How absolutely wonderful: free speech and the left

Certain subjects – race, immigration and Islam in particular – attract an unacceptable level of toxic commentary, believes Mary Hamilton, our executive editor, audience. “The overwhelming majority of these comments tend towards racism, abuse of vulnerable subjects, author abuse and trolling, and the resulting conversations below the line bring very little value but cause consternation and concern among both our readers and our journalists,” she said last week.

As a result, it had been decided that comments would not be opened on pieces on those three topics unless the moderators knew they had the capacity to support the conversation and that they believed a positive debate was possible.

The policy would be worldwide, applying to our UK, US and Australia offices, as the issues were global. And, where they were open, it was likely that threads would close sooner than the typical three-day window. “We want to host conversations where there is a constructive debate, where our audience can help us broaden our journalism with their expertise, their knowledge, their considered thoughts and opinions, and where they can use our site as a platform to make connections with the world and with those around them,” added Hamilton.

This was not a retreat from commenting as a whole, she said; it was an acknowledgement, however, that some conversations had become toxic at an international level – “a change in mainstream public opinion and language that we do not wish to see reflected or supported on the site”.

The joy is that of course they’ve entirely missed the very point of having such comments.

Which is to burst the bubble in which the original writers are living. The true glory of CiF in the first place was the mystification which writers greeted commenters. What? The peasantry do not agree with me? Are not being guided by what I was told over the polenta yesterday? Have ideas and desires that do not accord with bien pensant thinking? It was exactly this which led to the famed Polly’s shout of pendant at me.

Prior to this direct readership feedback they might get the occasional letter to the editor in green ink. But those were carefully not passed on to actual writers: rather, kept as pleasures of the editorial desk if they were particularly juicy. No, really, the pronunciamentos, people really did believe they were speaking for the nation. This is true of right and left: simply because all were so insulated. The demotic papers, The Sun, Mirror, they did better. But The Guardian, as an example, really just didn’t know what people out there were thinking. They were reflecting the world they knew, that upper middle class lefty view, and really, really, did not know what the majority thought.

That’s what those comments woke them up to. It was glorious.

For the decade it lasted.

26 thoughts on “How absolutely wonderful: free speech and the left”

  1. ““We want to host conversations where there is a constructive debate, where our audience can help us broaden our journalism with their expertise, their knowledge, their considered thoughts and opinions, and where they can use our site as a platform to make connections with the world and with those around them,” added Hamilton.”

    Ah, I think I can translate: ““We want to remain in our cozy little world, where our audience of groupthinkers can provide us with the reassurance that we are right and everyone else is out of step with us, and where they can use our site as a platform to provide us with the affirmation that our fragile psyches need in order not to shatter upon contact with cold reality,” added Hamilton.”

    I speak fluent #SpecialSnowflake.

  2. Their gaff, their rules. I generally only read the polemic in the Graun to see stuff I disagree with. It gets tiresome fairly quickly. I suspect the most vocal commenters do the same. You aren’t going to get too many Tarquins bothering to voice agreement, so whether they are 10% or 90% of the readership is impossible to say. Like most places on the intertube there’s nothing representative of the population as a whole about it.

  3. Sorry Tim. My house; my rules. Yes, it may reveal them to be bedwetters; still their house.

    Let’s be clear though, Guardian writers have shown themselves to be Murphy-weak. They like free speech, their own free speech; they hate free reply. They can’t cope with debate.

    Easy for us to say here though, we’re only challenged by the intellectual might of Mr Interested-Ecks-SMFS.

  4. Yes, their site, their rules.

    But neither Tim nor Murphy are cheerleaders for free speech – Tim blogs under “It’s all obvious or trivial except …”; Murphy blogs under “Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair.”

    The Guardian blogs under “comment is free, unless it might upset us”.

  5. I wonder if there’s a certain amount of keeping readers away from certain ideas.

    The Graun just isn’t very good in an argument. Their writers are generally very poor with the substance, don’t do their research, don’t know their stuff, frequently trot out 2nd hand opinions. Then the comment thread is full of people pointing this out, with links to other sources.

  6. Could it be as simple as the don’t understand how to ignore internet trolls?

    When I see a blame Obama comment with no substance I just move on. Only when I see a slightly intelligent thought do I bother to consider it. For example I was bored and commented on this story about the Interior Department’s moratorium on new sales of coal leases. Obvious troll comments aren’t worthy of a reply.

    Are those at the Guardian so thin skinned they get offended that easily?

    Oh great blog master Worstall if you would be willing to take a look at the story I think it might be worth your time.

  7. Doesn’t this just mean that the “the resulting conversations below the line [that] bring very little value but cause consternation and concern among both our readers and our journalists” will just move over to different threads within Komment Macht Frei?

  8. BiW, that’s often what happens on local newspaper threads, when comments about traveller encampments show up on the good news story about a little old lady’s shopping trip because the comments function is closed on the other story…

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    Ironman – “Easy for us to say here though, we’re only challenged by the intellectual might of Mr Interested-Ecks-SMFS.”

    Which is probably why you prefer to respond here instead of in your natural home at CiF.

    I shall have to lift my game now it is safe for you to go back.

  10. So Much For Subtlety

    On the other hand this is the sort of free speech we need more of:

    NAACP leader uses F-word to apologize for using T-word after N-word meeting

    http://www.theamericanmirror.com/omg-naacp-leader-uses-f-word-to-apologize-for-using-t-word-after-n-word-meeting/

    Meanwhile, for all that Rusty hates White people, you can’t say they aren’t willing to go that extra mile to give minorities what they want. And what do they want? Segregation it seems: University of Connecticut Brings Back Segregated Dorms

    So is it racist to oppose segregation now? Or is it alright as long as we do that Malcolm X sleight of hand and call it Separation?

  11. Bloke in North Dorset

    Given that they are moderated out we don’t see the worst excesses there, but we can get an idea of how bad it gets if Guido has started to try to clean up his comments. (I stopped reading Guido comments years ago because they were so dreadful and only take the RSS feed.)

    And from what I’ve seen CiF still allows constructive criticism so WTP?

  12. I thought Guido had weeded out the boring repetitive comments rather than tried to “clean up” ones he disagreed with.

    I very rarely look at comments there or elsewhere – I block disqus by default, along with comments on other sites such as youtube. This site is different, as it’s the comments (with a few exceptions) almost as much as Tim’s OPs that make the place worth reading.

  13. It’s a fair point about their gaff etc.

    The only thing I’d say is that blogs are generally personal platforms and are as broad or as niche as their creators want them to be, whereas a newspaper (especially one founded in the way the Graun was) has a different purpose and mission and (to some extent or another) is backed up with professional standards and values.

    To that end, I think that the G has fucked the dog here: they’ve blathered on about their community, actively pushed a joining fee, rattled off about caring about quality and professional ethics and the suchlike, and then roundly told people to fuck off if they disagree with what their writers say.

    That’s a poor show, if you ask me.

  14. The Telegraph essentially did this without saying so some time ago – it’s more a semi-educated metropolitan thing than a left-wing one (I recognise there is a fair amount of overlap).

  15. Mr Square, it might be a good commercial move; Guardian types might be more willing to pay a subscription if they’re confident that it will be a nice safe echo-chamber with the views of the great unwashed carefully excluded.

  16. A ruling in Canada recently that disagreeing with someone in Twitter didn’t constitute harassment

    http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/toronto/twitter-harassment-trial-verdict-1.3415112

    Though the cbc article misses the point that the guy was prosecuted and lost his job over this incident which took 2 years to resolve

    http://www.nationalpost.com/m/wp/blog.html?b=news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/christie-blatchford-ruling-in-twitter-harassment-trial-could-have-enormous-fallout-for-free-speech

  17. “Easy for us to say here though, we’re only challenged by the intellectual might of Mr Interested-Ecks-SMFS.”

    Come back when you have mastered the use of the full-stop Tin-Ribs.

  18. To expand on Liberal Yank, the quality of political argument on both right and left is pisspoor. It’s only worse on the left because over our lifetimes the right has had a handful of quality, persuasive spokespersons (Thatcher for sure, Reagan had a good speechwriter and was lucky to land on the right side of history, Boris we might disagree on), and the left hasn’t. Well, Bliar was persuasive in a rather malignant way, but it’s arguable which side of the outdated left-right divide he was on.

    The left seems to have, as polemicists, little more than 0.1%ers spewing endless ranting student Trottery. After all, they can afford the costs they would impose on us mere mortals in the name of soshal justis. It’d be highly refreshing to see a leftist actually arguing properly (not that most rightists do either).

    That’s one of the refreshing things about this place (absent SMFS/Interested/Ecks rants). I’m unquestionably to the left of Tim (while still being roughly on the right wing of the classical liberal spectrum, and agreeing with far more than I disagree with) – the point being he is usually on or close to the mark.

    So is it that the left cannot summon up any persuasive polemicists, or is it that the people with the brain to be persuasive polemicists tend not to drift left? Maybe it’s a bit of both.

  19. So is it that the left cannot summon up any persuasive polemicists, or is it that the people with the brain to be persuasive polemicists tend not to drift left?

    It’s because people with brains and intellectual honesty tend not to become polemicists.

    Polemics is the art of simplistic argument. And if you over-simplify the world, the right has the better case. That’s why most of the best polemicists are of the right.

    If you look at the world in its real complexity, the left has the better case. That’s why most of the best academics are of the left.

  20. “So is it that the left cannot summon up any persuasive polemicists…?”

    No: Hitchens was the obvious counter-example though he may have been exceptional. I suspect what usually happens is that such people go to work for think tanks or other “political insider” jobs rather than the rags, which means the public don’t see them very often, if at all.

    A few years ago a Canadian fella out here resigned/was fired as deputy editor of the local rag, after a falling out with the managing editor (who, in all fairness, is an astonishing wanker). Shortly afterwards he got hired by the head of the opposition party to run the English website for her think tank. Now whilst he’s not even remotely comparable to a Hitchens, he’s nowhere near as bad as the rest of them. To his credit, he allows comments at the think tank he now runs. I try to contribute with what I think is reasonable and polite(ish) criticism but am routinely ignored. Probably he subscribes to the (very) broad definition of “troll”. It’s a shame really.

  21. So Much For Subtlety

    Social Justice Warrior – “Polemics is the art of simplistic argument. And if you over-simplify the world, the right has the better case. That’s why most of the best polemicists are of the right.”

    I admire the self-righteous self-regard you bring to the world. It is impressive. Alas, this is not historically accurate. The Right does well with polemics today but even in the 70s, the Left utterly dominated.

    “If you look at the world in its real complexity, the left has the better case. That’s why most of the best academics are of the left.”

    I would say that the Orthodoxy is slowly destroyed by little signs that their world view does not add up until there is a sudden break through. The Orthodoxy used to be Classically Liberal and the Left attacked it. But the Left has been the Orthodoxy for a long time. Now they are afraid of the evidence that suggests they are wrong. So now they are trying to suppress dissent – and doing so far more ruthlessly than the Right ever did. That is why they are afraid of complexity. On issue after issue, they have reduced everything to a few trite slogans. Look at race. Or gender. And they will attack anyone who thinks outside the orthodoxy with a viciousness that says they know that they are wrong *and* losing.

    Academics are on the Left because they are puce with rage that their class mates went to the City and now earn seven figure sums. While academic pay is little better than High School teachers. Worse in many cases. They are on the Left because they know that higher taxes are the only way to get higher wages. They are on the Left because more regulation means more jobs for their students. It is self interest and nothing else.

    Anyone with brains is no longer in academia.

  22. SMFS makes my point nicely.

    Unlike him, I know many academics personally, all of them vastly more intelligent than he is. The leftists among them are just not that interested in money.

    The world is a much more complex place than it appears to be to someone browsing nutjob websites from SMFS’s bedroom.

  23. So Much For Subtlety

    Social Justice Warrior – “SMFS makes my point nicely.”

    I aim to please.

    “Unlike him, I know many academics personally, all of them vastly more intelligent than he is. The leftists among them are just not that interested in money.”

    You have no idea how many academics I know. Or Bolivian sheep herders. Or anything else. As usual, you make my point for me – you need to feel special and you are happy to assume anything that will make you feel so. My intelligence is likewise outside your ken.

    It is obvious to anyone who has talked to leftist academics that they are intensely interested in money. Mainly in the same way my grandmother was intensely interested in sex – with disapproval and a desire to punish. Look at Elizabeth Warren.

    “The world is a much more complex place than it appears to be to someone browsing nutjob websites from SMFS’s bedroom.”

    Indeed. But academia is not. Which is why virtually all the interesting work outside STEM fields is not done at or in or by universities. The best history, for instance, is not usually written by actual professional academic historians. Those that are, tend to be despised by the rest of the field. Modern English-speaking academia in the humanities is a sheltered workshop for the feeble minded.

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