Any blogger with a reasonable flow of comments on their site will tell you that it’s tricky to strike the right balance between giving people the freedom to say what they want, while restricting that freedom to prevent distasteful or legally questionable comments from being published.

Broadly speaking, bloggers on non-commercial sites (like Tim Blair in his pre-News Ltd. days and me in my non-Crikey hat) can let a lot of comments through that probably fall into the questionable category, while bloggers who work for large media organisations (like Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair in his current iteration, and me in my Crikey hat) have to be a lot more careful because of the higher legal risk involved for the parent organisations.

Unfortunately, managing this risk requires the curtailing of one of the key features that makes blogging so valuable and so much fun: the free-flowing conversation that is possible due to instant commenting. News Ltd. blogs have adopted a strict moderation model where every single comment has to be approved by a human before appearing on the site, whereas Crikey‘s model is looser, requiring only the first comment by each reader to be approved manually.

Since Andrew Bolt started blogging, his comment threads have been an endless source of amusement and bemusement for observers. In them, you frequently see both extremes of rabid political thought, various levels of literacy, aggression and name-calling. Every now and again, comments of an extremely questionable nature get through moderation — comments that, it could be argued, sometimes represent racism, hate, or threats of violence towards specific people.

Now, it’s extremely important at this juncture to emphasise that just because a comment appears in Bolt’s comment threads, it doesn’t mean that Bolt agrees with it or endorses it. Readers are more than capable of understanding that a distasteful comment does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the blog author.

However, as we’ve noticed on Pure Poison, Bolt’s moderation policies seem a bit uneven, given that distasteful and legally questionable comments are frequently published, but comments disagreeing with Bolt’s opinions are frequently not. In one recorded instance, Bolt’s moderators even edited a comment’s content, changing its meaning completely.

The launch of Pure Poison has clearly made Andrew Bolt uncomfortable as the reality of his biased comments policy comes in for more public scrutiny. It took less than a day for him to accuse Pure Poison and Crikey of setting him up by either planting or encouraging the planting of racist comments at his blog to use as ammunition against him. Despite denials by both  Pure Poison and Crikey editor Jonathan Green, Bolt continues to push his paranoid conspiracy in daily posts.

Thing is, Andrew won’t name Pure Poison on his blog (referring to is as “ERIC BEECHER’S SITE”) and won’t allow any links to us in an effort to prevent his readers from knowing both sides of the story.

What are you afraid of, Andrew?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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