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Faris: why I don’t want a Crikey blog

From: Peter Faris QC
Sent: Monday, 2 March 2009
To: Jonathan Green
Subject: FW: How to deal with hate comments on a blog

Hi Jonathan,

I remind you of what I wrote five months ago (below). In the light of today’s comments by you about Andrew Bolt, I wihdraw my objection to publication. I suggest that you consider it for tomorrow with an explanatory note as to its history.

Cheers, Peter

From: Peter Faris QC
Sent: Tuesday, 7 October 2008
To: ‘Jonathan Green’
Subject: How to deal with hate comments on a blog

Jonathan,

I have changed my mind  — I do not think is “useful” for me to do a Crikey blog. This change of mind is propelled by the comments on the Crikey pages in response to my Henson piece.

The two or three serious, on-topic comments are swamped by a deluge of personal abuse. A good number of the comments are hate comments.

I am as thick-skinned as the next commentator, probably more so, but there is no point in having dialogue with people who have a visceral hatred for you personally. The dialogue necessarily goes nowhere.

I am a long-time blogger. I have been through all this before. That is why I have shut down the comments on my personal blog. People can read it or not  — if they don’t like it, too bad.

Crikey’s venture into online comments whether from published articles (like mine) or from actual blogs will raise these issues.

As I say, I am not being sensitive to the hate comments  — it’s just that by inviting or allowing such comments the debate gets nowhere. I would be very happy for a comment which attacks my argument and demonstrates that I am wrong. Healthy debate is important. The problem with hate comments is that they are neither healthy nor a debate.

Whilst I don’t care, Crikey will find that some contributors will not want to expose themselves to this sort of hate and abuse by writing for Crikey. And if they do, they might sue Crikey for publishing defamatory comments.

There are no satisfactory solutions. I went through all of this on my blog some years ago.

The possible solutions are these:

1. Some form of censorship. I imagine any form of censorship is completely unacceptable to Crikey. But let us pause and think about that. Crikey will be sued if it permits publication of defamatory comments (which most of these hate comments are, one way and another). If you don’t believe me, talk to your lawyers.

So for a start, you must censor defamation. Racial and religious vilification is a criminal offence in Victoria so you must censor that. So now we are driven to the point that all comments must be reviewed simply to protect Crikey from criminal or civil action. The next question is: at what stage does this review take place? At the moment the comments appear immediately. One alternative is to set up the blog so that all comments have to be approved before they can appear. This is done be the comments coming to Crikey as an email and a designated person approves them.

Alternatively, Crikey can publish Rules as to acceptable comments and the website can be constantly monitored for breaches, with offending comments removed. So, if you are forced into some form of censorship, how much further can or should you go? What about hate comments? What about offensive comments? What about comments that are off-topic? What about comments that are simply abusive and do not contribute to the debate?

Believe me, if you want to run a website that is open for comments you will have to consider all these things at some stage. Every person who runs a blog is faced with the same decisions.

2. Some form of personal responsibility by the comment maker tends to discourage hate comments. Anonymous comments should not be permitted. Anonymity attracts this problem. All commentators should have to register in their correct names with a valid email address - preferably the name and email address would be that used for the subscription service of Crikey. These would be published along with the comment. The writer of the piece (like me) puts their name to it. Comments should be the same.

The irony here is that Crikey’s web pages will become a victim of its own Left wing culture: the free-wheeling, no-censorship, anything-goes approach is fine as far as it goes. But it will go too far.

In the end, I think the great value of Crikey (and the reason why I write for it) is that it provides a courageous alternative to the mainstream media. Inevitably the Left will be attracted to it. But, at the moment, the Left sees themselves as owning Crikey and many object to any other voices (like mine).

Crikey, by publishing me, is simply providing the sort of balance we see elsewhere. Phillip Adams writes for The Australian and that woman whose name I cannot remember writes for the Herald Sun. Any serious publication must have space for the other POV. But that is not what the majority of Crikey. Some of them try to frighten away contributors they do not like by hate and bullyboy tactics (refer some of the comments about why does Crikey publish me).

So I think you have challenging times ahead with your web pages and good luck with it.

17
  • 1
    Michael James
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Discipline on a blog site is absolutely essential, at least if there is any intention by the blogsite owner to have it serve as a productive debating function. Proper site registration as suggested by others and every submission must be read prior to posting. This creates the problem of it being a labour-intensive chore for someone, and thus expensive. I presume this is the reason why the Fairfax site(s) are lamentably deficient and why the New York Times is one of the best (though both are going broke….). The NYT comments on OpEd pieces are often more useful than the original piece (see Kristof on American healthcare this week with 300 responses from around the world describing national healthcare systems and how they function — terrific). I do not know how they do it, especially with up to 900 comments and nary an abusive trolling bore. I am sure they must reject plenty—and of course, such action by itself will deter the trollers from revisiting (good!). Of course, since I am centre-left I would say that. On the other hand I do not particularly enjoy the (similarly centre-left) Washington Post blogs because they are clearly less disciplined and thus often tedious and unproductive to read. Some features that the NYT employ are very good: there is the “Editor’s Selection” and” Readers Recommends” (with total score displayed). George Melagonis at the Oz grappled with these issues and decided not to censure any submissions but to only post early the worthy ones –it is not clear to me if he has done this. I would suggest that a Editor’s Selection, a Reader’s Selection, an “All except trash.” and a “Trash” (for the worst that people like me do not want to wade through). I am not the least interested in the junk sites like Andrew Bolt and his ilk; I have not visited his site for almost a year. The new Pure Poison seems to be going in the direction of Bolt and I have already lost interest.

  • 2
    Stilgherrian
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Ah, Faris QC, a blog without comments? The whole POINT of blogging is the extended conversation. The dialogue. The glorious and trashy rough-and-tumble conversation where you learn new things, get abused, refine your arguments, share knowledge, get slagged off, slag off your opponents in return — and, yes, deal with that fact that people might say hurtful things that you don’t like, or even find offensive.

    Diddums.

    Industrial-age media inserted a layer of mediation between you and your audience. It allowed you to comfortably make your pronouncements, wrapped in the “authority” of quaint old titles like “QC”, no matter how off-beam they were. Only responses which were deemed worthy, non-defamatory and otherwise “nice” would be published. The media became a middle-class theme park, where everything was “respectable” and “proper”.

    Well, that’s the past.

    The open world of blogs and their comments, and all the other new media, reveals the reality of human nature. Good heavens! Not everyone is polite! Not everyone thinks before they click on “submit”. Some people are even… rude!

    Thank the Gods, now even the great unwashed can air their views. This is a Good Thing. Sure, it’ll be tumultuous until we all work out the new social rules. But the end result will be a dialogue which reflects a wider range of viewpoints, not just the comfortable media elites.

    Bring it on!

    P.S. Analysis in terms of “left” and “right” is two centuries out of date. Time to update, methinks.

  • 3
    will
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    maybe to many people with agendas, and not enough prepared to debate with an open mind? Open mind could be a oxymoron for many of the people leaving comments

  • 4
    Joel B1
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Crikey.

    You need to consider your blog or article comment design. Rather than linear, choose nested design. It makes comments more pertinent and will reduce spurious “off-beat” comments.

    More importantly, it will allow the development and resolution of sub-threads. This in turn will reduce “agro” in your commentators.

    Trust me, my wife’s a Doctor.

  • 5
    Edward James
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if I am left or right. I post comments here on Crikey.com in the main stream media and on Sydneyindymedia. It is invaluable to have instructive comment from a QC which helps to educate some of us. I have become accustomed to putting my name to things which I publish and sometimes even my phone number. Open free and public discourse is important in a democracy. We must of necessity discuss the efforts of our elected representatives and have you notices the more and deeper those public discussions get the more representative our government seems to be.. We must moderate ourselves somewhat if we are to keep those esentially open forums which are avilable on the WWW.

  • 6
    John James
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I recall that exchange to which Joel B1 refers. I think Bernard thought that the Young Liberals had co-ordinated an “attack”. I agree with Peter about trying to have a better balance in terms of contributors.
    But I really love that bit about “religious vilification…. is a criminal offence”
    You mean all that sh*t I’ve been taking because I’m Catholic is ILLEGAL? Oh, wow! Off with their heads! Venise Alstergren, you can run but you cant hide.

  • 7
    Nadia David
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    While I hate the idea of Crikey readers even REQUIRING censorship, I completely see why Peter doesn’t want a bar of it. I like the idea of everyone having to sign their comment with their full name and the email address the subscription goes to. I do it anyway, because that way I literally censor myself. If I don’t want my name attached to what I write, I know I’ve gone too far.

    Perhaps us Lefties are just a bit too defensive? Perhaps we imagine attacks where there’s just opinion and debate? Perhaps we just need to read what we write with a more objective eye before we click ‘send’.

  • 8
    Michael James
    Posted Wednesday, 4 March 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    An addendum to my earlier comment. Joel-B1 is not a really awful example but his style is exactly what I am not interested in reading—or wading through to find informative comments. His suggestions about nested comments is terrible because it encourages inter-blogger sniping of the worst kind. Almost all the ones like that I have seen, appear to rapidly degenerate into extraordinarily tedious name calling abuse. I suspect most of those bloggers are under 15 year old males (which of course can mean 30-something males these days!). No serious news site should contemplate such a free-for-all. There are countless such sites out there for those so inclined to waste their time on anonymous name-calling and leave the rest of us alone. One can also note that Joel-B1 is one of only three (maybe 4) of the 15 submissions who chooses to remain anonymous and is the least interesting and most impolite submission (oops, but there you go, he has me doing it too). For the record, to my knowledge the three James’ here are unrelated.

  • 9
    mike smith
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Or, you could do what SlashDot does, if you don’t post a comment from an account you’re posted as “Anonymous Coward” - with a provision to be able to suppress all such from display. (its more complicated, but the /. moderation system works reasonably well)

  • 10
    Nadia David
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Is rudeness, “getting slagged off” and other derogatory crapola really a “Good Thing”? Hardly. If you can’t debate someone’s ideas without calling them something nasty you need to have a good hard look at your debating style. Better yet, get one.

    And left v right is SO much quicker than post-modern reductionist w*nker v establishment-loving myopic prig.

  • 11
    Edward James
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if I am left or right. I post comments here on Crikey.com in the main stream media and on Sydneyindymedia. It is invaluable to have instructive comment from a QC which helps to educate some of us. I have become accustomed to putting my name to things which I publish and sometimes even my phone number. Open free and public discourse is important in a democracy. We must of necessity discuss the efforts of our elected representatives and have you noticed the more and deeper those public discussions get the more representative our government seems to be.. We must moderate ourselves somewhat if we are to keep those esentially open forums which are avilable on the WWW.

  • 12
    Patrick
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps us Lefties are just a bit too defensive”

    Yes but Precious Pete is from the right. In fact it’s usually the rightwingers who pile on the bile then complain about “bad manners”, isn’t that right Piers? Sorry is “Precious Pete” too insulting, should I include the QC part?

  • 13
    steve martin
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I must say that I seldom agree with Peter Faris, but he does have a point. I don’t know about the legal grounds, after all he is the QC, but some comments are over the top ad hominem, attacks without regard to the validity of the argument are beyond the pale.
    For example the remarks recently on a piece quoted from Miranda Devine.in SMH- stupid cow etc without regard to her argument. And of course the attacks on Faris that he talks about.
    The trouble with censorship is as he points out - where do you stop? On balance let the status quo prevail.

  • 14
    Graham Ring
    Posted Wednesday, 4 March 2009 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    I’m with Faris QC on this one.

    It’s not clear to me how democracy is advanced by giving people the opportunity to unleash virulent personal attacks and then ‘sign’ off with a cheesy alias.

    Never mind ‘moderators’. Why not get one of those allegedly outmoded ‘editor’ types to read the stuff that comes in and run the ones that are lucid, relevant and actually contribute something to the debate?

    Graham Ring
    Darwin

  • 15
    Richard McGuire
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    It was Deng Xiao-Ping who said something along the lines of… “if you open the window to let in the breeze, you also let in the flies”…I remember the days before blogging, before the internet….Getting a letter published in a major daily newspaper was quite an achievement…As a result letters were generally of a fairly high standard…Part of the reason I am sure is that the letter writer had to, unless they had good reason not to, identify themselves…. Identifying oneself does lead to some moderation and perhaps even a bit of quality control ….While it is no guarantee against an homien, racist or just boring irrelevant comments, it is preferable to vetting or censorship.

  • 16
    Kevin Charles Herbert
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Peter Faris’s credibility has been compromised by his racist views as expressed in his recent comments on Crikey re the Gaza Strip & Palestinians in general.

    Another Zionist fascist along in the mould of Mark Liebler et al.

    Although, it must be said that the offending Faris piece only added to increasing support by Crikey readers for Hamas, Fatah & Palestinians in general. Faris is much like that bigoted fool Alan Dershowitz.

  • 17
    Joel B1
    Posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ve posted a few comments in both the articles and blogs. It hasn’t been fun.

    A call for moderation is a wise one. Although it is too easy to p*ss-off moderators and then have no comments published for a month or so. (Try suggesting to ABC-online that the “journalists” could be replaced with a machine that simply puts up press releases on a web page…)

    One of the first things I said on Crikey was:
    “Gosh, let me prepare to vote for these neo-labofacists. (a word that describes the likes of Rudd and Gillard who couldn’t be bothered to vote for the $42 Billion package)”

    The next comment was B Keane:
    “Between Joel’s misogynist name-calling and the trolls we appear to have reached a new low”

    Subsequently, I was called “liver-diseased spewer of bile” (that’s from memory). I mainly lurk now and it’s unlikely I’ll be taking out a $140 subscription.

    I can get abused for free on ABC-online.

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