Safe spaces in which to comment

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My fellow editor, Paul Walter, has been doing some extensive work to regulate the trolls who sometimes emerge on Lib Dem Voice.

As he reminded us last week, we ask commenters to stick to just one name. You can use a pseudonym (that’s because some readers are politically restricted) but you should be consistent. We do ask for a valid email address. Recently Paul has identified a couple of individuals who each use multiple names and they have been put on permanent moderation.

We also ask you to avoid personal attacks – by all means disagree with whatever is expressed in a post or comment, but don’t make unpleasant accusations about the person who made them.

If your comment is put into moderation don’t take it personally. It will probably be because you used one of our trigger words, which in some contexts could be offensive. We editors are all volunteers with other commitments beyond Lib Dem Voice, so sometimes it takes a while before one of us is able to check through the comments sitting in the Pending file and release those that are fine.

All this is to ensure that the space below the line is safe for anyone who wishes to comment.

But whilst we have been reasonably successful in keeping the discussions civilized, we are still not attracting enough women to contribute or comment. Yesterday we published five posts – all written by men – which produced 63 comments. Not a single one of those comments was written by a woman.

And it was not much better on Tuesday, when only 9 out of 93 comments were penned by a female writer.

Now 50% of our regular editors are women, including our senior editor, Caron Lindsay, so I don’t think anyone can claim we suffer from unconscious bias.

Any thoughts – especially from women – on what we can do to attract more to these shores?

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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31 Comments

  • It is nearly a 50/50 split between sexes. Is it not possible that you could have men commenting on women’s issues and vice -versa Trawl thru articles that you can submit of interest to women to encourage them to write. A sort of Woman’s Hour (or mans )in writng rather than on radio where both male and female s can comment. One could be -Who is better looking after children at home,or share the responsibility?. It’s a start.

  • Paul Barker 23rd Jan '20 - 8:21pm

    I am a man but the things that put me off may put others off too.
    Length. If you are going to write long screeds, start your own Blog & link it to LDV.
    Going massively Off Topic.
    Dialogs. Person A makes a comment on the piece. Person B comments on As comment. Person A replies etc etc. To my mind this is like having a conversation in a Meeting, rather than addressing the Meeting as a whole.

  • Stephen Howse – you are right, of course, about unconscious bias. But what I didn’t make clear is that the vast majority of comments are published, and that it is very rare for us to have to trash a comment from a woman.

  • N Hunter – I’m not sure that the identification of “women’s issues” would go down well with a liberal audience, and I don’t think that gets to the root of the problem. The women who do comment and contribute to LDV generally write on the same range of political topics as men.

  • Nonconformistradical 24th Jan '20 - 9:06am

    Could it possibly be that many women involved with the party have better things to do with their time than wade through lengthy comments here – which are often essays?

    And also endless arguments between economists?

  • James Belchamber 24th Jan '20 - 10:17am

    “And also endless arguments between economists?”

    🤣 I needed a laugh today. I’m sure some of the commenters here think they are economists, mind.

    I have a list of ideas, but up-front; wouldn’t the Campaign for Gender Balance have much better ones? Anyway, the problem with LDV is that a lot of articles come out of discussion in the comments (certainly, I find myself more often writing an article after participating in a discussion). But comments are unwelcoming to.. well, to anyone, but there are a few specific problems:

    1) Comments that drag the topic back to whatever they want to talk about, instead of contributing to the wider discussion. To take two disparate examples, lots of commenters want to make every discussion about either “diversity” (specifically, they feel there’s too much focus on it) or climate change (and why the subject being presented isn’t worth discussing in the face of it). The former especially is something that puts under-represented groups off participating in a discussion (since the environment is made immediately hostile to them), but how it comes up in _every_ discussion is a matter for moderators.

    2) A single conversation thread. The problem with LDV comments is that you have to participate in a single discussion, instead of threading off topics within that discussion so people who aren’t interested in them can ignore them and focus on the threads they find interesting. Facebook is an example of this (and where you often see a better balance of contributors), as is Reddit. There are comment systems for WordPress that could imitate this approach.

  • James Belchamber 24th Jan '20 - 10:17am

    “Middle class” moderation. The LDV team is gender-balanced but one of the things coming across in the moderation is how much more important decorum is than the content of a message. You’ll censor the phrase: “this is a (expletive deleted by Editorial team) argument” but you’ll allow screeds on how women are passive and need men to push change for the better. These contributions don’t add to the discussion; they reduce it to a much more basic and polarising debate about whether we have the right values (which is also an effective trolling technique); conversely, for some under-represented groups, swearing is literally part of their vocabulary and how they express themselves – you’re forcing people to be inauthentic in their approach and meet the standards of a much more well-represented and privileged group. I also remember unmoderated comments about how some poor people “deserve poverty”; as we say where I come from, (expletive deleted by Editorial team) that.

    Barriers to the community. The “general discussion” space on LDV is based on a paradigm from the 1970s; while possibly welcoming to an older generation (that frequented those spaces) it’s unwelcoming to younger people and those who didn’t “grow up online”. Having general discussion spaces allows a community to form, and gives specifically people from under-represented groups the confidence to speak up (or at least to learn where they don’t want to speak up), developing a virtuous cycle that leads to more people from under-represented groups speaking up. (It’s notable how much more diversity there is to the conversation, for example, on Facebook comment threads underneath prominent people sharing LDV posts).

    When you’re working with community-generated content, communities generate the content. But the way most people experience the LDV community is through the comments, and too many of the comments are from people who have the confidence, time and persistence to push their agenda without feeling emotionally exhausted or unsafe. What you land up with are people like me; who feel safe and confident that they can put their name to words on the internet, constantly and consistently, without worrying how it’s going to come back on them – because the world doesn’t punish people like me in the same way.

    And so they don’t stick around to write articles.

  • David Garlick 24th Jan '20 - 10:21am

    Thanks for all the work you on LDV do for us.

    Trolls in moderation? Sounds like you have given them a second chance that they do not deserve but may be that is not too liberal a view.

    Women should be responding in a similar proportion to the proportion of women members I would have thought so the problem may be that we don’t have a sufficient number of women members?
    Given that many women still shoulder a greater proportion of household/family duties perhaps they just don’t have the time…

  • Adam Pritchard 24th Jan '20 - 10:37am

    I have really enjoyed LDV this week. Usually there is some great quality but I find there is a lot of filler, not so this week, we have had more genuinely insightful pieces plus the intrigue about the mysterious troll.
    FCC report helped but I think it was a great job by the team.

  • I think I am right in saying that women are less confrontational than men, and it may also be the case that women are less ideological than men. Those may be the main reasons why men outnumber women in the comments sections on this site. They may also be the main reasons why more men are involved in politics than women.

    My impression is that the majority of people who post on internet sites are men. Certainly, internet trolls are mainly men. Trolling is a confrontational activity.

    Nearly two years ago I attended a conference where I presented a paper in one of my specialist areas. Out of 14 presenting speakers, only one was a woman. There is no obvious reason why women should be less interested in that specialist area than men. There was also not the slightest evidence of bias, conscious or unconscious, in the selection of papers. There was no submission process. Papers were invited from those already working in that area, almost all of whom are men. The only woman involved directly in the whole process was my interpreter (and I could not have done it without her).

  • I went to see Little Women at the cinema. Wonderful film, not at all woke. 40 people in the cinema, just three blokes, including me. So what are we going to do about this gender imbalance ? If we find the answer to that problem (and actually, it is a problem), we will probably find out why women are under represented on site like LDV.

  • Regarding points that James B raises, do we actually know what the social class profile of contributors on LDV looks like ? Or the age profile for that matter ? I’m amused by the idea that if we were allowed by moderators to describe Tory policies in more colourful, industrial language, we would become more diverse. I think that’s a bit patronising and reminds me of the days when Tony Blair developed a glottal stop when addressing trade union audiences. But then again, we dipped our toe into that particular body of water with Bollocks to Brexit, with no measurable positive impact on our support.

  • James Belchamber 24th Jan '20 - 11:58am

    @Chris Cory

    This is a great rebuttal of an argument I didn’t make – though “industrial language” is my new favourite way of saying “how working class people speak”.

    For absence of doubt, I did not add the censorship myself. I’m not that witty.

  • @Chris Cory

    What time were you in the cinema?

  • Jayne R:

    There has been quite a lot of research in this area. If you think the academics who have undertaken this work are stupid, then fine. These issues are difficult and complex, and throwing silly insults at people is not going to get us closer to understanding what is actually going on.

    Question? Why did 13 out of 14 papers at my conference in Euskal Herria come from men? Was it because men excluded women? Or was it because women are less interested in the subject matter than men? Answers on a postcard please.

    I am not a monk, so I do know plenty of women. In fact, I have known enough women over the years to have observed that when groups of men start arguing about politics, religion, or whatever, the women tend to leave.

  • Happy birthday Ruth 🙂

    There’s no one reason people do not comment much or we don’t see diversity in some places. But timing, at least in my experience,has a huge impact on when I can interact and who I am likely to interact with.

  • @Sesenco

    It’s because there is unconscious bias, gendered discussion from a young age and a whole host of other issues which has led to a male dominated area of study. There is plenty of research on this matter.

    And I believe you comments are ill-informed and lack critical analysis. There are plenty of very recent pieces of research which counter your points very succinctly.

    Your post was highly offensive and sexist. And yes, stupid.

    Going back to James’ points earlier on moderation… I believe your comments illustrate this issue perfectly.

  • I’m rather hoping Sensco is a troll and his comments are an elaborate ruse to show exactly what problems women face and why they don’t bother engaging in comment sections sometimes.

    But experience has jaded me, and I think he really is that lacking in self awareness and genuinely does believe the misogynistic nonsense he is pedalling.

  • John Peters 24th Jan '20 - 4:02pm

    I understand Lib Dems are into self identification. I am not. May I point out that a lot of the above seems to make the assumption that a tag indicates ones sex. Am I alone as sometimes posting with a male name, and sometimes with a female name? For clarity I only post here as John Peters. Does that mean I am male?

  • Jayne and Ruth. Matinee kind of guy….oh I did smile . Generally no, but in truth this was a slightly earlier showing in the early evening. Are you telling me that if I had gone to the later show it would have been full of blokes ?
    John Peters. Are you saying that you are not really John Peters ? What a wicked world we live in.
    Moderators. In my 11.46 post I made a point of saying ****** to Brexit. You seem to have changed it to the potty mouthed version. Trying to spice the site up a bit, are we ?

    (Moderator’s note: We allow the specific phrase “Bollocks to Brexit” because we can’t really not allow it. We do not allow the first word of that phrase in isolation)

  • Ha – fair point at Chris Cory. Though I believe a later showing would have been less unequal in audience make-up. As a child growing up,I LOVED Little Women. Especially as it had some great feminist and anti-slavery messages given the era it was based in and written in. Given that, I’m not surprised that it may appeal to more women than men. But that’s different to not appealing at all? I know if we had a spare evening my husband would enjoy it, because he likes a well-produced period drama. At the moment, cinema is a rare treat when we can get baby-sitting in for a few hours so we’ve prioritised cinema spectacle over quality drama. Last watched was Star Wars.

  • I realize that you can freely throw around the word “Communism” but not “Fascism”, the latter is often censored by the moderation team.

  • Rosemary Bates 26th Jan '20 - 1:35am

    I really wish we as a party would move away from this recent desire to categorise people into identity-based groups of ‘white men’, ‘women’ who are totally detached from each other.

    Not only is this not at all liberal, as it views people as simply members of congruous groups which they have no choice in, rather than individuals with their own circumstances and opinions, but it is also drastically out of touch with how the vast majority of ordinary voters see the world.

    People mix everyday with colleagues and friends of many different genders, races and backgrounds every day and they see them as friends and colleagues, not as labels or whichever group others have chosen to impose on them.

    While it is true that some people will have a better perspective on particular issues due to their own experience, this idea that seems to have developed that the views of ‘white men’ should be treated with disdain has no support in the wider world.

    Diversity does not mean people need to be forced into boxes or their opinions treated differently depending on their gender or colour of their skin.

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