As I’ve said on other threads far too often, I was extremely peeved to be banned for life from Comment is Free, the Guardian’s interactive website, since I think commenting there is one of the most useful things a simple footblogger in the Climate Wars can do.

The Guardian is read by Greens and the pro-green centre-left, so it’s possible to have a real debate, and perhaps influence opinion on the opposing side. Guardian readers are clearly far more numerous than those of any sceptical blog, they are more likely to be believers in global warming than readers of Delingpole or Booker, and they are therefore more in need of enlightenment. I also felt that if Guardian editors realised that a majority of readers did not accept the warmist argument, they might put pressure on the Environment Editors to be more even-handed in their treatment.

On the last point I was clearly totally wrong, as evidenced by a recent interview given by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in “the Hindu” newspaper, in which he said:

“A year ago we decided the environment was the biggest story of our lives. So we have six reporters doing the environment … And then we built a network of … about 20 or 30 sites. A huge amount of editing and resources goes into the environment.” and by the comment by Environment Editor James Randerson that climate change is “editorial policy”.

Commenters here and elsewhere have objected that commenting on CiF is a waste of time, because of the distracting tactics of warmist trolls, and because of the apparent bias of moderators. Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill) was recently prevented from commenting on the thread to his own article when he was subjected to “pre-moderation”. I’ve never been convinced that the moderators are biased, since warmist comments frequently disappear, even comments by Guardian contributors,  like Blucloud and GPWayne.

I’ve just conducted an experiment at CiF, and I’m fairly sure I know how the “censorship” works. I can state with certainty (well, let’s say, with IPCC-style 90% confidence) that:

  1. The moderators will not take the initiative in removing comments. They only act if someone presses the “report abuse” button with a justified complaint.
  2. One complaint is enough to get a comment removed.
  3. Since the rules list a large number of types of “abuse”, it is very easy for a determined troll to get an opponent removed by persistently reporting  abuse.

The debate on the infamous 10:10 “Splattergate” video is currently raging at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/oct/04/10-10-campaign-events

At the time of writing, there were 100 comments on the above thread. Ten of them have been deleted, all of them posted by Onthefence, and all of them reported for abuse by me. They started at 15:28, when Onthefence addressed Ecocampaigner as follows:

“You laughed when Stephen Schneider died after being targetted in a hate mail campaign, and you went on to wish similar deaths on other climate scientists”.

Ecocampaigner replied, and Onthefence repeated his accusation at 15:34, 15:37, 15:45, 15:59, 16:15, 16:36, 17:27, 17:41, and 17:49. I reported abuse on two of the comments, adding that the statement was a lie. An hour later they had been deleted, but others kept popping up. I reported abuse each time, and they went, but I didn’t spot the first one until five hours later. I reported it, and forty minutes later it was gone.

The fact that the first abusive post stayed up after I’d reported and had deleted the other nine clearly demonstrates that the moderator didn’t read the other comments, even one posted six minutes before the comment he’s been invited to delete.

The fact that comments disappeared when and only when I reported them strongly suggests that I was the only one reporting abuse. It was obvious that Onthefence was being picked on, and it would  have been easy for anyone else to join in the fun and report his first abusive remark. The fact that it stayed up for five hours, until I spotted it and reported it, demonstrates that it was all my own work.

Clearly, the system is open to abuse. The fact that Ecocampaigner’s replies stay up, quoting Onthefence’s defamatory remarks, shows how ineffective the system is. If the Guardian carried out their stated policy of deleting replies to deleted posts, there would be nothing left on many threads. Clearly, the removal of polite, reasonable comments by the likes of Andrew Montford strongly suggests that dedicated warmist trolls are deliberately targeting the opponents they most fear. There is censorship at CiF, but it’s the work of commenters, not of the moderators, and it’s a result of a weakness in the Guardian’s system.

Let’s give the last word to the admirably even-tempered Ecocampaigner. Onthefence at 19:.41 complained that his comments were all deleted just after Ecocampaigner complained they were “off topic” To which Ecocampaigner replied at 19:54pm “It wasn’t me who complained, I’d have preferred it all stay up to be read. I want the world to see your viewpoint’.

Update 06/10/2010 20:40 :- The point I wanted to make is that, had I openly accused the commenter of lying on the thread, my comments would have been deleted. By secretly and anonymously accusing him of lying in my reports of abuse, I got his comments deleted. Clearly, there is something seriously wrong with the CiF moderation system.

116 Responses to “Moderation in Moderation: Comment is Free at The Guardian?”

  1. Blimey, Geoff, that’s a savage thread even by CiF standards! And I would agree about the moderation, i.e., that the mods don’t actually read the comments but just react when someone pushes the report abuse button. “Moderation” is obviously not the right word for it.

    It’s a bit like a ref who spends the match napping in a deck chair next to the pitch, and participates only when he’s woken up by someone shouting “Foul”. And then starts to dish out yellow and (in your case) red cards without bothering to find out whether an offence occurred or what it was meant to have been.

    Basically, it’s sloppy, lazy and unfair; no wonder CiF has the reputation it has. Are the people at the Guardian masochistic, I wonder? This would explain a) the farcical, abuse-prone and counter-productive “moderation”, and b) their tone-deaf carry-on-regardless attitude to the 10:10 fiasco.

    If they really wanted the commentators to behave themselves and discuss the topic at hand in a civilised way, even the cycling Sumo wrestlers and all the other 10/10/10 happy fluff (not, it seems, that anyone wants to!), they would buck up their ideas and seriously re-think the way CiF is managed.

  2. Geoff, yes I get your point now about the culture the Guardian is (unwittingly?) promoting. What a sad state of affairs it is, really.

  3. Geoffchambers,

    You say “…..commenting there is one of most useful things a simple footblogger in the Climate Wars can do.”

    Well I’m not sure about that. There are far too many “simple footbloggers” out there who have too much time on their hands anyway. And as the old saying goes its the empty vessels which make most noise. So I’m sure you won’t be missed!

    If you and and your other “simple footblogger” friends really would like to make a contribution, and you do have time and energy to spare, I’d suggest making the transition to slightly more complex footbloggers. First of all, by enrolling in evening classes to study basic Physics. Then maybe do a degree in the subject, and then you can take it even further and do Climate Science at postgraduate level.

    Who knows? You may even find you’ll have changed your mind by then, or maybe you won’t have. But either way you’ll at least know what you are talking about.

  4. Alex,
    I love your example of the napping ref. The problem arises when one team is trying to play and the other is too busy reading the rule book, trying to bend the rules to their advantage. Almost every letter from a moderator I’ve had has been along the lines of “Why don’t you study the rule book, like the other players?”
    The net result is that, now I’m banned from contributing, I could, if I wanted, have a far greater effect ripping the threads to shreds with my big red button.

    PeterM
    Thanks for the advice, but I’m not the least bit interested in studying climate science, though I enjoy reading contributions from those like Tonyb and Max who are knowledgeable in this field.
    Everyone should know about basic physics of course. If you find any scientific errors in my article, please let me know.

  5. I make no comment on the many ‘issues’ pertaining to climate science, politics, communications, etc. Another time; another place.

    But your ‘experiment’ with in theory free-speech commentary by and with the public by the MSM is indeed interesting, if obviously uncertain. At least you have outlined the clear limitations to the methodology. But then a senior BBC political editor yesterday based a whole post on what he called ‘strongly’ (as opposed to?) circumstantial support.

    ‘Clearly, the system is open to abuse.’

    I fear so. Where there are editors there will be editorial control. And behind that is corporate agenda. Always has been, always will be.

  6. “Climate Science at postgraduate level”

    Failing that, there’s always the ‘Poetry and Climate Change’ combined PhD course at Durham, as pursued by one of the University Challenge competitors recently. Sounds like he’s hedging his bets!

    You have to wonder if the editors and contributors on the Grauniad ever pay any attention to the ‘recommends’ which seem to weigh heavily in favour of the sceptics, despite the attempts of their rivals to sabotage awkward comments. And they call us deniers!

  7. JunkkMale
    “Where there are editors there will be editorial control”. And there’s nothing wrong with editorial control, based on editorial policy. The policy of CiF is “comment is free, but facts are sacred”. The policy of Guardian Environment is the unproven scientific hypothesis of Global Warming (now with new added Catastrophe / Chaos / Disruption). There’s a contradiction here.
    But my complaint was not about editorial control, but rather that the editors have effectively handed over control to the trolls. I can see how the “report abuse” system might work well on a thread on Middle East politics, say, where each “side” marks the other closely, eliminating abusive comments. On climate threads, the “game” is rather between sceptics trying to make substantive points, and believers trying by any means to stop them.

  8. Ok, I see your point.

    But surely ceding control in such a manner is still a tacit form of editorial control, if trying to look like it’s not by a tenuous degree of separation?

  9. Geoff

    You are a brave man enetering into that one sided arena. :)

    I have posted purely factual information there several times with a historic aspect to them.

    They were all deleted, except a couple which could then be taken completely out of context, so whoever was doing the deleting knew exactly what they were doing.

    I’m not sure if George Monbiot fully knows what is going on, but its difficult to believe he doesn’t due to his extremely close involvement over a period of years.

    However, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, so maybe a personal letter to him pointing out the situation might help?

    Its not right that the forum should be hijacked and abused in the way it sometimes is, especially when several of the usual trolls turn up.

    tonyb

  10. Geoffchambers,

    You claim to be “… not the least bit interested in studying climate science, though I enjoy reading contributions from those like Tonyb and Max who are knowledgeable in this field.”

    That does make sense in way! If you were genuinely interested then you’d really need to study the contributions of those who were actually qualified, rather than the musings of a couple of quacks.

    I’m not sure what the difference is, if any, between quacks and charlatans. Both would be completely unqualified in their claimed field of expertise of course. I found that one etymologistal trace of the word “charlatan” is from the Italian “ciarlare” meaning to prattle !

  11. PeterM

    You advise geoffchambers:

    If you were genuinely interested then you’d really need to study the contributions of those who were actually qualified, rather than the musings of a couple of quacks.

    Do you include yourself as a “quack”?

    If not, why not?

    Or are you more comfortable with the designation “charlatan”?

    Geoff is fully within his right to avoid getting into detailed discussions on scientific issues related to AGW without being berated by you for doing so.

    Instead of throwing out “ad homs”, Peter, address the real issues, as I have challenged you on the other thread. Show us that you can rationally discuss the “scientific issues”, not just throw out silly “ad homs”.

    Max

  12. There’s been a long discussion of moderation on the article by the new editor of CiF at
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/04/natalie-hanman-talking-shop
    Commenter bosbefok (4 October 2010 10:22PM) says

    Confession time, folks.
    Once (or twice), when very bored and in a very evil mood, I have wreaked merry havoc on the threads under a couple of the more controversial articles, by reporting (repeatedly when the desired result was not achieved) any post which even vaguely transgressed community standards.
    By and large my bidding was done, and outraged comments about the out-of-control mods then followed.
    You see, folks, it’s oftentimes the mods just having to deal with abuse reports, so perhaps we should give them a break.

    and RapidEddie (5 October 2010 12:42AM) says:

    One type of comment that’s particularly prone to deletion is the passionately argued demolition of an ATL article. If you invest a lot of time in such a post – marshalling facts, creating a coherent argument and fashioning it with language that is forceful but not abusive – only to find it go down the moderation plughole because it shows up the ATL contributor as an incoherent sham, then why bother? … Bad moderation kills good debate.

    Tonyb #9
    One thing that gets you deleted is posting your own e-mail address. Also, I think a determined troll could zap you as “off-topic” if, for instance, on an article about the “worst arctic ice melt in thirty years” you insisted on talking about the ice melt in the early 19th century (how unscientific, quoting the words of an unlettered sailor!)

    JamesP #6
    I googled “climate change poetry” looking for a Guardian literary competition last year. I seem to remember a poem by “one of our leading poets” which started “I weep for you, polar bear” or some such. I got 2.9 million hits and gave up.

  13. I understand you can get back by using a different email. I decline to do so but I’m an arrogant bastard.

  14. tempterrain #10
    I don’t need a degree in climate science to understand the meaning of “delete all e-mails”. I do feel the need for some input from specialists (journalists, social scientists etc) in order to understand the current behaviour of the scientific and political establishments.
    Here’s a thought I had, which I’d like to try out on you Peter, since I believe we are on the same political wavelength.
    The Guardian and its readers have been pushing a “progressive” viewpoint from a position of moral superiority for two centuries, opposing slavery, the oppression of women, colonialism, racism, etc. It comes as a shock to discover that modern conservatives (Delingpole, Brute, and half the voters of the western world) are no longer the racist, sexist , homophobic monsters of yesteryear. If we are to defeat them politically, it is no longer sufficient to claim moral superiority; we have to demonstrate that our policies work better than theirs. This involves hard stuff like economics and statistics.
    How much easier to read Naomi Klein and rage against the nasty multinationals! How nice it would be if some authority figure, with a better grasp of this hard stuff, could provide us with a scientific theory “proving” that the redistributive policies we believe in were necessary for the survival of the human race! And then along comes global warming, providing the moral authority we feel we’ve lost.

  15. I’d hardly call it an experiment, but I did wonder a bit about a comment in this thread…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/oct/04/10-10-campaign-events?

    … and sought to confirm its veracity, or at least any consistency in application.

    JRanderson 4 October 2010 1:31PM Hi The comments on this article ended after the standard 3 days.

    As it’s still active after 5 days, I’ guessing there are at least two standards.

  16. NeilCraig #13
    I’ve resisted the temptation to comment under a pseudonym too. I can’t bear the idea of making a good point and no-one knowing it was me.
    Junkkmale #15
    Good point. I note above your comment at 8 October 2010 6:15PM a comment by Guardian journalist Juliette Jowitt that only four countries had not signed up for “350.org’s global work party” (no mention anywhere of 10:10) and asking for residents of the four laggards to put pressure on them. This is politics for the militant stamp collector.
    Alas, just above your comment at 7 October 2010 9:09AM is one by Tempterrain suggesting that, if children shouldn’t be blown up, maybe “that Joanna Nova woman” should.

  17. Geoff (12)

    “climate change poetry”

    I think it was ‘poetry and climate change’ rather than ‘poetry with climate change’, but I take your point. Either way, I think that confirms climatology as anything but a hard science!

  18. Geoffchambers,

    So it has come as a shock, has it, to discover “that modern conservatives, Delingpole, Brute, and half the voters of the western world are no longer the racist, sexist , homophobic monsters of yesteryear.” ?

    Have these leopards really changed their spots? I haven’t heard any public contrition from these ex-monsters of just how wrong they were in the past about the Vietnam War, South Africa, Chile, Segregation in the US, their reluctance to decriminalise homosexuality etc etc etc. They’ve begrudgingly accepted that they’ve lost on these issues and that the world has moved on. Having done that they may as well do what they can to pick up the votes of ethnic and sexual minorities.

    Incidentally, they haven’t accepted they’ve lost yet in supporting the notion that Israelis and Palestinians should be divided according to race and religion but that’s another and continuing story.

    The situation in the US has been compared to that of Germany in the 20’s and 30’s. That may be pushing it a bit far but just mentally substitute the word ‘Jew’ for ‘Muslim’ every time you see or hear it in the US media and you’ll see what people are getting at.

    Any changes are superficial. But even if they weren’t, this is all quite irrelevant to the question of whether mainstream science is correct on the question of AGW. These new Rightists are bound to have a difficulty with any issue which involves collective action as part of a solution. What they say is entirely predictable and I’m surprised you can’t see that.

  19. So it has come as a shock, has it, to discover “that modern conservatives, Delingpole, Brute, and half the voters of the western world are no longer the racist, sexist , homophobic monsters of yesteryear.” ?

    Pete,

    You certain you don’t want to retract that statement?

  20. geoffchamberssays:
    October 8th, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Alas, just above your comment at 7 October 2010 9:09AM is one… suggesting that, if children shouldn’t be blown up, maybe “that Joanna Nova woman” should.

    I have mixed feelings on the matter of ‘two wrongs…’ in a debate. I can’t honestly say I am always above it, as sometimes rampant hypocrisy in the ‘Do as I say, not as me and my mates do’ mould needs highlighting.

    It’s a dodgy line to walk.

    And, sadly, just one rather extreme counter can undo a lot of worthy argument by many others if played back.. and to the crowd.

    The whole thing is becoming like a a Graham Greene novel in many ways. Over at BBC’s Editor’s Blog, there is a move suggesting that some posters, by being so grotesque, are in fact ‘plants’ for one ‘side’ to taint the efforts of the other by association.

    This is very subtle stuff. hard to try and second guess, too. I read what I read, and proceed on that basis, Any more is head doing-in territory.

    But it does go back to the relationship between mods and some posters. Though as hard for a mod to suss a play, they can often in my view seem very indulgent of the extremes, especially those that bury personal stuff in a screed of tripe.

    If organised/deliberate, beyond asking why anyone would, beyond aforementioned discrediting of ‘a view’, or indeed the blog thread value, I do worry about the mental state if these folk are just taking stuff very personally.

    Which is why using a pseudonym can be slightly reassuring, TBH.

  21. Brute,

    You ask “You certain you don’t want to retract that statement?”

    Yes I probably should. I was quoting from GC which is why your name got in there!

  22. Brute #19

    Don’t worry, Max and I got roundly insulted in Peters #10. Yesterday I defended Dr Hansen in the other thread, today I’m defending Peter (just this once) I think if you look at #10 it was Geoff who made the comment, but you need to see the context.

    I think it is wrong to call Peter a troll as Bob did, but certainly Peter has a ferociously closed mind further clouded by politics and his personal beliefs. He is not above ignoring information he doesn’t like, sidestepping neatly, or altering it to suit his argument. A shame because he is obviously an intelligent person who can be thoughtful and funny.

    Michael Crichton probably summed up the sort of adversary Peter has become;

    “Most of us have had some experience interacting with religious fundamentalists, and we understand that one of the problems with fundamentalists is that they have no perspective on themselves. They never recognize that their way of thinking is just one of many other possible ways of thinking, which may be equally useful or good.

    On the contrary, they believe their way is the right way, everyone else is wrong; they are in the business of salvation, and they want to help you to see things the right way.

    They want to help you be saved. They are totally rigid and totally uninterested in opposing points of view.”

    A shame really.

    tonyb

  23. Re the Guardian, surely the bottom line is this – either:

    a) The process is broken and the mods/site administrators/managers are incompetent and do not have a clue as to what is happening, or
    b) The mods/admins and possibly George Monbiot, James Randerson et al, are aware of what is happening and tacitly support it, i.e., are complicit.

    If a) is the case, it can be drawn to their attention and the problem can be fixed.
    If b) is the case, then it makes the idea of an honest debate on CiF into a mockery and a waste of time.

    RapidEddie, as quoted in Geoff’s #12, puts it succinctly. If b) is the case, what is the use of playing by the rules and attempting to engage in honest debate? To have a bigger impact, it might be more effective to take a leaf out of the Guardian’s book and abandon integrity, set up an army of sockpuppets and merrily wage guerrilla warfare, for instance create a plausible green persona who will one minute extol the virtues of composting and the next minute will wonder what was actually wrong with the “No Pressure” movie, or argue that Pol Pot had some surprisingly good ideas. To use Junkkmale’s excellent expression, this is indeed “head doing-in territory.”

    Re a PhD degree in poetry and climate change, I first thought James P was joking and this was a spoof, but I should have known better when it comes to all things climate change. Here’s someone actually studying this at Durham University.

    “He is interested in the way that conventional ecocriticism is unable to satisfactorily address the issue of global warming and how the phenomenon forces us to reconsider romantic or representational paradigms of nature. He is investigating how a poetic mode of fragmentation and connectivity such as that used by modernist writers is available as a powerful way of rethinking our relationship to global environmental crisis, and is looking in particular at freak weather and seasonal order/disorder in TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens and Basil Bunting.”

    You know, Britain is no longer a military, engineering or economic superpower, but when it comes to poetry and climate change, I bet that we lead the world.

    [I’ve contacted the PhD student concerned to ask him if he would like to contribute, in which case I will open a new thread about this. Things are seldom quite as simple as they seem. TonyN]

  24. Alex

    Durham is a world class university that was the second choice of my son to study physics. He eventually went to Cambridge.

    Hopefully the student concerned will be able to clarify the situation as I don’t want to believe that Durham would get involved in something that-on the surface- appears rather trivial.

    As I suggested earlier in the thread why doesn’t someone actually write (not email) George Monbiot and ask him if he knows what is going on in his name?

    I’m not a frequent enough contributor there to feel that bothered, but it obviously matters and those regularly affected should get to the bottom of it.

    tonyb

  25. geoffchambers

    Peter’s posts on this thread (as well as on the NS thread) reveal that he has a very “black and white” outlook on politics and AGW, which he extrapolates to other sciences.

    “Right-wingers” are “anti-science” (and therefore do not believe that AGW is a threat to humanity, do not accept the Darwinian theories of evolution, believe in “creationism” or “intelligent design”, do not believe that smoking causes cancer, etc, etc.). They pretend to support individual freedom and liberty, but this is simply a cover-up for their selfish, anti-social, capitalistic mindset.

    “Left-wingers”, on the other hand, embrace “mainstream science”, including the IPCC view on AGW. They support redistribution of wealth (including the higher taxes which are necessary to achieve this), large international government interventions to solve global problems, all in sort of an idealistic “kumbaya” brotherhood to save humanity from the greedy capitalists.

    These are the only two groups that exist in Peter’s mind. You are either “with us or against us”, period.

    He cannot accept a more nuanced world, where politically “left-leaning” individuals (possibly like yourself) could actually reject the dangerous AGW postulation, although he can grudgingly concede that there could be “right-wingers” who have “seen the light” on AGW (see Ed West blogs on NS thread).

    By redefining the whole DAGW debate as a “right versus left” political struggle, Peter can avoid discussing the flaws in the “science” supporting the DAGW premise.

    It becomes a convenient side-track to deflect the debate away from the scientific weaknesses in the DAGW premise.

    That’s my analysis, after having observed Peter in action for a couple of years.

    The Guardian site attracts some more virulent DAGW believers than Peter. These individuals use personal “ad hom” attacks to deflect from the real issues. I suspect that some of these individuals also push the “delete” button when a post hits too close to home, but that is just my conclusion.

    Unlike RealClimate and some of the other “pro-DAGW” sites (which ruthlessly censor out anything that goes against the “party line”), the Harmless Sky blog site (all threads) has done a marvelous job of allowing all dissenting opinion, provided it stays more or less on topic and there are no truly inappropriate ad hom attacks – hats off to TonyN for that!

    Max

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