Saturday, February 25, 2012

Moderation and freedom of expression - a personal dilemma

One of the advantages of having your own blog is that you have total control over its content, especially important when it comes to comments.

That control is important for two reasons - it allows you to block offensive comments, often but not always anonymous, and it allows you to set a tone for debate which is appropriate to your readership (it never ceases to amaze me when people tell me that they've read posts here). However, ownership allows a degree of certainty, almost a dogmatic one if you let it.

But now that I am part of the Liberal Democrat Voice family, I've had to give rather more thought to what represents acceptable language and debating style. It has been put to me that what I might consider a 'robust exchange of views' might actually deter others from taking part in the debate. On my own blog, that might not matter so much, but when we're talking about a much-valued 'Party resource' (it is, after all, not an official organ of the Party), one does need to be more mindful of a wider perspective.

We've been having an interesting discussion on the subject in the Members' Forum, the contents of which will naturally remain private and confidential, and I have been somewhat enlightened by the ideas put forward there.

And what I've learned is that good moderation is really difficult, balancing freedom of expression with inclusivity. There is little point in allowing individuals to write pretty much whatever they like if the comments stream becomes so vile (cf Guido Fawkes) that it deters all but those with strong stomachs and an absence of mutual respect. On the other hand, excessive moderation, excluding dissent and passion, reduces the vibrancy of the debate and dullens the site, reducing its effectiveness.

But if that's the hard option, the alternative, no moderation at all, is much harder in the long run. Political dialogue in this country has been coarsened to a point where the public just switch off, something which impacts on all of us who believe in political activism within a vibrant civil society.

I suspect that I will continue to struggle with this question over the weeks, months and years ahead. And sometimes, I will get the balance wrong. But do bear with me, I am trying...


Paul Walter said...

Best to imagine a public meeting. Would any chair worth their salt allow someone to get up and toss vitriolic abuse or repetitive idiocy at someone else? Not likely.

Just because it is on the internet doesn't mean that widely accepted norms don't apply. And the owners of every website have a right to their own policy. If someone wants to spout endless bile or boring rubbish then they have multitudinous other opportunities at their fingertips.

Jennie said...

Frankly, as long as LDV allows posts like that crap from Zadok the Clueless Idiot the other day, it's not the comments you need to worry about putting people off, it's the posts.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

I note your comment that 'It has been put to me that what I might consider a 'robust exchange of views' might actually deter others from taking part in the debate'.

Enthused by the Liberal Democrat cause and wishing to find out more, I have taken to reading the Liberal Democrat Voice. As you are aware, the articles posted often (if not always) avail your readers of the right to reply using the 'comments' function. This, of course, is something to be encouraged, with moderation, in the interests of free speech.

However, it would seem that where you disagree with these comments (or how they are expressed) you appear to have taken it upon yourself to respond to them, often seeking to belittle the writer. Take one article, 'You, yes you, ever thought about being a liberal democrat parliamentary candidate?' posted on 29 May 2011. In relation to the 21 comments posted, you replied to 8. In doing so, you sought to disparage somebody's credibility as a potential candidate, including their writing style, because of his critique of the Candidates Committee.

Whenever one is afforded a voice (for example as contributor to the Liberal Democrat Voice), one has to exercise great responsibility and has to measure one's conduct. It is not for you (the person afforded the voice) to dismiss another's points of view. It is here that the balance between moderation and freedom of speech lies.

As a direct result of your misjudged use of the media available to you to and given that you represent the voice of the Liberal Democrats, I will no longer be applying for party membership.

Yours anonymously (in fear of your vitriol).

Mark Valladares said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment. Whilst I don't agree with it, for reasons I will explain, I am happy to publish it, even though you have chosen to remain anonymous (vaguely in breach of my comment moderation policy).

My comment was that, based on said correspondent's own comments, he wasn't always good at 'short and sweet'. At no point did I say that he was generally bad in this regard, although he chose to interpret it such. That is unfortunate in the extreme, but it doesn't appear to have prevented him from continuing to play an active part on this site.

And if your interpretation of that exchange is sufficient to make you feel that you cannot join the Party, I must regretfully suggest that, for you, that may be a wise choice. As I don't know who you are, I cannot say that it is an evident loss to the Liberal Democrats, although as someone who believes in greater participation in our body politic, I believe that your decision to opt out is regrettable.

It is intriguing that an exchange of comments in a blog posting written nine months ago should determine your decision as to whether or not to join an organisation, but I'm sure that you have logic on your side in doing so.

Yours faithfully,


Anthony said...

As someone who posts on LDV under a pseudonym (mainly because of work), I have followed the debate about moderation with interest. I must admit to an occasionally waspish style, although I have never found anything I've said rejected by the mods. I have however, more recently, been subject to a Forum thread just so someone could call me a troll and suggest I wasn't a Lib Dem.

Whilst I didn't find that particularly offensive, but it did make me question why I bother given the lack of respect held for alternative opinions by some of our more outspoken members.