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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