Troppo withdraws from “The Domain”

Observant Media watchers might have noticed a story on the ABC The Drum site this morning to the effect that Club Troppo and Larvatus Prodeo had quit the Domain blog group headed by Graham Young’s Online Opinion.  LP’s letter to Graham was apparently leaked by person/s unknown.  So that you can say you read it here first, I’m republishing Troppo’s letter to Graham over the fold.

Dear Graham

It is with deep regret that we advise that Club Troppo is severing its formal association with Online Opinion and the Domain group of blogs effective immediately.  We understand that the Larvatus Prodeo group may be considering a similar step but no doubt for their own mix of reasons.

Nicholas Gruen has properly abstained from participation in this decision except to suggest some possible ways in which we might consider continuing the association.  He agreed that the decision should be taken by Don Arthur and myself.  We are conscious that the decision might result in some friction or confusion given Nicholas’s position as Online Opinion chairperson but hope that our clarification of his role in this e-mail will ensure that it does not occur.

Ultimately Don and I reached the view that your continued refusal to consider tightening OLO’s comment moderation policy to avoid a repetition of the extremely unfortunate Muehlenberg affair, or indeed to delete the grossly offensive comments from the thread, required severing of the formal relationship.  Our decision revolves around OLO’s comment moderation policy and its implementation in practice.  We acknowledge and accept that as a general opinion journal publishing articles from many authors on a diverse variety of subjects, a correspondingly liberal comment moderation policy may be appropriate.  However there are nevertheless limits beyond which civil discourse cannot occur, and in our view they have been overwhelmingly exceeded on the Muehlenberg thread. Many of the comments are hate speech of an almost indescribably virulent kind and conceivably even unlawful in some jurisdictions.  Moreover, emotive, vindictive comment threads generate an atmosphere inimical to clear and effective communication and have a polarising effect on participants.  I instinctively sided with OLO at the outset of this affair, only to learn to my chagrin that matters were not as I understood them.  That is not to cast blame, it simply illustrates the extent to which effective communication and mutual understanding are impeded by the fog of angry emotion that vitriolic comment threads invariably generate.

The moderation policy of another blog or publication would ordinarily be none of our business.  However, the evident and almost complete boycott of advertising from all Domain blogs flowing from the Muehlenberg affair has brought home to us the extent to which the situation is altered by a formal business association like ours.  As the largest publication in the group, its public face, administrative centre and sole contact point with advertisers and advertising agencies, OLO’s moderation policies unavoidably affect the way people think about Troppo.  We have concluded that we cannot in conscience maintain the association in the current circumstances.  I re-read the offending comment thread last night and was literally physically sickened as a result.  In our view continuing to publish hate speech of this ilk is indefensible on any reasonable grounds including classical liberal principles.

That said, we continue to regard OLO as an invaluable publication for Australia’s political culture, and we admire and strongly support your unstinting personal and financial efforts over the years to promote and extend open and diverse civil discourse.  Thus we remain willing to assist OLO in whatever ways we reasonably can to overcome its present difficulties and again thrive and prosper.  Even if you find this e-mail personally hurtful, we hope it might prove possible to conduct discussions about how we might assist. As an immediate gesture of our support and concern we have decided to donate to OLO Troppo’s remaining residual accumulated advertising revenue from the Domain arrangement less a small retention fund for hosting costs in the immediate future.  We will also republish any OLO announcements and/or appeals for funds and support.

We again express our deep regret that we felt it necessary to make this decision and express our best wishes for both yourself and OLO in the future.

NB I initially closed comments on this post but have decided after discussion to re-open them.  I will actively moderate it to avoid undue unpleasantness.  Feel free to stoush but in a deeply civil manner befitting of the East Pymble Pony Club (as Catallaxy’s Jason Soon once labelled Troppo).

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
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34 Responses to Troppo withdraws from “The Domain”

  1. Jacques Chester says:

    All of these dramz make an announcement I plan for later today that much more poorly (or awesomely?) timed.

  2. g says:

    Club Tropo is great, the comments that remain after whatever usual moderation is great so why fix what isn’t broken. I think this reflects Malcolm Turnbull’s very liberal moderation stance on his blog comments to allow his views debated and being able to participate in that debate. As he says ““The good thing about a lot of these online forums, to use a generic term, is that the quality of people’s arguments becomes obvious. People who post, you know, stupid or abrasive comments, really are shown up for what they are.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2XzYYs3G5nw

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  4. Ken Parish says:

    g

    Yes, we don’t have to delete comments very often at all here at Troppo these days (although I wouldn’t be surprised if things get a bit heated over this current situation over the next few days). But I suspect that’s mainly because we concentrate mostly on policy and other “wonkish” issues, as Jacques put it on today’s other post. Other blogs mostly focus on the “hot button” political issues of the day, and that inevitably results in entrenched, polarised stances to a significant extent. I suspect we’d have a more challenging moderation task if we had a higher proportion of posts on controversial “hot button” topics. That’s why I am a bit diffident about the propositions advanced in the email to Graham. It comes across a bit more “holier than thou” than I would have liked, I think. Successfully moderating a publication with the breadth of subject coverage and audience that OLO has, so that free speech and diverse ideas are not only tolerated but promoted, is a truly challenging task. It’s difficulty should not be underestimated.

    At Troppo we also clearly laid down the discussion parameters a few years ago, and those who wanted to stoush decamped elsewhere, while those who don’t mind a stoush but are also interested in serious-minded policy and conceptual discussion happily modified their conversational style to fit in. Joe Cambria is an example who readily springs to mind. But we did this after we learned the hard way from several large and very acrimonious stoushes that a lax moderation policy doesn’t actually achieve freer, more liberal discussions but rather the reverse. It ends up with the only remaining participants being those who are looking for a fight, and they’re seldom people worth having a conversation with. The cryptic references to Sophie Masson on this thread and mine on OLO refer to one of those large stoushes that led directly to our implementing a more conservative moderation policy. The readers referring to it are engaging in some slightly tongue-in-cheek nostalgia for the days when Troppo too was still the Wild West of the blogosphere where we still called a spade a fucking shovel.

  5. Nothing wrong with wonkish blogs! Indeed Ozblogistan’s makeup reflects my daily reading. But it would be nice to branch out a bit.

  6. CJ Morgan says:

    Club Troppo is a top class blog. Until now, I’ve only lurked here now and then, but the quality of discussion about this issue attracts me to participate here more.

    This statement, and Ken Parish’s apology to Gregory Storer (not to mention the excellent folks at LP, are among the most honourable discourses I’ve encountered in many years of Internets engagement.

    Sorry that sounds pukey, but when I get home I’m going to set up a PayPal account just so I can donate a few $$ to you guys and LP in lieu of lost advertising.

    And I don’t care if it goes on beer – have one on me!

  7. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    I’ve been posting for a year now in ignorance of the moderation policy, which is probably testament to how well it’s working. In all that time I’ve only been tempted to moderate two posts, this one, due to an analogy that may have been racist (but had plausible deniability)and this rather troubling one.

    I think comments should be more or less like a cottage garden. Let things go wild and crawl up the walls so you’re surrounded by vitality – but if you don’t remove the weeds they end up taking over.

  8. I think these decisions are regrettable, though predictable.

    As Ken acknowledges, OLO publishes on “hot button” topics and from a wide range of perspectives. This is it’s strength, and what makes it interesting to those who are not dedicated to the pursuit and validation of particular point of view.

    It’s unfortunate that the decision to distance from OLO is based on one comments thread. I cannot agree that Muehlenberg’s article shouldn’t have been published – it was soundly rebutted by myself a few days later,as it was also soundly rebutted by many of the comments. Had it been left to stand alone, or if it had been one of many such articles,that would have been different.

    In fact OLO has been responsible for publishing what’s been described as “two of the most powerful and persuasive arguments for gay marriage published to date in this country.”

    It’s my understanding that Young is running OLO alone at the moment. That means he is responsible for putting up six or seven articles each day, and moderating the comments on every one of them. This is no small task.

    Perhaps if Young did not feel so under siege, he would be more amenable to discussing moderating differences. People tend to harden their attitudes when overwhelmed by opposition, and nobody wants to be seen to be abandoning their principles because of pressure. Young’s commitment to his mission is quite extraordinary, under threat he is likely to defend, even against his own best interests.

    It might have been wiser, more considered, and dare I say kinder, to allow some time to pass and for the initial turmoil to settle before cutting him loose. It is not as if he has acquired a long-standing reputation for publishing unacceptable comments. Had this been the case, the actions you’ve taken would be more justified.

    I think the aspects of the affair that trouble me the most are – that this decision has been taken at the height of the battle (never a good time to make any big decisions), that it is based on one comments thread, and for some, one article. That it is taken against a publication that has been very popular for a long time, without, as far as I know, any previous history of these kind of complaints.

    I’m surprised that some kind of negotiation process couldn’t have been organized with Young, giving heated emotions a little time to settle first, and the decision to maintain the status quo or to cut Young loose being allowed to emerge from that process.

    Not as dramatic as what has happened, of course. Not the kind of stage up which others can strut the high moral ground, as they can and have in choosing this “solution.”

    But reasonable. Fair. Just. Calm. Considered.

  9. jc says:

    Jennifer

    I think it’s a business model that doesn’t work. I think Graham tried the kumbaya thing- why can all get along- and it really doesn’t work.

    Look at what’s happening in the media at present. $315 million was paid for a very partisan site that makes no apologies or disguises its ideological position on most important issues. Huffpost.

    Meanwhile those outlets with soft positions are going bust. Newsweek which in the 70’s and 80’s was an important source of general current affairs information around the world and particularly America was sold for $1.It literally disappeared.

    Markets are telling us something here.

    Look, it’s his site and all, but I think he’d be better off with sticking to one side and adopting its mores and behaviour.

    Young is a smart guy. He’ll figure it out.

  10. I make this comment separately as there are so many aspects to this furore, it’s necessary to at least try to distinguish between them.

    The complainants have stated that they approached all OLO’s advertisers to withdraw from the site as a “last resort,” when Young proved intractable.

    Does this mean they have never heard of the anti discrimination board? A legal body specifically organized to deal with exactly these complaints?

    The complainants are not entirely truthful when they state that going after Young’s advertisers was the “last resort.” It was in fact their first.

    Had they chosen the anti discrimination path, and had the verdict been in their favour, OLO would have been fined, and a message sent to all those who host comments pages that they are vulnerable to prosecution and punishment. This might have gone some way to cleaning things up across the board. That would have been very useful activism.

    As it is, only ONE publication is affected, and it will all be forgotten next week except for those primarily involved. Sites that don’t carry advertising, or don’t carry the kind of advertisers who care, are entirely unaffected and free to carry on as they please.

    All in all, an opportunity missed, I’d say.

  11. jc – it may well be a business model that doesn’t work. But that isn’t the reason given by LP and CT for cutting it loose.

  12. paul walter says:

    Notwithstanding JC’s conciliatory and pertinent note, I agree with Jennifer. True “hate speech” also requires incitement; as crass as Muhlenbergs pronouncments are, they somehow avoid crossing the line as to this, by design or accident.
    It is indeed a hot button topic, but I prefer Young’s approach with this than a weak capitulation to interest groups because these find something not to their particular taste or aesthetic taste in a particular proffered view ( John Passant has an interesting comment re the Zionist lobby in light of the current problems in the mid east, on Face book at themo, that comes closer to my view on the role of lobby groups, boycotts,etc).
    It would be different if Young didn’t include a balancer, but he’s not Rupert Murdocha and doesn’t deserve to be treated as such.
    It is sad that Troppo has abandoned its role of honest broker mid process- it makes it difficult for posters to add contribs when they know they are going to be jumped on for views rationalor not, as happens at some sites.

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  14. Ken Parish says:

    Jennifer and Paul

    You both seem to be ignoring the fact that Troppo’s decision to withdraw, and indeed the focus of the original complainants’ concern (at least so they’ve said), is the comments thread to Muehlenberg’s article not the article itself. I was given to understand originally that the dispute was about the article and I went in to bat and defended OLO on that information. That is because, like you Jennifer, I believed that the issue of principle was larger than the fact that I found the article somewhere between distasteful and offensive. I agree it certainly isn’t at the level of hate speech or any other label that should result in proscription. It is a legitimate if somewhat extreme position in the public debate.

    However that isn’t the case with the comment thread. If you think it is, then either your values are so radically different from mine that there isn’t a useful basis for discussion, or you haven’t actually read the whole comment thread (for which I couldn’t blame you because many of the comments are truly revolting). I compiled an email for Graham Young yesterday containing a representative selection of the revolting comments and can send it to you if you really want.

    Moreover, it isn’t as if Graham didn’t know about the comment thread. People have been complaining about it since early December, and he was threatened with withdrawal of some and then all advertising as a result (although he says he thought the advertisers’ focus of concern was the article despite knowing that the complainants’ concern which had triggered the advertisers’ action had been the comments thread). I gather that there was significant “to-ing and fro-ing” with the advertising agency before the advertising was eventually cancelled. Thus this was not a situation where obnoxious comments were published without Graham’s knowledge because he was operating the site all by himself (an argument you seem implicitly to be making in an earlier comment). Graham took a quite deliberate decision not to moderate offending comments. He took that position, as he has made clear repeatedly, because of principles which he holds to be fundamental. We respect that, but so radically disagree with some aspects of it (or at least the way Graham interprets and implements it in practice) that we regarded it as necessary to sever the formal business relationship. If we had thought there was any real chance of a different approach when things cooled down then we might well have waited as Jennifer suggests.

    I don’t want to canvas these issues any more than we already have, however, in fairness to Graham and everyone else concerned. It certainly wasn’t, as far as Don and I were concerned, a decision we took lightly, nor one where (as you put it) we are “strut[ting] the high moral ground”. It seems to me that is reasonably apparent both from the terms of the letter to Graham and my comment #4 above. One way to avoid prolonging a “stoush” about all this (which in my view wouldn’t assist OLO’s future) would have been to close all the relevant comment threads. LP has done that and I contemplated doing likewise, but ultimately decided that a rather more carefully managed version of Graham’s admirable principle of fearlessly open discussion was a better way to go.

  15. Senexx says:

    As an avid reader of most of the blogs under The Domain, I can say I rarely gave a second thought to the fact that were under The Domain. I only ever noticed when I went to the actual Domain link. Simply put I don’t think anyone cared other than those that are the recipients of the revenue.

    I haven’t read the offending article or the offending comments about the issue as I couldn’t care less one way or the other about the particular issue being discussed. As for the vitriol that may exist in the offensive comments, all that needs to be done is show them up for the fallacies they are. In the past we have defeated many insular ideas by subjecting them to the appropriate ridicule they deserve.

    I presume this has NOT been done hence the advertisement withdrawals. And the subsequent withdrawal of contributing blogs.

    OTOH If this has in fact been done I cannot comprehend the furore.

  16. paul walter says:

    Most here are well ware that some the comments thread is as ratty as you know what. But is merely”ratty” enoiugh for all the kerfuffle Youngs precious enemies have created frhim and everyone else? As I said (you obviously weren’t moderating at the time) the previous thread, as to this Hellfire Harry character, even the village idiot could have seen through it. My theory (again) is that Young possibly left it there to show how primitive some of the responses to this issue,solate intheday forit,
    If you run a complete cross section of opinion that is as valuable for the picture it gives ofpublicopinion and attitudes for reserchers and othersinterested in theunderlyingissues, as individual points raised by individual posters.
    That this function should be denied because a few precious folk are too twitterpated to tolerate debate at a blogsite, is no justification for ducking a characterful response, rather than the current one,inpandering to an attempt by vested interests to undermine debate.
    I suppose next you’ll be doing what SL does and be banning criticism of Israel because the Zionist lobby sqawks over it?

  17. Ummm, Ken – this is what I wrote above:*It’s unfortunate that the decision to distance from OLO is based on one comments thread.*

    I did not argue that you withdrew on the basis of the article, though some people have included the article in their reasons.

    I find it very significant that you misread, or ignored my acknowledgment that it was about the comments thread.

    While a dispute may have been going on between the complainants and Young since early December, it’s only been going on with LP and CT since Pearson’s article last weekend revealing the ads had been pulled. It’s only been throughout this week that you’ve taken it up with Young. You’ve been in the stoush for just six days before you decided to cut OLO loose.

    It wasn’t necessary to publicly prolong the stoush. You could have shut down the commentary and still privately negotiated with Young on moderation. His refusal to back down at this point is fairly typical of anyone under massive attack for what they hold as their principles.

    You write as if Young has done this umpteen times, when in fact it is one comments thread under dispute. It is unfortunate that you apparently extrapolate one comments thread to an entire body of publishing work over some years.

    As you’ve been colleagues for so long, you must know this is the first time such a situation has arisen.

    I assume you believe this public severance from OLO will help its future?

    It is, given all the circumstances, very hard to see your actions as anything other than seizing the high moral ground. They don’t make a whole lot of sense in any other light.

    I can only hope that your colleagues stand by you a little longer if you find yourself in difficulties.

  18. Ken Parish says:

    Jennifer

    You said: “I cannot agree that Muehlenberg’s article shouldn’t have been published”. I have repeatedly stressed that I don’t think the article should have been suppressed. My initial post on the topic was fundamentally premised on that point and the comment to which you’re responding reiterated the point, as I’m sure you realise. You’re obviously looking for a stoush. There are plenty of places where people will be more than happy to accommodate you. Here isn’t one of them. I won’t be responding to your further comments.

  19. paul walter says:

    Ken, do you not think it might have been better for people not in favour of Muehlenberg’s ideas to have refuted or rebutted him in the thread, rather than resorting to the cowardly and despicable tactic of trying to destroy a person, perhaps through ruiningthat person financially, for something that was not quite to their particular tastes?
    Po0or old Graham must wonder where his friends are, just now.
    Ps sorry for typos previous.

  20. Ken Parish says:

    Paul

    I’ve previously commented that I think it would have been better if Gregory Storer had made an anti-discrimination complaint rather than approaching advertisers. I certainly think that the situation required/justified taking the matter further given that Graham had refused to take action. However anti-discrimination action wouldn’t have been straightforward. It is only universally available where one is discriminated against in relation to supply of goods and services and the like. Storer wasn’t complaining that he was being treated differently in that sort of way. He was/is complaining that the comments amounted to hate speech which vilified him and other gay people on the basis of his sexuality. If you’ve actually read the comment thread you couldn’t sensibly argue that he was wrong about that.

    Hate speech/vilification on the basis of sexuality is only unlawful in Queensland and Tasmania. Storer lives in Victoria. Victorian anti-disncrimination legislation only prohibits hate speech based on race or religion, which aren’t applicable. Thus Storer could not have lodged a valid complaint there, and could not have done so in Tasmania or Queensland because he didn’t live there. He would have had to find a gay person living in one of those states who was willing to lodge a complaint. However he isn’t a lawyer and almost certainly didn’t know any of the above (I’ll wager neither you nor Jennifer Wilson did either). Moreover, if he had done so and you and/or Jennifer learned of it, I strongly suspect that you would then have instantly shifted to your other stoushing premise i.e. that this was proof he was a part of a mysterious and powerful cabal of gay activists plotting to destroy the free speech rights of those who oppose gay marriage or publish the views of those opponents!

  21. Thank you Ken.

    It wasn’t my intention to imply you thought the article should be suppressed. I was only trying to make a distinction between the article and the comments thread as the reason for the dispute.

    I have only disagreed with you. In a polite, reasoned manner over a topic and a decision that I think has wide reaching implications.

    In your terms this is “looking for a stoush” – is this what reasoned disagreement is understood as on this site?

    No, I was unaware of the Victorian legislation and that does make it difficult to access the anti discrimination process as a first resort.

    No I would not “shift to my other stoushing premise that Storer is part of a cabal…” etc, because that has never been my premise.

    I won’t even bother refuting your last couple of sentences.I think they apply to Muehlenberg and the ACL.

    But isn’t attributing those opinions to me when they most certainly are not mine,something akin to flaming me?

  22. paul walter says:

    As I said earlier, there has to be an element of incitement for something to be considered genuine “hate speech”. There was no incitement from Young, himself or even from Muehlenberg, altho, as I said above, that’s probably from design: He knew exactly how far to go, which may be evidence of a sly old cultural warrior. As for the postings, so they rabbitted on, but everyone knows they are only posters and others opinions of them ought to adjust accordingly.
    Perhaps the gay sympathisers didnt proceed with anti discrimination action because the case was way too flimsy, in real terms, therefore.
    For my part If I go to a blog site, I want the whole picture on an issue, not some thing misleading fed me by a Murdoch editor or the blog equivalent.

  23. Ken Parish says:

    Jennifer at #21

    OK. I accept your first point (that this is what you meant).

    I also accept that you’re arguing politely. But you’re arguing relentlessly and somewhat repetitively about a topic about which I’ve made it clear I don’t think public argument at this stage is useful or productive. I think it’s not unreasonable to characterise as “looking for a stoush” carrying on an argument with someone who has indicated they don’t wish to do so. In fact it might well serve to damage OLO’s prospects more than they already are, by keeping the whole thing in the public spotlight unnecessarily and therefore making it more difficult than necessary for Graham to negotiate with potential substitute advertisers and agencies. I’ve made it abundantly clear why we took the decision to withdraw from the grouping. You obviously disagree and clearly you would have taken a different decision had you been in our position. So be it. I remain a strong supporter of OLO’s aims and objectives although I strongly disagree with the moderation policy. That’s why we’re donating the meagre amount of money we earned from the arrangement to OLO. However I equally strongly believe that further public debate on the events is likely to prove counterproductive for OLO. At the same time I don’t think discussion should be suppressed so I don’t want to simply close the discussion thread. It’s quite tricky really, but synthesising the whole thing leads to my concluding that playing a “dead bat” to your comments is the best solution. I haven’t managed that so far but with a bit of luck I might muster enough self-discipline to avoid a further response!!!

    Except for this:

    “because that has never been my premise.”

    I’ve read most of your comments both here and at LP. There is a recurrent theme to the effect that you think it is implausible that corporate advertisers like ANZ and IBM would implement an ad ban/boycott merely as a result of a single letter of complaint from Mr Storer (or even a couple of others as well). That would seem necessarily to imply you believe that either:
    (1) there are numerous others involved who have put pressure on as well (i.e. a gay activist “cabal” to phrase it colourfully); or
    (2) Mr Storer himself has done much more than merely send a complaint letter, but is keeping those activities secret.

    I dealt with your argument in this comment on the other thread but you didn’t respond. Perhaps you didn’t see it. Hopefully you might clarify what you mean.

  24. Yes, here is my clarification.

    Young was told by his ad agency that as well as Storer’s initial complaint, employees at both IBM, and IBM’s ad agency found the piece ( that’s the piece not the comments) objectionable and as a result ANZ also decided to pull their ads.

    This suggests to me that there was indeed more than one person involved in the pulling of the ads.

    I have never suggested that Storer and the others know each other, or cooked up some scheme, though I have been ridiculed many times as having done that.

    I have continued to insist that more than one person was involved, and that is indeed the case.

    For reasons I can’t comprehend, as this information is in the public domain on OLO, many people have ridiculed the idea that more people than Storer were involved.

    However, that is the reality, and this tussle between us Ken, has allowed it to enter the light of Club Troppo’s day.

    I think that teasing out these things and offering the full story, as full as possible, is likely to do more good that silencing anybody.

    What is counter productive for OLO and for anybody else who cares about justice, is when some things are suppressed in order to fit a particular dominant narrative.

    This is one of the reasons I am such a staunch supporter of OLO – there is always opportunity for disagreement, and one is never silenced there on those grounds alone.

    No I didn’t see your other comment, but perhaps this answers it as well.

    I’m finding these engagements with made up minds as tedious as are you, so maybe we should leave it at this.
    Thanks, Jennifer.

  25. paul walter says:

    Ken, it would indeed be a shame if OLP suffered further concerning this. Those responsible would surely hang their heads in shame.

  26. Ummm sorry, I notice you’ve written:*There is a recurrent theme to the effect that you think it is implausible that corporate advertisers like ANZ and IBM would implement an ad ban/boycott merely as a result of a single letter of complaint from Mr Storer (or even a couple of others as well).*

    No, I have only argued that I found it remarkable that the corporates apparently responded to a phone call from Storer himself, not “even a couple of others as well.”

    While I understand your reluctance to deal with repetitive and unrelenting arguments, you have some responsibility in this when you attribute to me statements I haven’t made and opinions I don’t hold.

    Most people when that happens to them take the opportunity to rebut the misinformation about them, which is after all on a public site.

    Of course you can prevent them doing that, and leave the misinformation there without rebuttal. I’m glad you haven’t done that.

    And now I really am going to shut up.
    Thanks, Jennifer.

  27. paul walter says:

    Jennifer wilson, if you think this site is crook for that sort of stunt, you should try some of the others about. And they wonder why people get a set against them.

  28. Craig Minns says:

    Young has made much about his dedication to the Millsian principle of free speech, which on the face of it is a good one (who am I to critique Mills, after all). Where I take issue with him is in his application of the harm principle. Mills was very narrow in examining the issue of harm, excluding to a large extent the concept of offence taken as harm caused and Young has to some extent tried to justify his publication of the Muehlenberg essay on that ground.

    However, it’s my own observation, as a reasonably active OLO contributor, that Young has a much broader view of harm caused than Mills did, including offence taken as a reason for deleting posts and suspending posters. In my own experience the offence may be taken by Young himself, with no third-party complaint received.

    Another factor which is relevant, especially in the world of the blogosphere, where we live and die by our words alone, is irony and sarcasm. For example, I had a post deleted recently because it made an ironically disparaging remark: “Oh Gawd, don’t the earnest young ladies from the Sydney Catholic diocese have anything better to do? Like, for example, going out with some nice catholic boys and making some nice Catholic babies?”

    Young told me my comment was “disgusting” (as well as “nasty, vitriolic, abusive and harasses the young lady involved”) and said “If you were in this room and said it to my daughter I would very probably knock your block off.”

    Now, I’m happy to acknowledge that it was disparaging and that it uses a stereotype ironically, but I hardly think it’s deserving of that response, especially since the “young lady” involced is Mary Elias, Content Manager and Administrator of the Sydney Catholic Diocese’s website xt3.com and that she was carefully avoided disclosing that job-role in her biography, something that I found more than a little underhanded. The actual article was a puff-piece designed to promote a petition being run by Melinda Tankard Reist’s group Collective Shout, which counts the Sydney Diocese and George Pell as supporters.

    It’s an especially illuminating response from Young, I think, in light of the controversy over the Muehlenberg piece, since Reist has a long association with Muehlenberg through his group ACL.

    I’m not suggesting that Young is in any way applying a conscious bias to his moderation decisions, but I feel quite certain that his decisions are strongly influenced by his own associations and predispositions. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does make it hard to claim a Voltairean detachment and a purely Millsian view of the bounds of free speech.

  29. Pingback: Banisch and Parish, hello: there is a crack, in everything – that’s how the light gets in « No Place For Sheep

  30. CJ Morgan says:

    While I think that this debate has mostly exhausted, one salient aspect that has received insufficient attention is that it is not merely the hateful comments that evidence OLO’s problematic moderation, but also Young’s biased censorship of comments. In short, he allows vilificatory comments to stand, but censors comments that argue against that vilification unless they are couched in the mildest terms. A good example of this was provided by Jim Woulfe, whose playful lampooning of a homophobic troll was censored by Young as “overly aggressive”, while the troll’s repetitious and hateful posts were allowed to stand.

    The clear bias in Young’s moderation of comments makes a lie of his “free speech” protestations, and his claim that it was Muehlenberg’s article rather than his comment moderation that caused the complaints is disingenuous at best.

    Also, it’s incorrect that this controversy is about a single article and the comments it attracted. Exactly the same partial censorship of commentary occurs around articles on any of the “hot button” issues, such as asylum seekers, multiculturalism, gender issues, AGW/climate change, Islam etc. Young’s response as moderator to criticism on these grounds has been consistently to silence dissent, driving many ‘progressive’ participants from the site or banning them if that doesn’t work.

    As I’ve said before, this is very much a case of chickens coming home to roost. This issue has been brewing for months, if not years, and it was only a matter of time before somebody decided to call Young out on it outside the discursive space that Young controls with an iron fist.

    Finally, Jennifer Wilson has been around OLO long enough to observe the stuff I’ve described above. Perhaps she’s blinded by misplaced loyalty or has painted herself into something of a rhetorical corner in her strong defence of Young and his site. Either way, I think she’s missing the real point of this whole stoush.

  31. paul walter says:

    CJ, ALL the blogsites have this problem of personal inclinations of moderators, they being human as we posters are and prone to error, also as we are, which is the human condition.
    NO ONE comes out of the latest stoush with much credit, on any side. Me also.
    On the suite of issues you present, it looks like we’d normally be on the same side; these issues are often tricky for people coming to terms with them, yet must be raised. But unless the resulting debate as to contrary perceptions of bias, from opposing lines, creates a bit of mutual understanding the value of it will dissipate.
    For my part, am reminded of why LP, for example, is the way it is and what makes it both good and bad and underneath, its not so different from your response to OLP. Once you fall foul of a given subculture and its conventions, its hard to get back. Hopefully the current conversation, long over due, will help all parties as to misconceptions, etc- the system loves to keep us all isolated.

  32. derrida derider says:

    I’m firmly with JW on this one. You don’t pull your blog over slack moderation of one thread of doom (yes, unmoderated threads attract ugly nutters – so what else is new?). Otherwise there’d hardly be any blogs; Catallaxy in particular would have long ceased to exist, and LP wouldn’t be all that far behind.

    Corporates are corporates, and I can understand (without liking) what they did. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and assume the complaints to IBM were independent and not an organised campaign, but if I’m wrong then what Storer did was very wrong. But more than that I am deeply disappointed with my two favourite lurking places, LP and Club Troppo.

  33. Re the anti discrimination option:

    Mikey Bear, who is Greg Storer’s partner, left the following reply when I asked that question (before I knew the Victorian situation):

    “Why must they go to via an anti-discrimination path? That’s ludicrous. A letter to the advertisers proved far simpler, effective and expedient.”

    So I guess that means we had better resign ourselves to global corporations deciding what we’ll read in the blogosphere.

    As Andrew Bartlett points out on his blog, two of the most rabid columnists in Australia run blogs with vile commentary in the mainstream media, and no corporations ever pull their advertising because of them.

  34. Linda Joy says:

    Firstly, my thanks that you have left comments open. This is the only avenue there now is to pass comment on these events. Having been abroad for sometime, I was unaware of what had happened;-until yesterday!

    I have spent several hours in the last 24 hours going over the original article on OLO; the responses to that article; LP article/responses; and likewise here.

    Nothing that has occurred has come as a shock. What has happened was inevitable.

    Given that this post comes in nearly a month after its predecessor I see no gain to be had by ‘kicking up the dirt’.

    General comment however is compelling:

    “…but I feel quite certain that his decisions are strongly influenced by his own associations and predispositions.”

    Agreed. Without doubt human frailty will inevitably result in bias,-but to what degree? How much comment, by how many, for how long, should go ignored in the endeavour to always be right about each and every moderation decision-or the lack thereof?

    If Young suggests that the article rather than the responses to it caused the problem, then that is yet a further example of refusing to see the writing when it is plastered all over the wall!

    As I said, this was inevitable.

    It has been interesting to note the same name appearing in defence of GY and OLO appearing copiously on each and every discussion on this matter! I cannot attach much credibility to the view of someone who was the instigator of what was known on OLO as ‘The Grand Deletion’.

    Moderation is indeed a handy little tool…sometimes, and for some!

    I need finally add that I have been permanently banned from OLO. It is of no consequence. No consequence because I have absolutely no problem with the stance I took against the kind of radical bile that has caused the current situation.

    The position that OLO is currently in is entirely of its own making. The concept of ‘free right to express ones view’ is an absolute nonsense if that concept is conditional to certain views; as it most definitely was on OLO.

    Severing connections by CT and LP with OLO was correct. My only surprise is that it took so long!

    I have no feelings about it either way. It will be interesting to see what happens.

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