The notorious comment is free (part 3)

// 14 June 2008

As Jess posted on Wednesday, I joined a conversation with her, Jessica of feministing, Kira of the Guardian Women’s Pages and Jemima of the techy space at the Guardian this week about ‘women on the net’. Caitlin Fitzsimmons’ write-up is a great start, but isn’t able to do the full conversation justice, so I thought I’d write out some of what I’ve been reflecting on in more detail. I had so much to say though that I’ve had to split the post into three! A full podcast of the event is available here.

You can read Part 1 of this series here and Part 2 here.

Bat phone alert!

As part of the discussion at the event we talked about options for creating more constructive blogs, including several technical solutions for dealing with trolls. One of these was for commenters to develop profiles, which the recently redesigned version of the cif site seems poised to deliver.

Another idea I had was for feminists online to get organized and start swarming. As the first few/several comments tend to set the direction of threads (at least on cif), I think one way to make sure conversations aren’t derailed is for feminists to get in to the comments really soon after posts go live. If we see a post go up, or know of one that will, we could send out a kind of bat phone or bat signal alert to other feminists online (via listserves or blogs or whatever) and then all swarm the post.

The idea wouldn’t be to shut down the chance for others to contribute, but to make a point of debating the content of the post and set the ball rolling on that vein. It’s not a long-term solution, but could be an effective remedy for the way feminist posts are treated (e.g. Cath Elliot’s recent one which we then continued here) by challenging the current culture of the commenting. Eventually, hopefully, the increase in intelligent conversation would encourage most readers to buy into the idea of non-personal (and non-abusive) debate such that any breaches in conduct by a single commenter would be immediately challenged and dismissed by the whole cif community.

Who’s with me?

Photo by Si1very, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Jess // Posted 14 June 2008 at 11:09 am

My feeling is increasingly that for CiF to change, it needs to be relaunched – perhaps even with a new name, to give it a chance to ‘reboot’ the commenting community.

It really struck me what Jessica said, about how one of the reasons the same things do not generally occur on feminist blogs like Feministing, is that they have an established community that really buys into and supports the site.

It seems to me that the CiF community is basically hostile, not perhaps to everything posted there, but certainly to the Guardian’s progressive ethos.

I like the batphone idea, zohra. I would say it’s particularly important to get those first few comments in – not only because it sets the tone for debate, but even if the ‘conversation’ unravels later, the impact on the writer is different and also most people do not read the whole comment thread.

When a thread goes past about 20 responses, I would suggest that it’s only the die-hard CiF fans, who spend their whole day on the site, that pay much attention.

Sunny H // Posted 14 June 2008 at 7:05 pm

Hmmm.. a few points.

First, CIF doesn’t have that many resources. The newspaper spends a pitiful amount of money on it…. and there are around 2 – 2 and half moderators who have to go through over a thousand comments a day. And because the comments are post-moderated, it means that sometimes a hateful comment will get posted and only deleted after an hour or so when its been discussed further.

Its not a particularly profitable operation so you can imagine why the editors might want to put more resources merely into moderation.

With the new system, things change. So, some articles can have comments closed rather than being opened by default.

My second point is that, as I said on PP, CIf isn’t a community like TFW or Feministing. There’s no specific editorial policy and there’s no generally established culture that turns off right-wingers in the way for example this site does or even LC. On LC I hardly have to delete any comments even on a busy day because the level of debate is already so high that people feel wierd coming in with drive-by insults. And the main points of the talk policy, as on TFW are pretty in your face. I’ve suggested to them that this be put in place.

The third point is about Ruth Fowler’s piece. Now, the question is, how far do you want to take this policy of censorship and saying that hateful things should be banned? That’s a very thin wedge. A rather lot of people complain that CIF features too many articles that criticise Israel above other countries, and so the site feeds into an anti-semitic narrative. Others argue that it should not be a place where Islamists or even terrorist orgs like Hamas (or extremist ones) like Huzb ut-Tahrir should be allowed. So the point is, if you take a position to give angry minority voices a platform even if the majority find them unpalatable, why shouldn’t that extend to people like Ruth Fowler… or a libertarian who might argue that violent porn should not be banned. I mean its all very good saying we shouldnt’ allow hateful things but do you have a clealy defined line? Or are minorities allowed to get away with more simply because they’re non-white?

My last point is that you are welcome to boycott and decide to spend your time talking to the converted. I just don’t think it gets out the message to a wider audience…. there are drawbacks of course and you might decide that you want to conserve your energy. But I think if you just do that you miss a trick. Firstly you don’t speak to a wider audience (and not all of them are racists, mysoginists etc) and secondly you don’t make an attempt to understand what annoys some of them. And then formulate arguments in a way that brings them to your side.

Is that too optimistic? Perhaps. I just think its too easy to preach to the converted. The bigger battle in race relations and tackling patriarchy is on the streets and on open websites where a new order is established by winning the unwashed masses.

Jess // Posted 14 June 2008 at 11:56 pm

But Sunny – I’m not convinced that CiF is that big an audience.

Is that talking to anyone but a small community? My feeling is that most people simply do not scroll down to read the comments – perhaps influenced by the general tone of ‘debate’. However, that doesn’t minimise the impact of those comments on the author – and indeed the general readership that might feel like it has to skip the comments, on the expectation that to read them will involve reading misogynist, racist rants.

I just feel like we’ve taken a step back in terms of the public sphere. Everyone’s so enamored by the apparently democratic, freeflowing potential of comments, that we’re at a point where – as zohra points out – something has to be an actual slur to get deleted.

In terms of what the editorial guidelines should be – surely the Guardian has quite a lot of experience in this! It is a newspaper, after all :) I feel like newspapers should apply basically the same standards to their online output as their physical publication; it’s a new medium, but that’s it. The advantage should be it provides room for more, not things that would never be published in the newspaper.

zohra moosa // Posted 15 June 2008 at 1:47 am

@ Sunny

The third point is about Ruth Fowler’s piece. Now, the question is, how far do you want to take this policy of censorship and saying that hateful things should be banned?

Asking an author to construct an argument if they want to post, rather than letting them just insult a group of people they don’t like and calling that an article, is not censorship.

I mean its all very good saying we shouldnt’ allow hateful things but do you have a clealy defined line?

There’s a few lines we could draw. One I’ve described above: publish arguments, not rants. Two, criticism of state policies (e.g. Israel’s foreign policy), beliefs (e.g. Islam), logic (e.g. a libertarian’s argument re porn) should be permitted; attacks on people should be subject to review. If the sum total of a piece is saying ‘I hate x people’, why should this be published? Who cares if you hate me or I hate you, how is that a debate? I didn’t say that pieces that I disagree with shouldn’t be published (in your words, ‘hateful things’), but that hate speech itself should not be given a platform (on cif).

Anne Onne // Posted 15 June 2008 at 11:28 am

I think the issue here is really what is worth being published? After all, freedom of speech merely means that you shouldn’t be arrested or tortured for an opinion, it does not guarantee that whatever dreck somoene spits out MUST be published, online or anywhere else. The one holding the opinion is perfectly free to set up their own blog, or sour the lives of people by sharing their opinion by mouth.

All journalists are required to write articles based on having a certain amount of evidence, and an argument, so to speak. I agree with Zohra. Beliefs, facts and figures can be disputed and criticised. That is the base of reasoned discourse. Even a controversial opinion, if put forward with evidence can be discussed in a mature manner. Theoretically, at least. On the other hand, cheap insults of people aren’t an argument. They don’t add anything to discussion, and they have no place in an adult forum. Particularly where they derail genuine discourse and intimidate and sideline people who want to seriously discuss things.

Leaving any comment, regardless of how much it harms the conversation isn’t how we have conducive arguments in real life, is it?

After all, in a real life debate, if somoene runs in screaming and hurling abuse, or ranting something unintelligible, you’d ignore them or remove them, because it would be interrupting the discourse. To me, moderating comments is a continuation thereof.

Cara // Posted 15 June 2008 at 12:05 pm

Agree with zohra and anne.

Simple – does the piece have an argument? does the comment actually contribute anything? If not, remove it.

Like the analogy to a real life debate – if someone rants and raves, or says something utterly offensive you can shout them down and if necessary have them removed. Doesn’t happen here.

I also do not bother with CiF any more. There are too many misogynist trolls who, whatever the argument, come out with the same tired old antifeminist troll lines and derail any actual discussion.

QuestionThat // Posted 16 June 2008 at 10:50 am

OK, of the CiF comments that Julie Bindel showcases here, which if any do you consider to be unacceptable?

zohra moosa // Posted 16 June 2008 at 11:24 am

@QuestionThat

Most of the comments are problematic – are we reading the same article?

Or do you mean that you believe there’s nothing wrong with calling someone an ‘out-of-code unsaleable feminist’, ‘psycho’, or ‘deranged lunatic who is too dangerous to ever be released’?

It seems pretty clear to me that each is a personal attack, as are the bulk of the rest of the examples, rather than an engagement with the content of the article. No evidence or logic, just insult. Why would I find that acceptable? Why do you?

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 16 June 2008 at 11:55 am

I would love to see some sort of “feminist alert” to articles on CiF – but I would also love to see them for misogynist YouTube posts or rape apologist newspaper articles elsewhere. For anything really.

Sometimes, I think we all spend too much time in our safe corners of the web. I get why we do. I seek them out myself. But it seems to me that a lot of stuff just goes unchallenged these days. Only a few brave commenters ever speak up and they get shouted down by vile threats or complete dismissal of their arguements (which is easy to do because there are so few of them).

But, there are loads of us, aren’t there? Why *can’t* we get organised? I’m not suggesting we become trolls, but I do believe that flooding sexist posts whereever they appear with the truth about women and feminist issue *would* make a difference. Maybe a small one, maybe only a chip on the mountain, but at least we would be doing something. I bet we *could* change a few minds if only we acted together.

QuestionThat // Posted 16 June 2008 at 12:06 pm

@zahra: I’d say only a few (less than a quarter) of the comments she lists should have been moderated out. Of course, you’ve picked out those ones in your response.

But many of the others are no worse than controversial male bloggers receive (take a look through the current Will Hutton thread, for instance), and considering that two of the articles (‘Why I Hate Men’ and ‘Fighting Fear’) were highly provocative, some of the comments she’s picked out are very mild.

Maia // Posted 16 June 2008 at 12:46 pm

“Question That”, to try to justify the kind of comments Julie Bindel has been subjected to by saying they are ‘no worse than controversial male bloggers receive’ is just laughable. I’ve read the Will Hutton thread and although many commenters attack his arguments and call him pompous and arrogant, none vilify him in a viciously personal, gender-based way. That’s exclusively reserved for Ms Bindel.

QuestionThat // Posted 16 June 2008 at 1:30 pm

OK, to take 3 of the comments she listed:

“Can’t Cif hire somebody more intelligent, diligent and humane than Julie Bindel to write on these issues?”

How is that “gender-based”

“I despise ignorant, aggressive bigots like you too Julie.”

How is that “gender-based”?

“Incidentally, controversial statements intended to provoke a backlash are the last refuge of the jaded hack.”

This one’s spot on in my opinion. Making controversial statements to provoke a backlash is exactly what Bindel did in the article concerned.

Ariane // Posted 16 June 2008 at 4:28 pm

I’m female, mixed race (white and Asian) and have written 12 pieces for Comment Is Free this year. Four of these were about women, and one was about the perception of Asian women in the UK.

Therefore, Zohra, I was very surprised to read that you feel Comment Is Free is lacking in intelligent conversation and non-personal and non-abusive debate – because, in my experience, the level of debate is higher than that of any other political blog I’ve visited, and the vast majority of the comments focus solely on the arguments expressed in the articles.

I don’t recognise the “notoriously misogynistic” CiF you’ve blogged about at all. The CiF I write for is a democracy full of all kinds of people with a wide range of views. Most of these posters are liberal, free-thinking and tolerant – some are not, and this stimulates the debate.

Yes, the comments on CiF are often very blunt, but men receive just as many of this type of comment as women. Read the recent comment threads of David Shariatmadari (on Boris Johnson), Martin Jacques (on racism), Nicholas Blincoe (on infertility) and many more. One (deleted) comment on the latter thread said “I hope you get hit by a bus and die!”

I just read your first CiF piece – is this the one you mentioned?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/feb/15/islamandfeminismproblematiz)

– and, while many of the commenters didn’t agree with your views, they concentrated solely on the piece, and posted well-written and well-reasoned arguments. I couldn’t find any “rampant misogyny, racism and Islamophobia” in the 80 comments. The commenters were merely discussing the idea that “the Qu’ran is an advocate for women’s rights”, and the entire piece was about your “gender, (race) and religion” – so the fact that your comments were about this too is understandable, surely? To call these mostly reasonable and intelligent posts “attacks” and “abuse” is misguided in the extreme, and does a disservice to Asian women who genuinely are the victims of abuse and attacks.

If you write a contentious piece, you have to be prepared to deal with an

adverse reaction. And the problem here seems to be that you are expressing very strong views and expecting not to receive strongly-worded comments. This might be because you usually write for sites such as this one which have a cause-specific readership who are supportive of your views, and therefore you tend to only receive encouraging comments from people with similar opinions. When you then write for CiF, the response from readers who are more neutral or hostile to the issue is unsettling, as you’ve

come from such a “safe” online environment – and you’re then labelling this response with “isms”, when in fact you’re merely receiving strongly-expressed counter-opinions.

If you want to stop writing for CiF, then stop. It’s Comment Is Free, and you’re free to not comment. But please don’t try to turn it into a bland, sanitised, censored and pre-moderated forum. Freedom of speech is everything – and I and many other female writers will continue to exercise ours on the CiF which exists now, hopefully for years to come.

zohra moosa // Posted 16 June 2008 at 7:51 pm

Hi Ariane

I’m glad you’ve had such a positive experience on cif. Look forward to reading your posts.

A few points in response to your contribution:

1. cif is not a democracy, it’s a blog.

2. Did I say cif was ‘lacking in intelligent conversation’ as if there’s none at all? What I thought I said, and what I certainly meant, was that the level of intelligent conversation could be raised. I don’t think there’s a complete absence of it at all.

3. I think the *volume* of debate is very high, yes, but I wouldn’t say the ‘level’ is higher than any other political blogs I’ve been on.

4. I don’t have problems with debate or disagreement at all – I’m not asking everyone to agree with me and certainly don’t have a problem with ‘strongly-worded comments’ as long as they are about the content and are not rude. Perhaps we have different ideas of what constitutes ‘rudeness’ and harassment.

I definitely have a problem with misogynistic and personal attacks in lieu of substantive counter points. It is not true that men receive ‘just as many of this type of comment as women’, as the cif’s editor herself admits (it’s on the podcast if you want to have a listen).

5. ‘notoriously misogynistic’ refers to the many people that have written about the issue, including Bindel’s piece that QuestionThat links to above and the Pickled Politics piece I linked to in my post. Ditto the point about ‘rampant misogyny, racism and Islamophobia’ – the sentence was about this existing on cif, not about it occurring in the comments of my article in particular.

6. My posts are about why abuse on cif is problematic, the opposite of which is neither ‘bland’ nor ‘sanitised’. Do you mean that you find misogyny etc interesting and exciting?

Options I suggested on handling hating comments included more active moderation to get rid of harassment or abuse, and for women online to get organized. Neither constitute censorship, nor have I called for pre-moderation.

7. I don’t want to stop writing for cif and don’t plan to. But equally I find your ‘take it or leave it’ suggestion problematic. My point in these posts is this: some bloggers *are* choosing not to engage with cif, and they’re doing this because of the quality of their experience thus far. The issue isn’t about whether they’re free to do so (not post), because of course they are, but whether their reasons for ‘boycotting’ (or their dis-inclination in milder cases) signal something about cif that needs to change. Cif is of course free not to care that it is losing some bloggers; I’m of the opinion that there’s something to the criticisms and remedies to address the problems are worth looking at.

Sunny // Posted 16 June 2008 at 11:24 pm

A few responses:

I just feel like we’ve taken a step back in terms of the public sphere. Everyone’s so enamored by the apparently democratic, freeflowing potential of comments, that we’re at a point where – as zohra points out – something has to be an actual slur to get deleted.

I dunno. I’ve been running online debates for over ten years now and to be honest it hasn’t changed much.

It may not to be your taste, and not to everyone’s taste. But then thats what different spaces are for. CIF is its own space… though from my experience not that much different to many, though much more politically left orientated.

I feel like newspapers should apply basically the same standards to their online output as their physical publication; it’s a new medium, but that’s it. The advantage should be it provides room for more, not things that would never be published in the newspaper.

Mmmmm… this doesn;t answer my question. Journalistic values change over time. And even more so, I’m asking for your opinion on where the line should be drawn, since you think a line should be drawn.

Asking an author to construct an argument if they want to post, rather than letting them just insult a group of people they don’t like and calling that an article, is not censorship.

Sometimes people rant. Sometimes feminists rant. And on CIF too. Hell, I’ve ranted on there plenty of times. I’m afraid thats the whole point of blogging sometimes and commentary sometimes.

tacks on people should be subject to review. If the sum total of a piece is saying ‘I hate x people’, why should this be published?

I’m afraid this doesn’t really work either. Her piece may say “I hate x people” but it doesn’t say “Beat x people”. If someone said that an anti-Israeli piece, or something that highlighted the stupidity of Muslim organisations…. or said for example that they found the burkha repellent, would you then want it censored on the basis that it may be hating on someone… or that it might “feed into a narrative” that is anti-semitic or Islamophobic?

My point in these posts is this: some bloggers *are* choosing not to engage with cif, and they’re doing this because of the quality of their experience thus far.

Well, not all spaces are suitable for everyone.

zohra moosa // Posted 17 June 2008 at 10:27 am

My point in these posts is this: some bloggers *are* choosing not to engage with cif, and they’re doing this because of the quality of their experience thus far. Well, not all spaces are suitable for everyone.

No kidding, but you’ve only responded to one sentence in that paragraph. The rest of it said as much, and then said why I think it’s worth paying attention to the fact that some bloggers are leaving/not engaging. Again, the ‘take it or leave it’ angle makes it about individual bloggers only, rather than the Guardian and what it’s trying to accomplish with cif. No one’s arguing that people can’t leave if they don’t like it, I’m talking about what that signals and why a left blog like cif should be concerned when prolific, even high profile, left bloggers are disinclined to participate (including ones from your own PP blog Sunny).

On your point about ‘hating on someone’ (you’ve used the Israeli example again, which I’ve already addressed) and what should be ‘censored’, I already said I don’t think critiquing policies, beliefs or logic is problematic, but hating on actual people is. Do you think if someone posted a piece saying ‘I hate women’, this would be ok?

I’m asking for your opinion on where the line should be drawn, since you think a line should be drawn. I’ve given some input on this. Are you saying there should be no lines at all?

Ariane // Posted 17 June 2008 at 1:16 pm

Hi Zohra,

Thanks for your reply.

To answer your points:

1. Cif is a blog, and I would also describe it as “democratic”, in the sense of “egalitarian” – OED definition: “in accordance with the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities”. The commenters all get to express their views, unlike on The F Word, as do the contributors. As in a democracy, action is only taken when commenters behave unacceptably (i.e. contravene the talk policy) – otherwise, they have freedom of speech.

2. Any attempt to quantify the exact level of intelligence of any “intelligent conversation” is subjective and unscientific, and therefore the level can always be raised: in Parliament, at the G8 summit, on television and in my kitchen. No professor is going to come along and say, “Guess what, people? We have reached the top level of intelligence! Tell Stephen Hawking we don’t need his contribution – it’s all over!”

3. See 2. Also, your assertion that “the volume of debate is very high” would suggest that Cif’s policies are acceptable to the vast majority of commenters.

4. You say you “don’t have a problem with ‘strongly-worded comments’ as long as they are about the content and are not rude”. To return to your first Cif article: please could you show me which comments are (a) not about the content, and (b) rude? If there were “misogynistic and personal attacks”, where are they?

I couldn’t find any. Yet in Part One of this series of blogs, you say:

“My first experience writing for Comment is Free (cif) was slightly traumatic. The level of personal abuse in the comments was so high that I felt emotionally attacked and drained as I participated. I felt particularly harassed because the attacks were about my gender, race and religion (as opposed to people just calling me stupid, say). As a result, I took a significant break between that first post and my next post.

The existence of rampant misogyny, racism and Islamophobia on cif is no secret. When I chose to write a second piece for cif I did so in the knowledge that I was likely to face a similar level of abuse.”

However, when asked to substantiate this, you appear to have backed down:

“the point about ‘rampant misogyny, racism and Islamophobia’ – the sentence was about this existing on cif, not about it occurring in the comments of my article in particular.”

Then why use the phrase “a similar level of abuse”? A similar level to what?

As far as I can see, there are 80 mostly very measured, reasonable pieces of writing under this Cif article (“Blazing a feminist trail in Islam”). I just checked through them again, and there are no references whatsoever to your race. Nor does anyone say anything unacceptable about your gender. The piece was about your religion – if you find criticism of it unacceptable, don’t write about it.

The first comment under the piece says, “Wow, this is great.” The last says “excellent article!” A commenter called BleedingFist says “I’m sorry, but this really is nonsense”, then goes on to explain why s/he thinks this in a coherent and well-reasoned manner. WoollyMindedLiberal, Abair and many other commenters do exactly the same.

The only comment which could remotely be viewed as “personal abuse” is from a commenter called Stephany, and reads:

“”The Qur’an is an advocate for women’s rights…!”

When it comes to people deluding themselves Zohra Moosa is in a class of her own.”

While this is an unhelpful comment directed at your views, it is not an attack on your gender, race or religion. The commenter is against the opinion expressed in the sentence they quoted – they would be equally opposed to it if a white Zoroastrian man had expressed it. If you are unable to handle this level of comment, I strongly suggest you stop writing for Cif and other political blogs.

6. “Do you mean that you find misogyny etc interesting and exciting?”

All the responses I’ve thought up to this question are enough to preclude this post from going up. So: no.

However, there is no doubt that misogyny exists in society. It doesn’t exist on The F Word, because its moderators don’t allow it to – therefore The F Word has very few commenters, and much narrower and more focused debates, and is less varied and less visited as a result. Misogyny exists on Cif, because Cif is a microcosm of wider society and allows all kinds of people to write about their views. And if certain people hold misogynistic views, why remove their opinions and pretend that they don’t exist? Why not engage with them, and challenge their ideas? They might start to think differently, or at least examine why they hold these views. But they won’t if you only post here, because they won’t read or post on this site.

You suggest “more active moderation”. Are you intending to pay for it? And do you recommend this moderation so that moderators can remove offensive comments more quickly, or so that more comments can be removed? Because if it’s the latter, as you say, “perhaps we have different ideas of what constitutes ‘rudeness’ and harassment”.

You also want women to “get organised” and place the first comments on feminist Cif threads. I am strongly against this idea, because it suggests that women should support posts by feminists without first considering their content, and whether or not their arguments are well-reasoned, and whether they themselves might agree with the posts. For example, I’m a feminist, but I do not agree with the idea that “the Qu’ran is an advocate for women’s rights”. The comments under the piece suggest that many other feminists do not either, and I wouldn’t want them to feel pressured to support views they disagree with merely because they’re expressed by another feminist.

In addition, “swarming” feminist threads with positive comments would devalue them and prevent Cif from remaining an accurate reflection of wider society.

7. You ask whether certain bloggers’ “reasons for ‘boycotting’ [Cif] (or their dis-inclination in milder cases) signal something about cif that needs to change”.

I very much hope that Cif does not change in any way. It gives a platform to hundreds of contributors and commenters from different backgrounds, and every time I visit the site my own views are challenged, often in a very positive way. Cif forces people to think hard about relevant subjects, and to form opinions on topics they may not have previously considered.

It does not “need to change” because a very small proportion of bloggers are unable to accept the kind of moderate criticism which every single contributor receives on the site.

NB Feel free to post a reply. However, this is the last time I will post here on this subject. Thank you for the debate.

zohra moosa // Posted 17 June 2008 at 1:34 pm

Hi Ariane

As you’re not coming back, I’ll keep this brief.

Both the F Word and cif moderate comments, it’s not true that ‘commenters all get to express their views’ on cif, but not here. You are right that the moderation on cif is about when ‘commenters behave unacceptably’ – just like it is on the F Word.

My idea about swarming is not a suggestion for feminists to ‘support views they disagree with’ at all. I’m also not suggesting that feminists only post ‘positive comments’ if they swarm. Not at all. My suggestion was for feminists to engage with the posts directly and early on in the thread to set the tone of the subsequent conversation(s) to be about the content of the post rather than the gender of the poster.

Holly Combe // Posted 17 June 2008 at 2:16 pm

Admittedly, I haven’t been following this debate so I will need to read everything here to catch up but, before I do, I would like to quickly pick up on the following points while I’m here:

The commenters all get to express their views, unlike on The F Word, as do the contributors. As in a democracy, action is only taken when commenters behave unacceptably (i.e. contravene the talk policy) – otherwise, they have freedom of speech.

Just to clarify, I can confirm as a moderator here that this is how we do things here as well. As Zohra says, both the F Word and CiF moderate comments and, seeing as you’ve just defended CiF having a policy, why shouldn’t the F-word have one too? You say, “unlike on the F-word…” but I can honestly report that it is actually very rare for a comment not to be published here.

As an anti-censorship campaigner, I struggled with the idea of moderating comments at all at first but can honestly say that only a very small number don’t get through (i.e when I sign in and flick through the pages of comments, the average one shows all comments as published). Only spam ever gets deleted immediately and only insults (eg: “yr mad cos yr fat!”) are left unpublished without any debate between moderators.

You mention democracy and, in keeping with this ourselves, we do occasionally have a “should we publish?” discussion but, again, the vast majority of comments are published.

And if certain people hold misogynistic views, why remove their opinions and pretend that they don’t exist? Why not engage with them, and challenge their ideas?

I completely agree with you here and, like many of the other F-Word contributors, have had plenty of rewarding debates as a result of such thinking. However, it was democratically agreed when we opened up comments that there would be a commenting policy here. (Again, you do state that CiF has one of those.)

You also want women to “get organised” and place the first comments on feminist Cif threads. I am strongly against this idea, because it suggests that women should support posts by feminists without first considering their content, and whether or not their arguments are well-reasoned, and whether they themselves might agree with the posts. For example, I’m a feminist, but I do not agree with the idea that “the Qu’ran is an advocate for women’s rights”. The comments under the piece suggest that many other feminists do not either, and I wouldn’t want them to feel pressured to support views they disagree with merely because they’re expressed by another feminist.

I honestly don’t think alerting feminists to feminist CiF threads would do this. Sure, some of us might go over and take a look with the view to showing some solidarity if we could but I find it hard to believe that the majority of feminists wouldn’t offer an alternative view if they found something they didn’t agree with.

(CiF) gives a platform to hundreds of contributors and commenters from different backgrounds, and every time I visit the site my own views are challenged, often in a very positive way. Cif forces people to think hard about relevant subjects, and to form opinions on topics they may not have previously considered. It does not “need to change” because a very small proportion of bloggers are unable to accept the kind of moderate criticism which every single contributor receives on the site.

Admittedly, I don’t look at CiF every day but, from what I’ve seen, I’d say it often seems to end up functioning as a platform for a dominant group of anti-feminist commenters (I’d need to scan through to back up this claim but am sure I’m not the only one to notice that there are some names that seem to come up a lot). Yes, they have a right to comment as much as anyone else but I really don’t see a problem with feminists putting a call-out to other feminists in order to try to re-address the balance. I would also argue that not all the criticism is “moderate.” I’m not saying it should be but I don’t think it is entirely fair for you to claim it is and would argue that, by doing so, you make any writer who concludes they are being attacked seem weak and unreasonable when, actually, they may have a case.

AC // Posted 20 June 2008 at 10:28 am

I haven’t written for CiF as many of the people here have, but I read it nearly every day. Occasionally I have been so outraged by the comments in response to articles about gender/feminism/women that I have had to post my own comment, but more often than not, I am so disheartened by the overwhelming majority of comments being sexist and insulting, I just can’t bring myself to read them. It has actually spoilt my enjoyment in reading many of the posts – I might agree or disagree, but just thinking about what the standard response from many commenters will be spoils the individual experience of reading that post. I avoid nearly all comment threads now, they just bring me down, and answering the sexist, racist, and generally nasty comments would be a full time job.

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