The Telegraph’s assistant comment editor, Tom Chivers, has written a thought-provoking article about moderating comments on web sites. In it he tackles the apparent mismatch between a website advocating free speech while disallowing some comments under its articles:
It’s a funny thing. You write a piece saying that the state shouldn’t outlaw rudeness and insults, and about one comment in three underneath it says: “Aha! But Telegraph Blogs sometimes moderates/disallows comments! How about THAT, eh, hypocrites?”
But Chivers goes on to justify comment moderation:
The fact that our blogs are widely read does not mean that everyone has a right to be have a comment hosted on them, any more than the fact that our paper is widely read means that we have to publish every single letter we receive, even those written in green ink. We don’t check comments before they appear, but if a comment is “reported”, then our moderators will check it out, and if they feel it doesn’t meet our guidelines for any reason, they will remove it. Sometimes they will get it wrong, sometimes they will be inconsistent (they’re only human), and frequently you will disagree with their decision, but it is their – and by extension our – decision.
He ends by saying that readers have alternatives:
…of course we believe in your right to hold and express your opinions, and we (and I) have firmly said so on many occasions. But there is no contradiction between that and saying you should do it on your own territory, not ours. In fact, if I were feeling particularly aggressive about this, I’d point out that it’s a bit weird for all you Free Speech Campaigners to be insisting that you should get the right to decide what Telegraph Blogs has to say. Remember that: when you say something on our site, it’s us who host it, in our space. It’s not your free speech you’re exercising on these pages, it’s ours.
And if you don’t approve, you can go elsewhere, because this is a free society with a plurality of news outlets. We think we have a relatively light-touch approach to moderation, but you may disagree. This is not Pravda; there are other places, with different moderation policies. If none of them are to your liking either, then you can set up your own, and make it as untrammelled and Wild Westy as you like (within the bounds of the law, of course, but you can’t really blame us for that). And if readers prefer it, then they will flock to your unpoliced, unmoderated, uncensored people’s paradise. That’s how a free-market democracy works. Give it a try.
You can read the full article here.
* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team and blogs at Liberal Burblings.