    Speaking as the guy who went onto EUReferendum.org to defend EurActiv’s EU-oriented blogging platform, I can confirm that robust arguments are not necessarily the most comfortable! But they have the advantage of better approximating those in the real world.

    Moreover, for every idiot out there, there may be dozens of readers who are undecided. It’s therefore generally better to publish and rebuke stupid comments than suppress them, as long as the limits described by Kismet are respected.

    This gets hard when there are many comments, which is why getting the community to do it helps. Gawker’s approach sounds interesting – do they call the members of the community they select to police the comments “Community support officers”? ;-)

  5. Don — on 12th April, 2011 at 9:36 pm  

    Kismet,

    That’s all very well, but how do you define muslamists and women? Blatant is as blatant does.

  6. Dr Paul — on 12th April, 2011 at 10:08 pm  

    Perhaps the best way is to moderate one’s blog on the basis of what one would accept in a conversation in a café or similar public place. Looking at some of the comments that blogs attract, such intemperate language would not be considered as acceptable in a discussion in a public place. If someone made such an insulting or stupid comment in such a situation, he would first be warned or excluded from the conversation, and if he persisted in rudely butting in, then he would be shown the door.

    This could be construed as censorship. It is not; it is merely conducting a civilised discussion along the lines that the vast majority of us would have in a public place. Controversy and opposing views are fine; insulting and abusive behaviour is not, and someone who insists upon abusing the hospitality of those involved in a serious discussion should be informed that his behaviour is unacceptable and be cut off should he not desist.

  7. Tim — on 12th April, 2011 at 10:21 pm  

    Stackoverflow has an interesting version of community moderation. http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/05/a-theory-of-moderation/

    Voting for comments to make them appear earlier in the comments list, rather than just sorting by date, can promote discussion and with a ‘report abusive comment’ feature the community can bury useless or abusive comments with little need for active moderation. Threaded commenting is also helpful, linear comment boards where you need to add ‘@username’ to give context is ineffective.

    Works well for technical debates but unsure how effective it would be for political debates, especially on an extremely busy site like CIF.

  8. Kismet Hardy — on 13th April, 2011 at 7:29 am  

    “how do you define muslamists and women?”

    well, you don’t. You take individuals on sites like this on face value (‘you’re a knob’, or ‘you make a valid point’ and so on), and not as representative of whatever sect they happen to think they’re championing. It still gets my goat when anyone refers to me as a ‘moslem’, just as I know it gets many women’s backs up when they’re condescended to by strangers starting sentences with ‘listen sweetheart…’

    My point is, what gets my goat is between me and my goat, and a site like this gives me a platform to bleat about it. What categorically offends all goats is where the moderator steps in. I think the key difference lies in making a point, however wanky or disagreeable, and just being nasty to a group of people for the hell of it

  9. Phil Hunt — on 13th April, 2011 at 1:58 pm  

    So it becomes a tricky balancing act to ensure that people are allowed to say things that others find uncomfortable or distasteful but are still within the boundaries of civil debate and not bigoted.

    It’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable. And disagreement, if it helps move forward the debate, is a good thing. But some disagreement doesn’t further the debate; generally you should be aiming for DH3 or higher.

    I’m not saying this line is always navigated perfectly. But there will always be some comments that people find racist, homophobic or misogynist because the intention is inferred rather than written outright.

    I would want to tread very carefully there. One should respond to what someone actually said, not some imagined hidden agenda they might have. It’s easy on the internet to get the wrong end of the stivck. If one is unsure as to what someone means, ask them to clarify.

    Neither CIF nor Liberal Conspiracy are, by the nature of their popularity, ‘safe spaces’ where one side can just talk amongst themselves

    If someone wants a space on the internet where they won’t see dissenting views, then for any given point of view, there almost certainly already exists somewhere on the net already that does that. If there doesn’t, it’s easy and free to create a blog on WordPress.

  10. ukliberty — on 13th April, 2011 at 3:13 pm  

    One thing about Usenet that I miss on the web is the killfile. You can sort of reproduce it mentally but it’s not ideal.

    FWIW I think LibCon and PP gets the balance of moderation right much, much more often than not.

  11. Cauldron — on 13th April, 2011 at 4:44 pm  

    CIF has no consistency in their policies. On some subjects they don’t censor anything. On others, they are ruthless. Try posting even a mildly disapproving comment in response to an article by Gerry Adams. It’s gone sooner than you can say ‘Armalite’. I used to think that this censorship was because CIF was moderated by Feinians but on reflection maybe they are doing it to ensure the safety of the commentators from kneecapping.

  12. Senesino — on 14th April, 2011 at 1:30 am  

    Sunny, you leaned on the CiF moderators today, to have me permanently banned, didn’t you?

    For daring to suggest that a man like Ed Balls – with his record for pilfering from the public purse, assisted by his wife – isn’t suitable as a Shadow Chancellor, and is a liability to Labour?

    You really are a sad hypocrite. While you and your pals promote unelectable crooks as Labour frontbenchers, the rightwing sit back and cackle into their soup.

  13. douglas clark — on 14th April, 2011 at 4:09 am  

    Senesino,

    cackle into their soup

    ?

    Well, it’s original, I’ll give you that.

  14. BenSix — on 14th April, 2011 at 1:16 pm  

    The censorship line is bullshit, people have the ENTIRE internet to express themselves on; if they don’t like that their ignorance isn’t tolerated on a site, fine go find one where it is or start your own!

    Well, it’s still censorship. There’s a kerfuffle on twitter at the mo’ ‘cos some poor guy was kicked out of a pub for getting off with his boyfriend. Well, the landlord might say, go and find another pub or drink at home! Now, that’s not equivalent to some fulminating twonk getting booted from a board – I’m not demanding tolerance for the poor, beleaguered trolls – but the point is that “go find one” isn’t a moral get-out clause.

  15. Leon — on 15th April, 2011 at 10:18 am  

    That issue doesn’t relate, it’s not the same as the options for going elsewhere work differently in the real world, we’re talking online, and online censorship isn’t possible when it comes to comments on a blog. It makes sense for them to use that issue to highlight a wider concern in society. The internet isn’t as limited, like I said you can always go elsewhere.

    What you should have said to counter my point was to raise the spectre of China where the net reflects society to a degree…;)

  16. Senesino — on 16th April, 2011 at 10:58 am  

    I see Sunny dare not comment on the way he uses swarms to flashmob his CiF postings, then uses his influence as thread-author to have dissenting comment deleted, and the posters of dissenting comment banned.

    Sunny is a typical Labour *thug*. Someone posts a message mentioning that Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper stole money from the public purse in fake expense claims. Sunny’s response – order the moderators to have these factual comments banned, and to have the person who made the comments banned too.

    Sunny’s a bit like Derek Draper – only without the charm.

  17. earwicga — on 16th April, 2011 at 12:22 pm  

    Senesino is very amusing :)

  18. Kismet Hardy — on 16th April, 2011 at 9:20 pm  

    Must be reaching my limit of staring at a computer screen. I just read that as “Sunny’s a bit like Deepak Chopra”

    To reach true enlightenment, you must go beyond your blog and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. For those are the three tenets of the karmic blogosphere

    Someone put me to sleep. Please

  19. douglas clark — on 16th April, 2011 at 10:53 pm  

    Zzzzz….

  20. Sunny — on 26th April, 2011 at 2:00 am  

    Sunny’s a bit like Derek Draper – only without the charm.

    Heh! I have charm dammit! How would you know?

    For the record, I have no authority to ban anyone and have never asked anyone at CIF for anyone to be banned. Though, I’m not surprised they banned you for being a paranoid loser.

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