Guardian Forum: Censorship trouble at t’mill
I am a regular contributor to the UK Guardian’s Comment Is Free forum, where there are often complaints about moderation policy and the uneven way it is enforced. Quite often, people using abusive language simply refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. Some go as far as to suggest that moderators are colluding with their contributors, protecting them over-zealously, and enforcing censorship rather than moderation. Yesterday, I joined an open thread where I defended moderation, remarked about the responsibilities inherent in the principle of free speech, observed that occasional errors of judgement were inevitable and rejected conspiracy claims as being rather unlikely. Then something really strange happened in a climate change threat I was contributing to..
Now this is getting seriously worrying. I expect you’ll delete this post too but be aware that I have posted this comment, and the reconstruction of the missing posts, at gpwayne.wordpress.com.
This is what happened. A new poster calling himself manamana expressed surprise at the length and a certain acerbic tone used by another poster nicknamed mannacker, asking if such posts gave him license to use the same methods, or whether he should report such posts as abusive. An enquiry requesting guidance that is both fair and appropriate. It was deleted. I responded by defending mannacker’s right to free speech, that he could post whatever he wanted at whatever length, so long as he conformed to the CiF guidelines.
I also observed that CiF is a robust place where taking the piss is neither unusual or deemed particularly offensive, and that we should refrain from using the Abuse report because all too often this can be an attempt at censorship, where in my view it is more useful to allow all posts to remain unless legally compromising or rabidly abusive. This post “disappeared” along with a number of supportive remarks from Jezebel216 and my responses to her.
Then our new poster returned and expressed surprise at being deleted, asking why this might have occurred. His query was deleted, while my response expressing surprise and concern also “disappeared”.
Let me be quite clear. I do not support criticisms of moderation where people will not accept responsibility for their ill-judged remarks. I reject the accusations that moderators are colluding with Above the Line (ATL) writers, protecting them over-zealously. But your actions here are unconscionable. It cannot be inappropriate to discuss moderation in the place it occurred, and since there is a thread open on the same day in which many of 1200 posts discussed this same issue with Matt and others from the staff, it is obviously an acceptable topic for discussion in this forum.
You may say that such discussion are off topic, but since there is nowhere else we can discuss them except in occasional open threads, we have no choice. Do you believe that it is better to suppress what may be serious incursions on our freedom of expression? An accusation may be false, but only by making it publicly can this be discovered and discussed appropriately. By deleting these posts, you have reinforced the worst fears of your contributors. You are enforcing your own opinion that we should not be allowed to discuss such issues, and doing so inconsistently.
You are censoring posts that do not breach community guidelines. Your actions are arbitrary while you remain anonymous and cannot be called to account. By what right do you decide what we may or may not debate? This is not your job, and in effect you deny us the free speech that is both our right and our privilege so long as we respect the guidelines. These actions are heavy-handed, ill-judged and sinister, and only serve to fuel the very suspicions about your motives, purpose and agenda that until today I had thought rather extreme. You leave me disappointed, angry and very concerned, both for the ongoing value of this forum, and the nature of the editorial policies and control the Guardian management exhibit.
To other posters: you respond to this post at your own risk.