Opinion: I disagree with you. You must be stupid, incompetent or a liar…

I have to admit that, after nearly two years of being involved with Liberal Democrat Voice, I find the level of ‘debate’ a bit disheartening sometimes. Personal attack, accusations of the basest of motives on the part of the people with whom an individual disagrees, avowed certainty based on wilfully partial and selective use of the available data, all of these tend to make for a rather depressing window on what is said to represent political debate in this country. Add to that the presumption of motive on behalf of someone who is unknown to the accuser other than via an exchange on the internet, and you have a rather sorry distortion of political discourse.

Angry computer personCall me old-fashioned, if you will, and I wouldn’t entirely argue with you, but I actually look forward to learning something. I’m a fairly normal person, with a job, in a relationship, with friends, family and hobbies which I enjoy. I do, it’s true, take an interest in the society around me, because I’d rather like it to be a better place. My philosophy is a liberal one and, having considered the options, I prefer the Liberal Democrats as opposed to any of the alternatives. And, because I believe that sitting on the sidelines is a bit like opting out, I joined the Party.

I like to think the best of people. And yes, I don’t always succeed, but I try. If someone expresses an opinion I don’t agree with, I’ll try to assume that they are applying a different philosophy to me, and I’ll look at their argument. I may, if I’m minded and time permits, highlight some evidence which might contradict their argument, and offer it up for thought. It might even make me wonder if their alternative, or some combination of the two, might be even better. I can’t help feeling that it makes for better decision-making.

So, if you want to impress upon me the rightness of your argument, why not try arguing your case, assuming that the person you disagree with is honourable unless proven otherwise and entertaining the infinitesimal possibility that you may not be right. And perhaps, just perhaps, you might win more people over to your point of view – me included.

And yes, I do benefit. As one of the team of volunteers that moderate this site, I can spend less time considering whether or not you are abusing our comments policy or another participant, and I could spend the time drinking chianti, or listening to the cricket, or any one of a hundred other things I rather enjoy. Or, I could commission articles for the site on subjects that haven’t otherwise been covered but might interest our readers.

So, what do you say?…

Mark Valladares is enjoying a nice weekend, has visited friends for dinner, read a good book, and is catching up with his e-mail. He may even go for a gentle stroll with his wife…

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This entry was posted in Something for the Weekend.


  • @ MV ”Or, I could commission articles for the site on subjects that haven’t otherwise been covered but might interest our readers.”

    How about commissioning a piece asking for debate about ‘I disapprove of what you say, how you argue it, your lack of ability to win me over, but I defend to the death your right to say it, and as long as it isn’t foul mouthed or libellous’.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '13 - 10:19am

    I was once told that I must have come in on a space ship because of my belief in what I do, I write on the subject of international law, this was put on an email and returned.

    To argue a point is healthy, and it is good that we do not all have the same ideas. I think they call it democracy.

  • Excellent article, I feel quite the same. I simply comment with a quote from Leo Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 18th Aug '13 - 11:02am


    Whilst not entirely ‘on topic’, that’s a very interesting question, and the answer comes in two parts;

    The idea of free speech, within the limitations of defamation and inappropriateness of language, is, I think, broadly accepted amongst Liberal Democrats and, for that matter, most other politicians. And yes, each of us will add our own caveats, depending on our view of the world and the context. So, the right to abuse Liberal Democrats is yours, or anyone else’s.

    However, and you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you, a moderated debate is slightly different. Think of Liberal Democrat Voice as being like a town meeting. If people started to insult each other, rather than to argue, it would rapidly deteriorate into the verbal equivalent of a brawl. So, you introduce the equivalent of a meeting Chair, whose job is to keep the debate on topic, apply the ground rules and maintain order.

    Here, the editorial team have, based on their experience gleaned here and elsewhere, and having consulted with our readers, drawn up our rules. You don’t have to like them, but they will be applied as consistently as possible. If you want to insult someone, you can do – anywhere else that you like and that will have you. If you disagree with someone, and you make the point courteously, we’ll publish it.

    From our perspective, we’d like the widest possible level of participation. We are a place for Liberal Democrats to talk, but not exclusively so. We welcome pieces from independent think tanks and pressure groups. And, by holding the ring between those who want a Wild West style free for all and those who would rather we held our discussions behind closed doors, we think that we’re doing the best that we can.

  • I blame that Tony Blair for a lot of this. Before he came along, most political argument was based upon the ‘wrongness’ or otherwise of what different parties or government were proposing or had done. Blair over Iraq exposed a new line in dishonesty (a similar element was established about Margaret Thatcher’s government some time later, too) which has trickled out through all sorts of people we used to ‘take as read’ as being trustworthy such as police chiefs, NHS bosses etc. The USA, of course, had Richard Millhouse Nixon. 🙁

    The use of deliberate lies as a campaigning tactic also to be far more prevalent these days. The shame at being discovered seems to have diminished to the point where quite a lot of politicians are happy to take the risk of being found out. Political opponents are far more likely to suspect dishonesty/mendacity much earlier on in any dispute (or use faux disbelief as an effective tactic. 🙁

  • Pedant’s Corner – Richard Milhous Nixon

  • Pedant’s Corner 2 – Ayn Rand
    Sorry, Mark – Off thread. Hope the meeting chair doesn’t throw me out! (I quite often get away with it in the Town Council chamber, so I might just about on LDV?!)

  • Steve Griffiths 18th Aug '13 - 11:55am

    I am an occasional contributor to this site, and I do find that the standard of argument is sometimes juvenile and depressing, although there are some very good and rewarding threads to read. Like you Mark I am actually quite keen to hear other arguments from people who do not always share my views.

    I have to say however that there seems to be a high correlation between some of those who use other names that are clearly not their real ones, designed to hide their real identity; why do they do this? I guess it is easier to be juvenile and insulting when you are just anonymous. Contributors should have the courage of their convictions and identify them selves.

  • Clear Thinker 18th Aug '13 - 12:10pm

    Isn’t it actually : “I am correct, you disagree with me, so you must be stupid, incompetent, a liar, or maliciously out to get me”? Why does this happen?

    Perhaps it’s because I actually am correct, but all of the words we are using in the argument have completely different emotional meanings to me compared to you. I am correct with my meanings, maybe you are correct with yours?

    Perhaps also because people – maybe all of us – use arguments to achieve ends which are different to what is being argued about. A simple example is a bully who wants to prove she’s right and will go to any devious lengths to do it.

    People participate in debates for many reasons. People criticise others to bolster their own self-worth. People might like to induce resistance in order to prove that resistance exists, or induce criticism so as to enhance the feeling of being sorry for themselves.

    And anyway, Mark, are you actually saying the same thing in your article, viz that people are not arguing in the way you expect, so they must be stupid, incompetent, or … ?

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '13 - 12:29pm

    It is often a good idea to say sorry when you have offended someone, or the situation is set ready for the next expected conflict.

    We could use Spain as an example, someone needs to take the heat out of the situation. This I add, would have been the best way forward with my conflict of interests.

    We often have statements that all lawyers are not good, even all Jews support the situation in Israel, that never helps anyone.

    I suggest an open mind is the best way forward, I am prepared to go to Spain with the respect needed to help with
    situations. I have little understanding about borders, I have more interest in helping others regain access to their children.

  • Steve Griffiths 18th Aug '13 - 12:46pm


    I said ‘SOME’ ;o)

  • @Clear Thinker
    “And anyway, Mark, are you actually saying the same thing in your article, viz that people are not arguing in the way you expect, so they must be stupid, incompetent, or … ?”

    That was my interpretation. Such judgements of other people’s opinions and reasoning should play no part in moderation, so what is this article about?

  • Clear Thinker 18th Aug '13 - 1:01pm

    SOME people say “You’re stupid” as a shorthand way of saying “That argument is a stupid argument”, which itself if short for “That argument is clearly logically, factually, or otherwise incorrect”. What appears to be a personal criticism is not necessarily one. It’s important too to allow people to express an opinion without requiring them to justify it – which I would argue on the basis of LibDem value of freedom of expression within offensive limits.

    By the way, didn’t LibDems argue to drop the idea of prosecuting someone for “insulting” someone not long ago?

    Names are not really very relevant, are they? If I say Capitalism is Evil, does it matter whether my name is Archibald Harris or John Smith or jedibeeftrix or g or Steve Griffiths (is that your real name by the way?) or Tim13 or Sandra, for example, or indeed Clear Thinker? Are we debating issues or ourselves? Do we need to know who someone is in order to understand or assess their point of view?

  • Steve Griffiths 18th Aug '13 - 1:25pm

    It IS my real name. I am not hiding behind an assumed name and happy for people to know that.

    We are indeed debating issues and Mark’s whole piece is regarding the quality of debate on LDV. My point was that I have noticed that it is easier for SOME to be abusive or make personal attacks when they are hiding behind an assumed name.

  • Al McIntosh 18th Aug '13 - 3:24pm

    “Personal attack, accusations of the basest of motives on the part of the people with whom an individual disagrees, avowed certainty based on wilfully partial and selective use of the available data…”

    These are qualities that are not exclusive to the comments section and appear all too often in LDV articles themselves. Indeed, they could easily be a description of much of modern politics from your local campaign leaflets to national leader’s speeches,

    The problem is that it is much easier to detect (or believe you detect) the presence of these qualities in articles and comments with which you disagree than it is to notice them in ones with which you agree and which reinforce your own prejudices. Since the editorial and moderator team of LDV are of a similar pro-leadership opinion (albeit with varying shades of rose-tint), psychologically this means that comments that challenge orthodoxy will face more severe moderation than sycophantic ones. This asymmetrical application of the moderation rules applied both to comments and LDV articles, in effect, becomes a form of subconscious censorship. Censorship, whether conscious or otherwise is illiberal.

    Since liberalism and social democracy comprise a very wide range of view points, it is unachievable to have the whole range represented on a moderating team. It is simpler and more liberal to relax and accept that these forms of argument will be used by people with whom you both agree and disagree and allow both to use them (and comment to point out the error of their arguments where you disagree) than it is to take this authoritarian line and try and moderate them out.

  • “These are qualities that are not exclusive to the comments section and appear all too often in LDV articles themselves. Indeed, they could easily be a description of much of modern politics from your local campaign leaflets to national leader’s speeches,”

    To be fair, I think some of those who run LDV are genuinely unaware that they’re indulging in this behaviour – name-calling, personal attacks and so on – to the extent that they can’t see it even when it’s pointed out to them.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '13 - 4:52pm

    by clear thinker, You outlined she is a bully, I would say that applies to both sexes.

    I always use my real name. If I have faith in what I am saying, why should I hide.

  • Clear Thinker 18th Aug '13 - 5:36pm

    Helen, I agree. There are men who bully as well as women who bully.

    Andy, I agree, anonymity can surely have value, and consistency can offset some of its disadvantages. Anonymity might help someone express their true thoughts or feelings – surely a good thing particularly if one is shy, psychologically repressed, or politically repressed such as in many places globally. And a well-known figure can use anonymity to explore sides of an argument that s/he might not necessarily be on – by trialling different arguments without necessarily believing them personally and without attracting adverse/unfair personal attention. Of course there are disadvantages too, as the recent Twitter and Ask.fm problems show.

  • “Names are not really very relevant, are they? If I say Capitalism is Evil, does it matter whether my name is Archibald Harris or John Smith or jedibeeftrix or g or Steve Griffiths (is that your real name by the way?) or Tim13 or Sandra, for example, or indeed Clear Thinker? Are we debating issues or ourselves? Do we need to know who someone is in order to understand or assess their point of view?”

    Absolutely. Either the argument holds water or it doesn’t, regardless of who makess it. I think one should use the same username on all comments on the same article though, and probably across the whole site (as I do).

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Aug '13 - 6:25pm

    I have two problems with the moderation policy, which I have raised in the past and feel are relevant to this debate:

    1. Excess moderation.
    2. Biased moderation.

    Regarding point 1: although it is not acceptable to verbally assault someone, just like it is not acceptable to physically assault someone, I am confident that it is in everybody’s interests for anger to be expressed. I do not think the current moderation policy allows for this, unless you are a traditional liberal, which brings me to point two:

    Biased moderation. Some very offensive things are written on this website about non-liberals and non-traditionally liberal opinions. I don’t really mind that, but I don’t think double standards should exist. People should also remember that when they are insulting conservatives, they are not only attacking our political rivals, but also people’s friends and family members.

    I have recently become more of a progressive liberal, after seeing and thinking about the injustice of Russia’s new anti-gay laws, but even so, I should have felt I could contribute when I was more of a centrist/moderate.

  • Paul in Twickenham 18th Aug '13 - 7:48pm

    “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.

    But Mark, isn’t this really a description of the whole political process? We choose to ascribe the basest of motives and rank incompetence to our opponents, and they do exactly the same to us. It’s part of the oppositional style of politics, and while it isn’t pretty it’s the least bad system that anyone has come up with.

    Isn’t it a form of Hegelian dialectic, or some such thing? If someone’s response in a debate is playground name-calling then I tend to assume that a variant of Godwin’s law applies. Rather like my working assumption that gossip tells me something about the gossipper amd nothing about the gossippee.

    But ultimately we’re all consenting adults who comment here on the basis that others will not always agree with us and that not all responses will be from the school debating club.

  • David Allen 18th Aug '13 - 8:21pm

    “avowed certainty based on wilfully partial and selective use of the available data”

    I really don’t think that is a valid criterion for moderation.

    First, what you might describe as “certainty”, others might simply see as an assertive statement of the poster’s personal belief. In such a case, you risk intruding your own personal beliefs into the moderation process – and surely you would want to avoid that?

    Secondly, how do you distinguish “wilfully” partial selection of data from, for example, the selection by the poster of what s/he thinks is the crucial factor in an argument? How can you know, in a godlike way, whether someone is being “wilfully” and dishonestly “selective”, or just putting forward what they think is important?

    Thirdly – Yes, of course many posters do present slanted, canting, misleading arguments. They are frankly the very stuff of political discourse! I am tempted to say that they often form the majority of postings, irrespective of whether they come from left, right, or centre! The proper way to deal with them is not to mod them out. The proper way to deal with them is for someone else to come along in response, and show up the cant for what it is.

    That way, discourse slowly progresses. People who use cant too often get their false arguments pulled to bits too often, and eventually, they have to stop using them.

  • George Kendall 18th Aug '13 - 8:27pm

    I am very grateful to the LibDemVoice team for trying to make the site a pleasant place to debate. If they didn’t do this, the comments threads would be filled with personal abuse, and meaningful debate would mostly end. I for one would stop reading the comments section, as I have with a number of other sites.

    Let’s give the team a break. Moderating is a lot of work, it’s not much fun, and the site is a lot better for it.

    Of course the team get it wrong sometimes. When they do, let’s keep a sense of proportion, and be grateful we have a team that tries to be fair, even if they aren’t always successful.

  • George Kendall 18th Aug '13 - 8:57pm

    Probably the best thing I’ve read about how to make a point without angering people is an article about how to critique creative writing. It is “The Diplomatic Critiquer” (http://critters.org/c/diplomacy.ht). In a perfect world, I’d like everyone who engages in heated on-line political debates to read that article.

    Many will say that this is ridiculous. When debating politics, we should be passionate, not diplomatic. Well, that depends what you want to achieve with your comment.

    For me, I’m trying to convince people who disagree with me to reflect on what I have to say. If I use an insulting tone, they’ll pay no attention to my arguments. Rather, they’ll be livid, and be reaching for the metaphorical baseball bat.

    The article has little to do with moderating. But great for those who want more discussions where people actually listen to what they have to say.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Aug '13 - 9:36pm


    Thanks for getting back to me. It is clearly valuable to display anger because otherwise we wouldn’t know if anyone was angry. People should not be expected to say things like: “you have made me quite angry”, which arguably isn’t even appropriate and is unnatural anyway.

    I am not advocating vicious insults, just less moderation.

    Regarding my perceived contradiction: from my experience the standards applied to what could be described as “the liberal attack mob”, are significantly different to the standards applied to others.


  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '13 - 9:45pm

    I agree that if you are commented to a cause , then is does get passionate, and you believe in it.

    The subject I write about and wish to change causes pain to others, if you are upset by a comment then I believe it should be resolved.

    But, sometimes it does not happen and you have to review your thoughts on any continued confrontation. I take it seriously what I am involved in, so of course in many cases, I have no problems dealing with others.

    Is it wrong to try for change?

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '13 - 9:46pm

    It should read committed. Sorry relying on spell checker again.

  • “Probably the best thing I’ve read about how to make a point without angering people is an article about how to critique creative writing. It is “The Diplomatic Critiquer””

    The title is pretty annoying. Is “Critiquer” American for “Critic” by any chance?

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 19th Aug '13 - 12:10am

    @ Eddie,

    Is it valuable to display anger and, if it is, for whom? It probably isn’t for the person on the receiving end.

    And that is part of the dilemma. There is a difference between being angry with something as opposed to at someone, as you can’t distress an idea but you can distress a human being..

  • Clear Thinker 19th Aug '13 - 12:43am

    Surely it is valuable to express emotion sometimes, even negative emotion. We’re not all china vases are we?

    It can be valuable to the person expressing it because expressing the emotion can modify it, often in beneficial ways. Personally I find that expressing irritation can sometimes make me realise either that I misunderstood or that I’m being ridiculous. By expressing our emotions we can change, move on. It can get us past a block and can indeed clear someone’s thinking! – though of course it can do the opposite too.

    An expression of emotion can be valuable to the person to whom it is addressed because it alerts that person to the fact that what they have written affects someone emotionally. If someone expresses anger at me, I know I’ve stepped on a sensitive toe, and I can learn from that. If someone expresses support, I can relax and be joyful and indeed, by relaxing, move on to the next thought.

    A bit of tolerance on all sides would seem to be a good way forward. As human beings we all make mistakes, and we all have emotions as well as intellect, and they are valuable – some say they’re ways of thinking rapidly, which can sometimes be good, even if some subsequent reflection and even correction may be helpful too.

  • I may say that although I have seen comments that I deplore, on the whole the level of discussion at LDV is marked by a degree of sincerity, intelligence, and rationality that are not so easily found in other places. The discussion, both in content and tenor, is far from perfect, of course, but it is almost always interesting.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Aug '13 - 2:59am

    Mark, the person angry can get it off their chest and the person it is directed at will now be more educated with how their words or actions have made somebody else feel. If people aren’t aware they are hurting others they are more likely to carry on with the offending behaviour.

    Even if the individual deems it right to carry on with the offending behaviour, it is still good that the angered individual has been able to express their feelings, which could also lead to a robust debate that leads to both individuals understanding each other more and therefore feeling less angry afterwards.

    Even if the the debate doesn’t lead to more understanding and less anger by the end of it, it is still good that we are alerted to angry individuals for their own sake.

    Best wishes

  • Helen Dudden 19th Aug '13 - 9:02am

    I have met a child who was hurt so badly, he has no emotions.

    Is that a good idea? you have no feelings, so you comply with most things.

    Sometimes, you have to take certain things in life to stay in one place.

    If we ask for something and we are not answered, if someone is very rude and they do not apologize, then of course, things are far from what they should be.

    I know that the subject needs input from your MP’s, so if anyone goes to your one of MP’s you have no input into the All Party Group on International Child Abduction. The subject is not one on your list.

    The problems worsen, even 28 children have died within domestic abuse.

    I even contacted Nick Clegg, still no reply. Do you feel that I deserve a reply?

    What I have written is how I write and ask, when there is no reply I feel that I am just pushed to one side. I could be using a different name and still the answer would be the same.

  • depressing to see conflation of pseudonymity with anonymity again, despite Andy Hinton’s eloquent comment.

    Mark, you know my views on how the civility of comments could be improved on this site. I did a blog post on it ages ago. None of my suggestions were taken on board, and lo, the comments on this site remain an uncivil bear pit, dominated by a few strident voices – some of them pseudonymous, some not. I see little point in issuing gentle pleas to such people to stop. They’ve already driven everyone else away and now see this as home. Why should they be driven away from their home?

  • Perhaps a bit more editorial control / input over the originating thread would help. For example take Norman Baker’s thread on HS2.

    In the thread he played the man not the ball from the outset. Mandelson “the man who gave us the fiasco of the Millennium Dome” and ending with “unlike Peter Mandelson we can’t all hop on a private jet”. Neither was relevant and were attempts to discredit the current argument with personal wealth and prior activity. As it happens Mandelson didn’t give us the Dome, he took it over from the original Tory plans and the use of a private jet does nothing to strengthen or weaken the arguments for or against HS2.

    It highlights the point that if we want political debate at this level to be civil and productive, those holding elected office (or controlling the original content on sites such as LDV) should set the tone. This isn’t true across the board, I have been consistently impressed by Julian Huppert even on the few occasions where I have disagreed with him. But then look at the grief he gets from other MP’s when he asks a question in the house…..

    As for selective use of data, this seems to me to be taught on MP 101 the minute the votes are counted to MP’s of all parties. In this regard the current crop of politicians are more Blair’s children then Thatcher’s.

  • John Carlisle 19th Aug '13 - 11:00am

    I think in a truly liberal party there would not be moderators. It is a very parent/child relationship and can lead to censorship by a moderator, using any number of the conditions, or none, as an excuse. I write comments on three other blogs, two African political and one business, and the moderators are the comment writers themselves, as it should be in a mature society.
    The most acrimonious blog has this policy: “If you come across comments that are injurious, defamatory, profane, off-topic or inappropriate; contain personal attacks or racist, sexist, homophobic, or other slurs, please report them and they will be removed.” In this way I get to know who the nutters are and how they are put in their places or removed, and the overall level of feeling about the issue.
    This is not permitted on the LDV, and I wonder who or what is being protected?

  • “It is a very parent/child relationship and can lead to censorship by a moderator, using any number of the conditions, or none, as an excuse.”

    I was amused to see Mark Valladares above inviting people to correct him when he said he didn’t think he had ever moderated on certain grounds.

    How would anyone know? When a comment is removed, neither the identity of the moderator nor the grounds for removal are stated. If the commenter is being ‘pre-moderated’ no one but the moderator will even have seen the comment.

  • Michael Parsons 19th Aug '13 - 11:59am

    @John Carlsle
    Isn’t it dangerous to remove “profane” comments? I read somewhere the LD President gets a free copy of Milton’s Areopagitica – his defence of the free combat of ideas – which I thoroughly support, much better than Mill. “I cannot defend a fugitive and cloistered virtue” he wrote.
    Surely the best way to deal with an ideology is not some Hegelian/Marxist combate of synthesis/antithesis, but to expose the ideology for what it is directly. cui bono? what are its social class origins? whose interests does it serve? what is its filiation? etc. It works a treat on “supply/demand” enthusiasts! not to mention on the superstitious who would classify some objectors as “”nutters” by the way, rather than meet with their objections, which is no more than playing a silly game of politics, or switching on the so-called “human rights” hate machine.

  • John Carlisle 19th Aug '13 - 12:36pm

    As Joe has published his dilemma, with which I partially agree, I will use it as a lead-in to mine, that of being routinely moderated on this site; which is a bit like being ASBO’d. Some time ago I was taken to task for insisting that LDV could not go on ignoring the elephant in theroom, i.e. the NHS. My crime was, in the view of the moderator(s) being off topic. So, I stopped commenting for about a year.
    On my return, I discovered that the ASBO had not been lifted, and that one particular editor consistently delays my comments so that by thetime they appear they are not relevant. Last week she “allowed” my reply to a very derisory comment, but did not publish it. I assume this was because I said he was being silly or was in a bad mood. “Shock/ horror”, to use the the party’s phrase. So, I had no right of reply. That, in my book, is censorship, not moderation.

  • “I assume this was because I said he was being silly or was in a bad mood.”

    I’ve been on ‘pre-moderation’ for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what the pretext was, but I can only assume the real reason is that I am critical of the party.

    I really don’t think saying someone is being silly or is in a bad mood amounts to “abuse”. It’s certainly considerably milder than “appalling old curmudgeon”, an epithet which Mark Valladares himself has resorted to in the past.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 19th Aug '13 - 1:19pm

    Good afternoon, everyone! Much to respond to, I see…

    @ Eddie and Clear Thinker,

    I accept that there should be scope in life to express anger, or any other emotion. However, if by allowing one person to express their emotion, they are reasonably perceived to be denying that opportunity to others, is that a healthy thing for the community as a whole? I see LDV as being a community, and our readers have a range of views as to the sort of debate they wish to participate in. Some of them, people whose views I find interesting even when I don’t agree with them, avoid the site because they don’t like the level of aggression. Others feel that there should be minimal limits upon them. Someone has to draw a balance.

    @ Jennie,

    I’m not sure that I read your original piece at the time, which was an omission on my part. And, having read it, I like it a lot, although I’d like to reflect on it further. So, when the Collective meet next – and given how spread out we are, that isn’t very often – I will seek a discussion based on the ideas that you propose. Thank you.

    @ Steve Way,

    You make an interesting point. If an article is unnecessarily provocative, as in the instance you point to, does it conflict with our intent to encourage a more courteous debate of ideas? Food for thought, indeed, as Joe notes, and something that I should consider as part of the editorial process.

    @ John Carlisle,

    One of the curious things about regulation, is that it is only necessary because people misbehave. It is a burden upon all of those who behave. But are you arguing for a liberal moderation policy or a libertarian one – something that the political philosophers amongst you might want to comment upon?

    But yes, being placed into pre-moderation is a bit like being ASBO’d, I suppose. I am aware that my colleagues do try to encourage errant commenters to adhere to our policy, but unless there is some willingness to comply, the conversations tend to boil down to (and I paraphrase rather simplistically here),

    “We’re sorry but you can’t say that here.”
    “Why not? You’re censoring me!”
    “Because that’s how we want to manage the site.”
    “I don’t agree with that.”

    * moderator shrugs shoulders and gets on with something else *

    Do we want to engage the wider LDV readership in our decisions about who goes into pre-moderation and who doesn’t? Do we want to publicly state why someone is pre-moderated? Or, do most of the readership trust the editorial team to do manage the site as fairly as possible? LDV is not a ‘public asset’ per se, it is a website/public forum, and its proprietors set the rules, as a newspaper proprietor would.

    @ Chris,

    I did call you that, it is true, but it was done with affection. As I recall, you did seem to be a bit grumpy that day…

  • “I did call you that, it is true, but it was done with affection. As I recall, you did seem to be a bit grumpy that day…”

    It wasn’t me. And my point was that your own behaviour is often worse than that of the people you moderate, so your attempt at hilarity is misplaced.

  • Duncan Borrowman 19th Aug '13 - 3:15pm

    Just skimmed through this, thanks for raising the issue Mark. I rarely post anything here these days (it helps to be politically restricted these days). One observation, I also belong to the forum for a premiership rugby team. It frequently descends into ad hominem attacks by perople using psuedonyms behind their keyboards, ususally on other people usin psuedonyms from behind their keyboards. Actually I use a psuedonym on it too, but am open who I am. I’ve more or less iven up on it. My main observation is that it is, sadly, the way of teh world in internet debate. People are only too willing to “speak” in a way that they wouldn’t face to face. It isn’t unique to LDV.

  • John Carlisle 19th Aug '13 - 3:39pm

    I think you either miss my point or chose to ignore it. I think moderating is not a good thing, and you cannot improve a bad thing, you can only change it. . . .to participant moderation. That is social maturity, and prevents someone engaging in nanny behaviour. Kids don’t grow up if they are “nannied” all the time. It also shows a lack of trust or even diversity, so you end up saying what you think is permissible and not what you think.
    In the NHS that is what is known as being compliant (with governance) at the expense of the patient. So, in a nutshell, I am challenging the need for pre-moderation at all. It is bad for the health of the LDV – IMHO.

  • I think in the interest of transparency. LDV should show comments that are stuck in “moderation” as awaiting moderation.
    Then comments that are refused entry, should then show the reason for this.

    Comments that are removed should be given a reason, on what basis did the alleged comment breech a forum rule.

    I myself in the past have been subjected to what I would call having my rights to comment *sanctioned*+
    It makes it almost impossible to engage in debate, as you sometimes wait up to 12 hours to have a comment released.

    I also have noticed at times when there have been News stories which have been politically hot topics and at times extremely uncomfortable for the Libdems, excessive moderation targeting those that have in the past been critical of the party has taken place before any breeches have even occurred.

    Finally, I do think there is bias towards Liberal Democrat Members who are signed up to LDV.
    I do not need to use names as that would be entirely inappropriate, But I think most people would know who I mean when I say there are at least 3 such members, who are regularly over aggressive, insulting and dismissive towards anyone who does not hold the same view as them and are especially insulting towards anyone who is not a party member .

  • Peter Watson 19th Aug '13 - 4:43pm

    I’ve often wondered if there is an automatic “alert” facility on LDV as your postings often seem to attract a rapid response from one of the regulars here. I’m sure he’ll be along shortly 😉

    As an aside, I would welcome a feature on LDV to ‘subscribe’ to individual articles and receive a notification when a new post is made to that thread. I often find that as new articles are added I quickly lose track of discussions I was following or even taking part in. The only solution I have found so far is to keep several tabs open in my browser for a few days until I am sure the threads have run their course.

  • Tony Dawson 19th Aug '13 - 5:17pm

    @Mark Valladares :

    ” Abusing others isn’t liberal”

    Except, perhaps, when publishing an article by a LDV ‘insider’ doing little other than abusing a Party member who is taking a good kicking already in the Tory media?

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Aug '13 - 6:00pm

    Mark, I agree a balance needs to be struck with moderation. Regarding allowing people to express emotion putting others off contributing, I would say I would prefer more of an attitude of “if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen”, rather than being too sensitive about it. But I agree very aggressive people should be kicked out, as they would in any other debate. It’s just where we draw the line where we disagree.

  • Thanks Mark for posting this. It has long struck me as quite remarkable how little effort LDV appears to put into consulting its readership and asking for feedback so this is a welcome development and one I hope you will repeat on a regular basis.

    Moderate ad hominem and libellous comments by all means but beyond that tread very carefully. Like John Carlisle I too have had a comment raising concerns about developments in the NHS moderated and, as in his case, the supposed crime was being off-topic although that was patently not the case . So, sometimes moderation is spilling over into censorship and that is a problem.

  • My earlier comment was kicked briefly into moderation. Why?

  • nuclear cockroach 19th Aug '13 - 7:07pm

    There is only one point at which I have found LDV moderation unreasonable. It is generally possible to ask why a post has been held up and to receive sensible feedback. However, I have noticed on a couple of occasions that posts sharply critical of the Royal Family get dumped and correspondence is not entered into.

  • nuclear cockroach 19th Aug '13 - 8:07pm

    Funnily enough, that previous post got held by the site filters…

  • John Carlisle 19th Aug '13 - 9:06pm

    Fine, Mark,
    Its your house, but just call it LV and drop the D, so it does what it says on the tin.

  • “I should be vaguely touched that you took the trouble to go back twenty months to find an act of utter hypocrisy on my part.”

    Of course I realise that, in line with your usual ad hominem tactics, you will be only too eager to represent me as a sad obsessive searching years’ worth of LDV for ammunition.

    Sorry to disappoint you, but – just to check I wasn’t mistaken in my impression that you frequently play the man rather than the ball – I simply looked at the first four LDV pages brought up by a Google search. They contained one person being called an “appalling old curmudgeon”, another being called “curmudgeonly” and a third accused of “naivete”.

  • I see the removal of insulting comments as very important and support the efforts of you and the team. For me, having real debates on the issues is good when there is no flaming.

    I do not see the bias that matt describes and I am speaking as someone who is generally critical of the party

  • @John Carlisle

    Why should it be Liberal Voice rather than Liberal Democrat Voice? The site also has critics like me. Would that make it Liberal Democrat and Critics Voice?

  • Jedi

    Don’t agree with a good amount of what you say but have never had any problems with how you say it. Combative seems a good way to describe it

    I am interested in Mark’s comment son this site being for LD supporters. What constitutes a supporter? I voted LD all my life apart from 97 – am I a supporter or not

    For a party with about 50000 members then supporters who have consistently voted for you should be treated with some respect I think – at the end of the day you need our votes!

    I do also tend to find actual members of the party some of the most aggressive, and can I say, arrogant on here, as though membership conveys a ‘truth’ that us others are too arrogant to be aware of. There is on eon here who never seems to be in moderation but whose behaviour does your party no favours. Matt will know who I mean.

    Your party is in a difficult position at them moment and some of us still us coming back to the fold at some point in the future. In some ways it is strange that the more I engage with members on here the more I am put off.

    It is the non-members of the party who I find more engaging, whether from the left (eg matt) or the right (jedi) – that is surely not good for you?

  • ha ha

    my last post goes straight onto the naughty step of LDV – ironic really!

  • @voter

    “I do not see the bias that matt describes and I am speaking as someone who is generally critical of the party”

    But to be fair voter, unless you have been *sanctioned* on commenting, And LDV does not show those comment that are left pending for hours on end, the comments that never then get released, despite the fact that they many not breech any forum rules, the you would be totally oblivious to what goes on behind closed doors, so to speak.

    I don’t expect you to take my word for it, or anyone else for that matter. But if there was more transparency on LDV, showing the amounts of comments that are pending, those that have been denied and those that have been deleted. I believe you would have a much better idea of how much of it is actually taking place.

    I know the site is called Lib Dem Voice, our place to talk, but it is not an exclusive site, it is a public forum where all such individuals should be treated as equals.
    It is the same for conservativehome, Who attract a lot of flack and criticism from others including LDV members.

  • A Social Liberal 19th Aug '13 - 11:53pm

    To be quite honest I don’t think I have seen any posts as described by Mark in his article. If there are examples of ad hominem then they have to be the nicest, most personable personal attacks because they really didn’t register. Either that or they were so subtle that they didn’t register on my attackomometer which, I accept, is possible as subtlety is sometimes beyond me.

  • Andy Boddington 20th Aug '13 - 8:57am

    What depresses me is that the dynamics of commenting have not changed since computer conferencing came into fairly general use in the late 1980s.

    There are still people who “pounce” on others, immediately negating what has been said. There are others who “flood” debates either with a large number or very long comments. There is still a minority who attack aggressively, rather than debate constructively.

    It’s easy to shrug and just say “That’s what life is like online.” But the dynamics of debate really do matter. Aggressive commenting can have a chilling effect on debate. If people feel they are to be attacked, or not responded to constructively, they tend not to contribute. And if comments are not constructive, then people stop reading them.

    It depresses me that most people commenting are men. Just looking at the comments above, and excluding Mark Vallandres as the author of the post, then just four people writing are women, 25 are men and two I can’t identify. Men have made nearly 80% of the comments.

    I looked at these issues in other contexts the late 1990s. At a science pub session, half the audience were women, but men made two-thirds of the comments. At a major “people’s parliament” debate, the statistics were similar. Interviewing people after the latter event, we found that women found it hard to compete with the strident actions and voices of men. They said they tended to think through their answer before signalling they wanted to contribute. By that time, men had taken up much of the debating time. Of course, this can be solved by good chairing and facilitation and that’s what our clients did thereafter.

    Online it can be quite difficult to foster constructive debate and create an environment where people do not feel put off from contributing. Moderating out aggressive comments is one way of doing this.

    I think the Voice comments policy gets it just right when it says that we want a “good quality of discussion and debate” conducted as we would “expect a well-run public meeting to operate: allowing everyone to have their say in a way which involves the whole audience, and not just its most vocal participants.”

    In practice, despite moderation, I am not sure that this is always being achieved.

  • Jedi: If this were my site I would have barred you years ago: not for the substantive point of any of your views, but for your combative style which you yourself admit to.

    However, this is not my site and so I choose to not come here very often and spend my time in less stressful and less combative activities. I know for a fact I am not alone in this. Effectively you have barred me, and lots of other people, because it is easier to let you dominate discussion than it is to try and engage constructively. I appreciate that you have reasons for your combative style, and that some of those reasons are valid. However, if this were my site most of the reasons you give for being angry would be reasons for moderation too, and I would expect you to be able to bring it to the attention of a mod rather than “dealing” with it by going off on one and scaring away any less combative commenters.

    You will notice, though, that you are not the only person I named in my post. I deliberately choose one pseudonymous person and one not pseudonymous person. Both of them could easily have been any one of several others. I was trying to make the point that pseudonymity is not the problem without typing out a great big long list of offenders.

    I would also point out that I am only here because someone on twitter mentioned this thread last night – if they hadn’t I would never have seen your very long and plaintive comment. so comment subscription really IS a good idea to foster constructive debate.

  • John Carlisle 20th Aug '13 - 10:20am

    @Voter. Liberal Voice because it is not democratic. It cannot be if all the participants cannot be heard on an inspector’s judgement. Let us be the judges. What’s to be afraid of?
    I learned my democracy in South Africa, not the UK, where it has always been genuinely participative (pre 1994 was not a democracy). I have observed a very heated meeting of about 500 black people discussing boycotting all the shops in a town because of racist practices. Violence was in the air; but two or three people insisted that it should not be a total boycott as one shop was not racist. In the true spirit of democracy they were allowed to state their case, in utter silence, despite the overwhelming angry majority wanting the total boycott. It took great courage, but also reassurance that, in their democratic way, the principle of equal participation was a given.
    That is why Mark’s house should be called Liberal Voice and not Liberal Democratic Voice, IMHO.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '13 - 10:50am

    Andy Boddington

    What depresses me is that the dynamics of commenting have not changed since computer conferencing came into fairly general use in the late 1980s.

    Yup. Those of us who were around at that time and participated in the ancestors of today’s “social media” have seen this all before. I remember it all from various usenet groups I used to post in – they seemed inevitably to go through a peak where they seemed to be generating interesting discussion and then degenerated as the trolls too over and forced out the people who had something interesting to comment on.

    When the wider national media discovered all this, and started going on and on about how wonderful this all was, and how enlightening it would be, I sighed because I knew where it was leading to. Now they are discovering trolls, and on-line bullying, and the sheer banality and time-wasting nature of it all. I have never participated in Twitter and Facebook and all that because I’ve been there and seen this sort of thing in its earliest form, and have no wish to go through it again.

  • Clear Thinker 20th Aug '13 - 12:26pm

    Not being much of a china vase myself – more like a lump of clay – I’m mystified as to why anyone would think any of jedibeeftrix’s comments are excessively combative. None of the recent ones seem like that.

    Can someone give an example, and maybe show how jedibeeftrix’s argument could be re-worded to retain the relevant information content but exclude the “combative style”?

    Thanks in advance!

  • @John Carlisle
    There is something to be preferred and that is actual debate. If you look at huffpo, you will see many comments which do not attempt to make an argument. They just attack other people on a personal level. So I choose not to comment there.
    In this thread, we have much debate but no personal attacks and I see no harm from that

    I can see that an indication (such as “this comment was rejected because it broke rule 4”) would be more helpful to the person who made it, than the comment just disappearing

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Aug '13 - 2:48pm

    I must say I’ve never seen a comment from Jedi that I thought was excessively combative and would cause someone else to leave the site. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of provocative posts by Jennie, usually sharply criticising those more on the right, for instance at one time making out the only reason I was trying to stand up for men’s rights was to defend my privilege, rather than trying to prevent unfair sex discrimination.

    This is what I mean when I say “If you can’t stand the heat…”, you can’t be provocative and then complain about the response.

  • The problem of on-line debate – and not just in LDV – is that people taking part often write things that they would never say if they met the other debater face to face. In my view, it is possible to conduct robust debate without the need to insult or impugn the integrity of others taking part.. If I can’t win your argument without resorting to rudeness, personal insult or calling people liars, then frankly I can’t have much of a case.

    One of the reasons I decided not to write articles for LDV is precisely because I don’t want to have to accept the levels of abuse that some people seem to think is acceptable when they don’t agree with me.

  • David Allen 20th Aug '13 - 6:30pm

    One separate issue about moderation – It can harm the flow of debate. When a posting is held up in moderation and then passed as acceptable, it appears under the time at which it was originally submitted. By that time, it has been hidden away by multiple later postings from other people, so it doesn’t get read.

    It is really annoying when you have made a brilliant comment which people should be noticing, and they don’t! You stare at all the people who have gone on writing things which show that they haven’t read what you said. You wonder whether to post again, but you realise you’d risk getting banned for repetitiousness. You wonder whether to grumble at people for not reading your original, but then you realise that this would be unfair, your posting has just got hidden amongst floods of others.

    The way to solve this would be to add newly approved postings at the foot of the column, not somewhere halfway down that corresponds to the time of submission. Then things wouldn’t get missed.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Aug '13 - 12:21am

    I feel a bit harsh for saying “if you can’t stand the heat…” – I am not telling people to leave, what I am saying is that there has to be a minimum amount of “forcefulness” allowed within posts in order to communicate feelings, rather than just ideas.


  • “Jedi: If this were my site I would have barred you years ago: not for the substantive point of any of your views, but for your combative style which you yourself admit to.”

    Why ban somebody for being ‘combative’?

    “If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '13 - 11:29am


    I find it strange that you would say this, for if we are to include blogging within the remit of social media you are as tenacious as I (combative?), when it comes to making your case forcefully and repeatedly.

    Sure, but I realise the addictive aspect of repeatedly stating one’s opinion in different words in the face of other people with whom one disagrees repeatedly doing the same. Somehow one is always convinced that they will come round to what you are saying if you do it just one more time …

    That’s why I contribute to Liberal Democrat Voice and nothing else, I don’t want to be sucked into doing this sort of thing all over the place, and on other subjects where I have strong feelings. It’s also why I accept the moderation this site has, even though I am often hit by it and get annoyed that what I thought was a perfectly reasonable comment gets delayed. When there’s no moderation, it’s not combative arguing you get, it soon degenerates into silly abuse. As is now being discovered by people who have come late to this sort of thing in the current trendy social media sites.

  • Simon Banks 27th Aug '13 - 8:49pm

    Two features of internet sites like this lend themselves to mean and immoderate comments, and this is no criticism of this site. Just look at some other sites that bring together people of similar interests but differing views – some sites for writers, for example.

    The immediacy lends itself to people lashing out. In the work context it’s called e-mail rage. The absence of any sensory clues other than text on a screen – the absence of body language, tone of voice or whatever – plus the fact that on a busy site like this people are unlikely just to post “Mark – I don’t quite understand this…” – mean that the text is taken out of context and it’s easier to be rude to an invisible person than one you must look in the face.

    Then, of course, there are those few occasions when what has been said is perfectly clear and the right response is indeed anger.

  • I sometimes think no one is ever persuaded by anything and that all debate is futile. this leads to exasperation. All my comments are always awaiting moderation which rarely bothers me coz I can be a bit abrasive and my sense of humour is a tad on the acid side. The thing to remember is that it’s up to the people who maintain LDV what they allow. it’s a party affiliated site so obviously it has a bias.. It amazes me that some people feel like they’re being oppressed when they get moderated for saying the same thing over and over again no matter what the subject is and are rude about it.

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