Online Opinion and the norms of debate

It’s easy to miss the point in the debate about Online Opinion‘s loss of advertising revenue. As Kim at Larvatus Prodeo points out, the debate isn’t really about free speech — it’s not as if publishers have a right to corporate funding. The important point is about how online communities deal with differences of opinion over moral and political issues.

According to publisher Graham Young, the Online Opinion model was shaped by the the Pauline Hanson controversy of the 1990s. Rather than engaging with Hanson many commentators made it clear that they believed her opinions were unacceptable, that she was a bad or stupid person for holding them, and that she should shut up. In a December 2010 post Graham Young wrote:

I saw Hanson as a symptom of a problem in society, not the cause of it. And the problem was that people refused to engage with people with whom they disagreed, and worse, denigrated them and denied them the right to hold their opinions … On Line Opinion was an attempt to level the playing field, at least in one corner. Our underlying proposition has always been that no matter how wrong it might be, you are entitled to hold a particular opinion, and to personal respect, even if the opinion might be seen by many as objectionable.

For Graham, this approach implies a set of norms for dealing with disagreement. One of the most basic is that you should not attempt to step out of the debate and try to silence your opponents rather than engaging them in argument. If someone argues for view you find objectionable you should not call their employer and try to have them sacked, mau mau their advertisers into withdrawing support or try to have them arrested.

It’s the norms of debate that we ought to be arguing about. It seems to me that Graham’s norm of respect for opponents is similar to an attitude I once labeled ‘deep civility‘. We’re not treating someone with respect when we act in a way that says that who they are or what they believe makes them worthless or contemptible as human beings. But as a norm for debate civility of any kind can only work if it’s reciprocated.

If so, this raises a number of problems. One is how to treat people who make it clear they do not respect their opponents or believe that they have a right to their opinions. With these disputants the debate constantly returns to claims about the bad character of opponents and their hidden agenda. Where this is combined with crude stereotyping, it’s impossible to have a civil debate.

Another problem is when deliberately hurtful attacks are smuggled into debate as if they were sincerely held opinions. It’s common to use words vindictively to arouse shame, guilt or anxiety. For example, a person might make exaggerated claims about being worried for the safety of their children if left unattended in the presence of their opponent. They might say that people who believe (or disbelieve) certain things shouldn’t be allowed to be teachers or child care workers.

The need for reciprocity in civil debate raises questions about what to do with people who refuse to respect the norms. On blogs this often surfaces as the problem of moderation — deciding which comments to delete and which commenters to ban. And this is where critics like Gregory Storey say that Graham failed.

Both parties in this dispute — Graham and his critics — believe the other failed to do what the norms required. But perhaps there’s no shared understanding about what the norms are.

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112 Responses to Online Opinion and the norms of debate

  1. Ken Parish says:


    You may find that my most recent comment at #44 on the other thread is saying something fairly similar to your post. At least at Troppo I think we’ve managed a pretty civil (if not necessarily deeply civil) and useful discussion whereby we mostly understand and respect each other’s positions.

    However it may be significant that we haven’t been visited by any fundie commenters of the ilk that seems to inhabit OLO. I think it IS a good argument for the sort of more conservative moderation policy Troppo has had in place for a few years now after a more light-handed start. It tends to result in smaller comment threads but a lot less white noise and aggro. I especially liked your encapsulation of what may well be one of the most basic principles of blog moderation:

    … how to treat people who make it clear they do not respect their opponents or believe that they have a right to their opinions.With these disputants the debate constantly returns to claims about the bad character of opponents and their hidden agenda. Where this is combined with crude stereotyping, it’s impossible to have a civil debate.

    Of course, the other way to have generally reasonably civil comment threads is to run a clear and consistent ideological line, as LP does to the left and Blot, Blair etc on the right. You then get peace in our time fairly consistently; everyone largely agrees with each other because opposing tribes have learned not to bother visiting because it’s hostile territory.

    For blogs like Troppo and sites like OLO which aspire to present a wider diversity of views (as Kim notes at one point) it’s a bit trickier. At Troppo we arrived the hard way at a view that a more rigorous moderation policy was the only viable solution to avoid an increasingly fractious and unpleasant online community that alienates far too many people and retains too many of those you’d rather not have.

  2. paul walter says:

    Why do blogs put themselves up as market places for ideas, and talk of free speech and association, when they are only interested in comfort posts to shore up themselves and their own prejudices?
    Using “hate speech” as an excuse to shut out some thing uncomfortable is most counter productive, most of all for God-complexed moderators themselves, I would have thought.

  3. Mel says:

    From Graham Young’s above quote:

    “Our underlying proposition has always been that no matter how wrong it might be, you are entitled to hold a particular opinion, and to personal respect, even if the opinion might be seen by many as objectionable.”

    But this very reasonable sounding proposition is untrue. Graham has carefully selected a stable of contentious opinionistas for the benefit of his conservative base, no doubt with a cold, calculating eye cast upon the revenue spreadsheet.

    If Graham seriously wants us to believe he is just a lovable rogue who provides a safe harbour for unpopular opinions of all shades and stripes then I guess we can look forward to guest posts from the Man Boy Love Association, Necrophiliacs Anonymous and Stormfront.


  4. paul walter says:

    And we’ve seen those sorts of things at his site?
    No, at least this debate is amongst broadsheet end blogs and posters who wouldn’t stoop to this sort of stuff when they discuss “Current affairs”. At least not in public, one gathers.
    Go to “fetishism” or “entertainment” even, for other categories.

  5. Don Arthur says:

    Mel – I’ve deleted the last part of your comment. I don’t want links to neo-Nazis in the comments thread.

  6. Jacques Chester says:

    Why do blogs put themselves up as market places for ideas, and talk of free speech and association, when they are only interested in comfort posts to shore up themselves and their own prejudices?

    Blogs remain private property and each blog sets its own rules. If you don’t like the rules, then like an unwelcome visitor, your only ethical and legal option is to leave.

    The right of reply is pretty much always protected by the ability to set up your own blog under your own rules.

    Each of the “Terrible Trio” I host has different rules. LP’s are the most restrictive, Club Troppo’s in the middle and on Catallaxy almost anything goes. I’m sure you can find blogs to suit your taste.

  7. Rafe says:

    The OLO strategy is admirable because it provides a window to a broad spectrum of opinions without need to visit a whole lot of different sites to find out what the fundies of various kinds are thinking.

    You need to check the “fundies” from time to time because sometimes what people call fundies are in fact very good, like the dreaded “market fundies” of “neoliberalism”. But you would never know that from reading their critics.

  8. paul walter says:

    Thanks 7. A bit more constructive than the one previous,at least on the thread topic.

  9. Don Arthur says:

    Ken – I think you’re right about different ways to run a comments thread. Some online communities work because they discourage differences of opinion (but I’m not sure LP is a good example)

    As Mel’s comment suggests, everyone has limits to the opinions they’ll tolerate — no matter how those opinions are expressed. For example, philosopher Peter Singer’s 2001 Nerve essay on sex with animals would be a step too far for most opinion sites (Bill Muehlenberg is the only Australian blogger I know who’s eager to talk about this issue).

    Personally I’m not comfortable with supposedly empirical debates over race and IQ. I find it difficult to accept that most people enter these debates with scholarly detachment and motivated by intellectual curiosity.

    I won’t pretend there’s some simple principle we can apply.

    There’s a pragmatic issue too. Some people just won’t visit your site or join your comments thread if they feel intimidated or disrespected. How people feel is how they feel. There’s no point arguing about it. If you want them to visit you have moderate your threads so they’re comfortable. If you don’t, you can’t complain that you’ve been ostracised.

  10. Ken Parish says:


    I agree (and perhaps I shouldn’t have so glibly classified LP as an example of extreme tribalness on the left – there’s significantly more diversity embraced there than at rightie strongholds like Blair and Bolt).

    I’ve just scanned the whole of the discussion thread on the Muehlenberg post at OLO and I must say I strongly agree with Kim. It rapidly descended into extreme toxicity after about the first 1/3 of it, almost entirely due to extreme, abusive and stereotyping comments from fundies. It’s entirely understandable that people like Storer and ringil reacted as they did.

    I note that Graham Young has argued that ANZ and IBM were apparently objecting to the primary article rather than the discussion threads (they are in separate pages/areas and they demanded to have their ads removed from the former not the latter) whereas Storer etc said it was the comment threads to which they objected and that they accepted that Muehlenberg’s article itself was legitimately publishable. These two perspectives are not irreconcilable. It’s qute likely that Storer complained about the comment threads but that the people at the ad agency and/or those at ANZ/IBM didn’t really understand the nature of new media and didn’t know the difference between primary post and comment thread and therefore focused on the article itself. Having had their attention drawn to it, they may well have decided that a publication that would host an article like Muehlenberg’s was too close to the edge for their corporate interests.

    As you and Jacques both suggest from slightly different perspectives, a blogger can run his/her blog however they want within legal constraints. However there are consequences depending on the decisions you take, as with everything in life. If you don’t care about civil discussion or alienating a mainstream audience (especially women) or advertisers, then you can afford to run a lax moderation policy. However that doesn’t seem to describe Graham Young’s aspirations for OLO. Muehlenberg’s article was quite close to a line where it simply ought not to have been published at all in my view. It was certainly foreseeable that it would arouse strong anger in a large part of the reading audience (including me). Thus it should have been obvious that the resulting comment thread would need close attention and strong moderation. Clearly that did not occur.

    That being the case, this controversy really does raise the issue of how feasible it is for diverse blogs (OLO, Troppo, LP, Passant etc) to collaborate for marketing purposes, given that the actions of one will from time to time seriously impact all the partners because advertisers at least apparently don’t differentiate between the various partners. That too is understandable because we’re hardly major outlets for their advertising. I really think Graham needs to revisit his moderation policy as a matter of urgency if he wants to keep this collaborative arrangement going. I was inclined last night simply to drop out and treat the whole exercise as too hard and rather pointless. However, as some may have noticed from some of my recent posts, I’m really interested in the way new media are developing and the potential for collaboration and cross-fertilisation between citizen journalism/blogosphere and the MSM and the implications for the future of both. As such I think it would be nice if Troppo could stay onboard the OLO/Domain experiment for the ride,so we get an insider’s view on how it all works. But that will require some honest and mutually respectful dialogue about moderation policies and perhaps other things.

  11. Kim says:

    Don, I think you’ve encapsulated a real issue here.

    Ken, I agree.

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  13. Graham Young says:

    Don and Ken, I think we need some real concrete examples here. Everyone is just talking in generalities.

    The comment that Storer objected to referred to homosexuality as a perversion. I refused to remove that post, although I removed another that he complained about.

    As far as I know all the monotheistic religions, with a few denominational exceptions, regard active homosexual relationships as a perversion. How can this view be regarded as so outlandish that it has to be taken down from the forum?

    Ken, I’ve just re-read the whole of the thread and I disagree with your characterisation of it as “descending into extreme toxicity”. But again I find it impossible to deal with something like that as a generality. Can you tell me which posts you would have deleted that I haven’t?

    I agree that CT’s comment thread is more civil than OLO’s, but then views tend to be more homogeneous, so that helps. I personally find LP’s comment thread quite disagreeable generally, mainly because they are homogeneous and as uncivil as OLO.

    I reckon most members of parliament who are consulting their electorates on the issue are getting the same sort of comments as on the bottom of the Muehlenberg article. I think there is a positive benefit in having that sort of dialogue in the open.

  14. Kim says:

    Graham, I can’t find how to link directly to comments on the thread, and I am loath to reproduce any here by way of quotation. However, comments which claim that talk about “very high rates of homosexual child abuse”, appear to equate same sex parenting with “child abuse”, constant discussion of sex between same sex partners in the context of HIV, ranting about anal sex and “rimming”, the use of discredited claims regarding alleged health dangers of same sex intercourse, throwing around terms like “abomination”, “cancer to civilisation”, etc, are offensive in the extreme, and also, in my view calculated to inspire hatred.

    That’s only from reading about a quarter of the comments.

    Don is certainly right that we disagree, possibly in a way that can’t be reconciled that such a thread is in any way positive.

    It also appears to be quite contrary to your own policy, which I quoted in my post, regarding publication of material which is offensive. I’d note, too, as I previously observed, that your policy appears to be quite similar to the IASH Code of Conduct which you refused to sign.

  15. Jacques Chester says:


    I don’t think that the bundling of Troppo, OLO, LP, SL et al works because of similar topics and moderation policies. It works because these sites have a similar reader profile: successful, middle-class professionals. A/Bs, in advertising terms.

  16. Kim says:

    Sorry, delete “that claim” after “comments which” in my second sentence.

  17. Kim says:

    I’d just add that for LBGT people participating on or reading that thread, these sort of comments are hardly likely to be experienced as abstract discussion of the public policy merits of legalising same sex marriage, but as directly personal and hurtful attacks. To large degree, I think, that’s something that is a predictable outcome of the way the Muehlenberg article is written (I hesitate to say “argued”) – as a confection of unrepresentative quotes purporting to show there is some singular and conspiratorial “homosexual agenda”. Returning to what I’ve said earlier, in my view, it neither constitutes reasoned argumentation nor complies with the “Enlightenment values” or “Socratic dialogue” Graham and several of the bloggers in the network say they uphold, but works, in practice, as a direct invitation to post hateful and hurtful comment.

  18. Ken Parish says:


    I can’t do much better than to adopt Kim’s summary at #13. Almost every pro-Muehlenberg comment after about page 7 contains abuse or repulsive stereotyping that I would regard as unacceptable in any even vaguely civil conversation, and some of the anti-Muehlenberg ones responded in kind. Frankly, once a comment thread reaches that point it is beyond salvation and can’t achieve anything worthwhile. It should simply have been closed down, and you should have foreseen the probability that that would be necessary given the extreme nature of the article and the polarising nature of its subject matter.

  19. desipis says:

    One [problem] is how to treat people who make it clear they do not respect their opponents…

    One problem, as I see in this instance, is where the opinion or argument being discussed implies a lack of respect for one or more of the participants. Is it reasonable to expect people* to participate in debates as abstract ‘opponents’ devoid of any personal reaction to the subject matter at hand?

    Personally, I think if the goal is to produce constructive discussion at the same time as allowing a diverse range of opinion that the scope of each individual discussion might need to be restricted. For example, rather than have an open forum for every possible view even remotely related to gay marriage; frame the discussion more narrowly with a caveat that one accepts an assumption that gay people are otherwise equal participants in society, if only for the purpose of the discussion at hand. It wouldn’t be so much that comments such as those about “very high rates of homosexual child abuse” are censored or deemed not worth publishing, rather they would be segregated into separate discussions.

    * particularly the diverse target audience of a site such as Online Opinion.

  20. Ken Parish says:

    I should also say that I don’t think this argument provides any excuse:

    As far as I know all the monotheistic religions, with a few denominational exceptions, regard active homosexual relationships as a perversion. How can this view be regarded as so outlandish that it has to be taken down from the forum?

    I agree that that specific “perversion” comment taken in isolation was not one that should have been moderated, and I so argued earlier in the other thread. It came early enough in the discussion that an abusive atmosphere had not yet become firmly established. But it did shortly thereafter. Nor do I accept that the fact that homosexual activity is regarded as a sin from a christian viewpoint provides a justification for the abusive, hateful attitude of many if not most of these comments. They are a very long way from Christ’s message. It is entirely possible to convey the fact that Christians regard homosexual activity as sinful without descending into the sort of stuff that pervades the OLO comment thread. Moderate Uniting Church people and liberal Catholics (though not the Pell brigade) manage it without difficulty. Christianity does not provide a justification for hatred, abuse or vilification in civic dialogue, and they should not be regarded as possessing a “wild card” dispensation from ordinary rules of civil discussion just because such a style of discourse may be characteristic of a particular aggressive brand of christian fundamentalism. Quite the opposite if anything. Sheikh Hilaly has quite a few followers too, but his brand of “uncovered meat” discourse equally has no place in civilised secular conversation.

  21. Fyodor says:

    Aaah, online civility and moderation.

    I think in these situations everyone should just take a step back and ask themselves one simple question:

    What would Sophie Masson do?

    For those late to the spectacle, here’s a prologue.

  22. Liam says:

    Far be it from me to shy away from uncivil discourse, Fyodor, and I note as you do the many historical precedences of the argument being re-hashed here, but I wish nobody would link to that comments thread.
    They’re a set of a relatively few number of my inflammatory and self-centred comments I genuinely regret.

  23. Kim says:

    @20 – Wholeheartedly seconded, Ken.

    The use of the term “perversion” is also highly loaded, and isn’t equivalent in my view to saying “we think homosexuality is sinful”.

    Many, many Christians manage to discuss these issues without the use of such terms and phrases, and of course, a considerable number of adherents of Christianity (and to some degree – of other monotheistic religions) do not agree that same sex love is sinful. The meaning of Biblical passages said to be relevant is highly contested, and has been for some decades, and in any case, I can’t see that this stuff has a lot of pertinence to a public policy discussion.

  24. Kim says:

    And what Liam said.

  25. Jacques Chester says:

    The meaning of Biblical passages said to be relevant is highly contested, and has been for some decades, and in any case, I can’t see that this stuff has a lot of pertinence to a public policy discussion.

    I’m pretty sure Leviticus 6:22 lays it out clearly, TBQH. I mean you can faff about passing it through the New Testament Decoder Ring if you like, but it seems like a categorical statement to me: “don’t do that.”

    As an atheist I grant the bible(s) no particular moral authority. But I do find it hilarious that fundies use Lev 6:22 to bash people they don’t like without, for example, following the many other emphatic instructions therein. For example, many of them shave and wear clothes made of more than one kind of fabric. Heathens!

    Finally, if you ask me, Jesus was an inconsistent philosopher. He can be read in too many ways to be a useful guide to anything (true of all those books). On the one hand he talks about knocking on the door, and on the other he leaves specific instructions to flog all you possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and live like a hippy kibbutz. I note that the latter instruction is also curiously overlooked by fundies.

  26. Jacques Chester says:

    I apologise in advance if I have derailed the thread.

  27. Kim says:

    Jacques, I don’t want to derail it either, but I think it is important to note:

    (a) The traditional Catholic and Orthodox mode of biblical interpretation was to consider texts within their entire context, and to determine their meaning via tradition and the authority of church teaching, not from the Protestant habit of using “proof texts” out of context to support pre-existing views. Unfortunately, and here maybe there’s a link to the OP, some bad Aristotelian/Thomist and Reformation debating tricks have become embedded;

    (b) A lot of biblical scholars do disagree with the usual anti-gay interpretation placed on particular passages.

  28. Jacques Chester says:


    We can continue over at LP — maybe this would make a useful topic for a new post?

  29. Fyodor says:

    Keepin’ it real, Hoges. Keepin’ it real.

    Jacques, listen to Kimberella. The Bible’s supposed to be like Famished Jacques Burger King: have it your way.

    That’s why it’s full of whoppers.

  30. Graham Young says:

    Kim, your point of view appears to be that anything you disagree with shouldn’t be in the comments thread. That’s not how I moderate, or anyone should moderate. I don’t pull people up for truth claims. That is invidious.

    If you’re not prepared to link to a specific comment that you think should have been moderated out then I guess there’s not much to discuss.

    I also don’t agree that I’ve breached the terms and conditions of the site. You have to read the conditions in terms of reasonableness. Just because someone may be unreasonably distressed doesn’t make a comment outside our terms and conditions. But again, without specific references, we can’t have a conversation.

  31. Kim says:

    Graham, as I said I can’t figure out how to directly link to individual comments. My point of view certainly is not that “anything (I) disagree with shouldn’t be in the comments thread”.

    To take just two example:

    Yes Bill I think you are on the money. There is far too much wooly and general sloppy thinking on this issue, and the implications for the long term outcome both for the society that buys these lies, and the children affected, have not been well thought through in general at all. One only has to see one person severely affected by childhood sexual abuse, for this whole process to fill one with loathing and detestation. Sadly too many people who abuse others have themselves been subject to abuse, often horrific. The very high rates of homosexual child abuse are truly appalling and need to be factored into any of these discussions. How homosexual couples can have children around them without affecting their sexual development is beyond me. I have seen dozens of horrifically affected cases, and I am well aware there are thousands more in this nation. We should not be mass producing this totally avoidable tragedy.

    God says it vile,abomination and your not gonna live with him, u homos are heading towards hell and eternal darkness wher there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, is that what u want fine, go there.

    U are a scourge to society, a cancer to civilization, spare us your filth
    It would be better for us if u go live out in the Sahara desert.
    Posted by HELLFIRE HARRY, Friday, 26 November 2010 7:59:32 PM

    The second is just ridiculous, vulgar and gratuitous abuse.

    The first makes repeated equations of same sex parenting with “child abuse” based on no evidence other than anecdote, and clearly wants to make same sex parenting and “child sexual abuse” interchangeable.

    Then, there’s stuff like this, which is hardly a substantive contribution to an intelligent debate, and includes risible and emotive slurs:

    Hi bill, I and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others applaud your stand on this key moral issue, as you do in so many areas. I whole heartedly agree with all of your points.

    I also wish to point out to all reading this how sad this homosexual lobby is that they must continually seek approval from all areas of society to try to justify their perverse lifestyle. It is as though they constantly need reassurance that what they are doing is right because deep down even they know how wrong it is.

    Further to this, you can rest assured that even when they have achieved the foolish goals they have set for themselves that their need for approval will never be fulfilled as they and everyone else will still know homosexuality is wrong.

    People will always know it, say it and think it. It seems a bit absurd that the radical homosexualists would even care what anyone else said or thought in the first place. I know I could not care less what they think or say about what I know is right.

    Keep fighting the good fight bill, you are a shining light in the battle against the totalitarian regime of the gaystapo.

    Your friend j

    I’m not going to go on debating these or others; I’ll stand by my assessment. Clearly we have very different approaches to what is and is not acceptable.

  32. Liam says:

    Keepin’ it real, Hoges. Keepin’ it real

    As the joke goes: brother, are you confessin’ or are you boastin’?

  33. JC says:

    It would be better for us if u go live out in the Sahara desert.

    What’s wrong with the Sahara? I went on a trip to an oasis a few years and stayed in a Bedouin oasis tent thingi. Camel riding was good, but you don’t wanna be downwind from camels, as I learnt, as they really smell bad. So either wanna lead or be right at the back of the line. It was fun.

  34. Liam says:

    Oh, hey JC! Gathering of the Elder Ones of Stoushes Older Than Time, hereabout, isn’t it.
    [kicks up feet on a handy shoggoth]

  35. JC says:

    Oh the memories, Liam. The memories

  36. Fyodor says:

    As the joke goes: brother, are you confessin’ or are you boastin’?

    Not one for confession, and more roastin’ than boastin’.

    Gathering of the Elder Ones of Stoushes Older Than Time, hereabout, isn’t it.

    Innit. The nostalgia was better in the olden days, as some smart-arse once told me.

  37. Nabakov says:

    I brought the booze. Anyone got a corkscrew? Jeez, what have you done with your hair JC?

  38. Ken Parish says:

    Where’s Nabakov?

  39. Ken Parish says:

    Ah he’s just turned up!!

  40. JC says:

    Jeez, what have you done with your hair JC?

    Hair’s fine, Nabs. I thought the unkempt look is in, no?

  41. desipis says:

    [email protected],

    The first makes repeated equations of same sex parenting with “child abuse” based on no evidence other than anecdote, and clearly wants to make same sex parenting and “child sexual abuse” interchangeable.

    The problem with suggesting that such comments be moderated is that it requires the moderator to be an arbiter of truth (or at least an arbiter of potential truths). I get the impression (and I could be wrong) that it’s a role that Graham Young is neither prepared or, given the sheer extent of topics and comments on OnlineOpinion, able to play. The idea being to play a minimalist role in facilitating discussion, and through that discussion any evident truth will come out. Surely, if the claims are so obviously wrong, it would be easy to put together a well evidenced rebuttal in the comments that would then stand testament to the fallacy of the original argument.

  42. Jacques Chester says:


    WordPress emails copies of comments to authors, so in general they wind up acting as moderators on their own posts.

  43. Jacques Chester says:

    I don’t know how OLO works, it’s a bespoke platform AFAIK.

  44. desipis says:

    Jacques, my comments were about dealing with the contents of the comments given time & knowledge constraints of a moderator for a site like OLO, not the limits of the technical interface a moderator uses to enact the moderation decisions. Clearly, if you’re dealing with an expert author dedicated to the ensuing discussion there would be a greater potential for moderation.

  45. Nabakov says:

    “The idea being to play a minimalist role in facilitating discussion, and through that discussion any evident truth will come out.”

    Nice in theory. In practice you can often end up with shit splattered all over the walls and many angrier but not wiser. But hey, some prefer that and who are we to deny them their fun? Personally I prefer dim and smokey hidden bars full of femme fatales to the OLO style beerbarn.

  46. Kim says:

    @41 – desipis, in a sense it does not require Graham Young to be an arbiter of truth. It’s not as though there is a contested evidence base underpinning the claim that same sex parenting is equivalent to “child abuse” or that this is equivalent to “child sexual abuse”. It’s clear that these claims are prejudicial and unsupported by anything other than that prejudice. It doesn’t take much to point that out, or to refuse to publish a comment in the first place which is so clearly and obviously motivated by nothing other than a desire to smear and wound.

    I think most reasonable people would agree that such a comment is outside the realms of civil discourse. It’s also only of a tangential relationship to the article to which the thread supposedly refers. The OLO policy I quoted seems to prohibit offensive comment. Young argues that has to be interpreted “reasonably”. Clearly, our understandings of that differ.

    If you look at the thread, it’s clear that there is active moderation going on as there’s evidence of various comments being deleted.

    The key to this might be that bit in the OLO policy which refers to “an individual”. The AISH policy and LP’s policy refer to groups as well. I suspect Young – for ideological reasons of his own, probably – is uncomfortable with the view that people can take offence on the basis of group identity or affiliation. The comments he’s deleted appear to be ones which “flamed” individuals.

    Therefore if the commenter in question wrote something like – “Kim, you are perpetrating child sexual abuse because you’re a same sex parent” (I’m not btw) – Young would delete it, but not the sort of generalised claim of the form that all same sex parenting is equivalent to child sexual abuse.

    That does go to a very profound difference in view as to what constitutes offensive speech. I strongly suspect that I, and others at LP, have views on that, and on moderation, which cannot be reconciled with Graham Young’s, which as Ken Parish rightly points out, may mean that we need to rethink our relationship with OLO as it appears that we are suffering an adverse effect based on decisions and policies of his with which we are in disagreement.

  47. Nabakov says:

    Care for a drink Kim? The dips and crackers are over there on the table.

  48. Kim says:

    @28 – Jacques, I think at one point we had a guest post on biblical interpretation and the same sex debate… Not sure how much of our archive has been restored yet, but I might hunt it down and post a link if I get a chance.

  49. Ken Parish says:

    I don’t accept Graham’s argument about “truth claims”. It requires no expertise on the part of a moderator to know that a factual assertion/stereotype, at least in most areas of endeavour, is grossly offensive to an identifiable group. The fact that the person perpetrating the slur claims it’s true really isn’t germane to the issue, at least in most cases. It’s conceivable, however, that I’m seriously misunderstanding Graham’s point in which case I’m sure he’ll tell me. It would mean, for example, that a moderator ought not to remove a claim along the lines of the notorious anti-Semitic “blood libel” if the person conveying it asserts it to be true. One can think of lots of other reductio ad absurdum examples to establish that denying the legitimacy of moderation merely because someone makes a “truth claim” about a grossly offensive statement is absurd and incoherent.

  50. Ken Parish says:

    What about me, you ignorant old turd Nabs? Mine’s a very full beaker of shiraz and a sliver of brie, thank you very much. And when do we get to the tasteful deeply civil snark, preferably at a less soft target than Sophie (preferably one that the whippersnappers will actually have heard of)?

  51. Nabakov says:

    Here’s a jatz cracker topped with cheddar Ken and a warm plastic cup of cask plonk.

    And Sophie wasn’t soft, she was yielding.

  52. Ken Parish says:

    I don’t want to think about that image. It puts me off my cheddar just reading it.

  53. Nabakov says:

    Well stiff cheese then.

  54. Ken Parish says:

    Christopher Pearson joins the debate over at LP from about this comment onwards. Not sure he adds much to the conversation but it’s mildly entertaining.

    Warning – the LP debate seems to have diverged into a fairly pointless argument about the authority of christian teaching, biblical interpretation etc, despite Kim’s courageous efforts to keep people on topic. If that sounds like your bag then hop on over.

  55. Kim says:

    … and prepare to get deleted if you do want to talk about Pearson’s derail! :)

  56. CJ Morgan says:

    Graham Young, as sole moderator of the OLO Forum, has never erred in a moderation decision – just ask him.

    One aspect of this debate that hasn’t really received enough attention (except by Kim and one or two others around the traps) is the partiality with which Young utilises the delete button and punishes those whom he deems as transgressors. In this instance, those who argued against the blatant homophobes were held to a much higher standard than those who were allowed to continue to post comments that clearly constituted vilification.

    Mind you, the same can be said of comment threads at OLO concerning climate change/AGW, asylum seekers, Muslims and just about anything to do with gender issues.

    I note that Young seems to be backing away from his disingenuous assertion that the complaints and subsequent withdrawal of advertising were due to his publication of Muehlenberg’s woeful ‘article’, rather than because of his biased moderation of comments that were posted about it. In correspondence from a couple of the complainants, it’s quite clear that they had no objection to the publication of the article, but only acted after Young refused to act – and instead deleted some relatively innocuous responses from offended gay people.

    But nobody who wasn’t involved would know that, because of Young’s practice of deleting comments summarily, sometimes without trace.

  57. Paul Bamford says:

    I don’t pull people up for truth claims. That is invidious.

    How is that invidious? If a commenter – or the author of an article makes unsubstantiated and demonstrably false claims of truth then it’s invidious not to pull them up. Yes, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, including the religiously benighted, but no-one’s entitled to their own truth. Truth is public property.

  58. rog says:

    Yes Kim but your position statement outlines the failure, you present yourself as a group but in name only with no responsibility for actions of the individuals or the group. No wonder the clients packed their bags and went home.

  59. Fyodor says:

    … and prepare to get deleted if you do want to talk about Pearson’s derail!

    Teh Collective has spoken!

    Derailing is futile! Prepare to be assimilated deleted!

  60. Pingback: The plot thickens at Catallaxy Files

  61. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Fyodor – we never see you around the cat any more. Any reason for that – you’re always welcome.

  62. Kim says:

    @59 – Rog, we had no idea any of this stuff had happened until a few days ago, and we have no power to affect Graham Young’s moderation policy or selection of articles in any way. He’s made it clear upthread that he disagrees with what Ken and I have said.

  63. Kim says:

    @60 – Resistance is useless! ;)

  64. Graham Young says:

    I’m surprised anyone would think it wasn’t invidious for the moderator to start moderating on the basis of truth claims. Once you do that you become a participant in the debate and then people like CJ Morgan who lurk on the site accuse you of being biased when you make a moderation decision but you’ve offered an opinion. And what happens if your opinion is wrong?

    Anyway, if the forum is operating properly someone should come along fairly soon who challenges the wrong truth claim. Of course it’s rare for claims to be wholly wrong either, which adds an additional dimension of difficulty.

    And speaking of truth claims CJ Morgan makes the accusation that I am homophobic, racist, Islamophobic and sexist, all of which are untrue. Whose going to moderate that and delete his comments?

    I find them offensive. Kim seems to think that if an individual is offended, then the remarks ought to be removed.

    Kim takes this further though and says that if the comments are made which might offend a group that they ought to also be deleted. But I’ve read plenty of posts on LP where all of CJ’s attributes have been applied to members of the Liberal Party as a group, or Liberal Party supporters in general, yet they’ve never been deleted.

    Because what this is about is not an issue of moderation at all. It’s a belief by some that people should only be able to think in particularly narrow ideological ways and that anything outside that ideology is unacceptable.

    We all do that to some extent, but some of us take a broader and less narrowly ideological view than others.

    It strikes me that this is a very Web 1.0 debate. It’s as though such contested spaces as Wikipedia which arrive at a reasonable approximation of the truth through group argument and with light to non-existent moderation never existed.

    LP is obviously run as a club. You want to be there then you accept their view of the world. It’s not interested in free speech. Club Troppo is broader, but again it’s purpose isn’t really about free speech, and in any event the topics it covers aren’t going to attract non-intellectual types.

    On Line Opinion is about a discussion place for the whole community. It’s norms are that you persuade people to your point of view, you don’t exclude them. It has a primarily democratic purpose and that requires people to be able to put points of view that you don’t like.

    If you could say it in parliament or at a public meeting, then my view is it should be allowed. Yes, you get the odd maddy as Kim has pointed out with the quotes above, and you get plenty of wrong opinion, but in the end you also get a chance at genuinely educating people and changing minds across a broad spectrum of the community, not just people like us. And I think it has worked to some extent.

    BTW, I’m not really suggesting CJ’s comments be taken down. They stand as an indictment of his mode of operating. Anyone want to see the portrait he did of me with a Hitler mustache?

  65. FDB says:

    Be careful what you wish for Sinclair.

  66. Kim says:

    Graham, what do you actually understand “free speech” to mean, as a “child of the enlightenment”?

    As I said in my post, free speech is not equivalent to licence. The classical liberal understanding, the Enlightenment understanding, is that free speech is desirable because from the contest of opinions, truth may emerge. Not that it must. J. S. Mill was quite cognisant of that, and indeed, perhaps a little pessimistic about the possibilities. But at the core it’s about reasoned argumentation.

    I’ve quoted, at your request, a number of objectionable comments which constitute anything but reasonable argumentation.

    Free speech is not, in fact, the right to press one’s opinion based on demonstrably false claims. If one wants to make religious statements, which in my view are not really truth claims, then to some degree one steps out of the realm of the rational. But there is no need to justify one’s religious belief through damning, slurring, and attacking those who do not hold them.

    As to your claims about attacks on Liberals, and your claim that LP is “a club” “not interested in free speech”, I’d invite you to cite chapter and verse. I can’t deal with your generalities in toto, but I deny absolutely that what I have said is in any way equivalent to “a belief by some that people should only be able to think in particularly narrow ideological ways and that anything outside that ideology is unacceptable”.

    What I take issue with, and take umbrage at, is the expression of belief which is accompanied by a heap of febrile rubbish implying that all LGBT people are pedophiles, same sex parenting is equivalent to child abuse, and so on and so on. You appear quite unable to defend this – except with generalities about “free speech”. It’s not an abstract issue, at all. Very clearly, you understand that, as you’ve started to cite comments made by CJ, which you say are offensive to you. I have no desire to adjudicate on them, or to use them as a debating point. What is at issue here is the comments you published.

  67. CJ Morgan says:

    Er, Graham – a minor point perhaps, but where exactly did I accuse you of being any of those things? I agree that they could be reasonable inferences to make from an analysis of your moderation of comments at OLO, but I didn’t make them.

    Re the “portrait” – go ahead, I hope it goes viral. As you know, it was a private joke, but if you want that image associated with you forever in the blogosphere, go ahead and publish it. Personally, I prefer the one of you as Grima Wormtongue.

  68. Ken Parish says:

    CJ That’s as close to ad hom abuse as I’m going to let this thread get. Deletions will follow if necessary.

    Mind you, I suspect there isn’t much else useful to say. I think the exchange has proven Don’s prescience in the primary post:

    But perhaps there’s no shared understanding about what the norms are.

    There’s no sign of shared understanding developing either as far as I can see. It looks as if neither side will convince the other, which tends to be the rule rather than the exception in the blogosphere, even the deeply civil blogosphere.

  69. Kim says:

    Btw, if anyone wants a good example of the infamous “blog as echo chamber”, check out Bill Muehlenberg’s:

  70. Mel says:

    I can’t help but ask myself rhetorically if Graham Young permits comments that make the same accusations about other traditionally despised minorities, let’s say, Jewry, that he thinks are acceptable in relation to homosexuals.

    Is it OK to describe Jewry as a threat to civilisation, a danger to children, a perversion and a spreader of disease? I ask this question because these are precisely the types of arguments that were fashionable and respectable among Christians only a century ago.

    If Graham’s answer is no, then why? Why protect one traditionally despised minority from malicious claims while affording no such protection to another? Surely such differential treatment is biased and based on a value judgement on Graham’s part and is nothing like disinterested objectivity.

    Nonetheless, I believe in a free and open society Graham must be allowed to behave thusly, but it is a bit rich for him to then shout “unfair!” when his actions produce an unpleasant yet reasonably foreseeable consequence.

  71. Kim says:

    even the deeply civil blogosphere

    Dunno, Ken, me agreeing with Mel? ;)

  72. CJ Morgan says:

    Fair points, Ken @ 68, and my deeply civil apology :)

  73. Nababov says:

    Bugger! (no untoward implications meant). Mel @ 71 pretty much said what I was going to say.

    If you can’t stand the heat Graham, well it’s your kitchen and your hand on the umm…gas knob.

  74. woulfe says:

    I was going to stay out of this debate, for fear that my opinion might be dismissed as sour grapes. However recent comments here have changed my mind. Also, while Kim has supplied some examples of offensive comments, there’s no evidence that they were complained about. I am in a position to cite an offensive comment that survived notification to the site owner.

    Three articles of mine appear on the On Line Opinion site, all making a case for the rights of same-sex-attracted people. I have also been a commenter on the site, under my surname woulfe. I am not one of the “gay activists” who took a complaint about OLO to its sponsors.

    Last November in the discussion related to an article on same-sex marriage by Rodney Croome, this comment appeared:

    People who would impose their distorted ideology on children so that those children would be forever deprived of having, or even knowing, a father and a mother are not soft targets.

    People who deliberately generate false research data on the effects of their activities on children simply to further their agenda are not soft targets.

    People who deliberately agitate to withhold life and death information on the statistically manifest dangers of their sexual behaviour from young children in classrooms are not soft targets.

    People who deliberately lie by knowingly claiming greater numbers than they actually represent in order to further their agenda are not soft targets.

    People who viciously target ex-members of their ranks whose very apostasy undermines their claims are not soft targets.

    People who use violence and intimidation against those who refuse to capitulate to their agenda are not soft targets.

    People who seek to change the law by any means possible to achieve their agenda and then use the law to persecute those who won’t capitulate to their agenda are not soft targets.

    Posted by Proxy, Tuesday, 16 November 2010 8:00:32 PM

    Even though the commenter (a serial troll) did not use the terms gay or homosexual, and skilfully modulated his language, it was clear from the context which “People” he was referring to. When I recommended it for deletion, Graham Young replied by email:

    You can’t slander a group, you can only slander individuals. It is open to him to make those claims. He is not targeting anyone in particular. I’m not going to stifle his free speech.
    He is not urging violence against homosexuals he’s making a number of claims. If you disagree with him, contest the claims. But I’d be careful calling them “deliberate falsehoods”. They’re either right, or they are wrong. There will be evidence, or there won’t.

    Two weeks later, in a different discussion, I responded to the same commenter’s clear obsession with anal sex:

    >> What sort of biological imperative drives homosexuals to plant
    >> their seeds in a man’s rectum?

    No imperative at all, biological or otherwise. It’s simply fun.
    Why don’t you stop obsessing about it, Proxy, and give it a try? You know you want to.

    Graham Young deleted my message and replaced it with:

    [Deleted. Overly aggressive.]

    After a lengthy email exchange, when I said that I would be taking advice about whether Young’s claim that I had been overly aggressive was libellous, he blocked me from the site. I’m still blocked.

    I found, and still find, Young’s difference in response to Proxy’s veiled incitement to violence and my playful (if edgy) reaction utterly staggering.

    To my mind, this is a clear example of the failings of Young’s “moderation”:

    * Comments are not actually moderated: OLO relies on site members to make post-facto complaints about offensive posts (non-members or members who have been blocked cannot complain).
    * The determination of what’s offensive is very arbitrary.
    * Graham Young replaces deleted comments with text that is often itself offensive.
    * Disputing any of the above, even off-list in email, results in being banned from the site.

    I quite like On Line Opinion, and endorse its aim of providing the widest possible range of views. However through the site owner rejecting notification of vilification and incitement to violence, himself making offensive and arbitrary comments about site users, I have acquired some understanding for those who acted by approaching his sponsors.

  75. desipis says:

    [email protected],

    It’s clear that these claims are prejudicial and unsupported by anything other than that prejudice.

    It might be clear to you, but is it clear to those who hold the views in the first place, or those who have never considered the matter in detail? Will it become clear to those people if we simply sweep the undesirable opinions under the rug and only permit opinions with which such people disagree?

    I agree with the notion that many of the offensive comments were in fact off topic and could have been moderated without contradicting the site’s ethos as a result. However, I disagree with the notion that just because an opinion or argument offends a particular group and/or lacks evidence that it should be considered inappropriate for public discussion.

    I’ve quoted, at your request, a number of objectionable comments which constitute anything but reasonable argumentation.

    I’m curious here as to how you derive your standards of ‘reasonable argumentation’. Is it the level of someone with a postgraduate degree in the relevant studies? Is it the level of someone with a tertiary education? A quality secondary education? That of someone with a strongly religious upbringing, encountering the issue for the first time and responding by parroting what they’ve been spoon fed (since they have yet to see reason not to believe it)? As far as I understand it, it’s an opinion site, not an academic conference.

  76. Kim says:

    @depisis, Ken’s right – it’s not hard in practice to identify untrue and specious stuff posted just to vilify.

    As Mel said, a lot of those comments added up to:

    a threat to civilisation, a danger to children, a perversion and a spreader of disease

    We’re dignifying it too much by even discussing in terms of reasoning.

  77. murph the surf. says:

    the Internet was once( I’m back in the early to mid 90’s ) a remarkable bastion of freedom – freedom to be stupid, callous, unfeeling , racist, ignorant and anything-you-chose-to-be-be phobic.
    No more.
    With development has come complications and the inevitable intrusion of those who will apply limits to what was once a wonderful free for all.
    R.I.P. the Internet.

  78. Jacques Chester says:


    Jacques, my comments were about dealing with the contents of the comments given time & knowledge constraints of a moderator for a site like OLO, not the limits of the technical interface a moderator uses to enact the moderation decisions.

    What I was driving at is that most of the blogs on Ozblogistan delegate moderation to the author of the post because that’s the default policy set by WordPress through its emailing of comments.

    This works because for sites like Troppo, LP and Skepticlawyer, the authors have discussed moderation policies amongst themselves and converged on a rough consensus on what is in and out of bounds.

  79. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Jacques – you’ll find most people switch that off. The deluge of emails I would receive would swamp me. Some stuff I spot myself but I also have to rely on people emailing me to say comment x at time y might be a problem.

  80. Ken Parish says:

    I certainly check all comments on my own posts, at least briefly. I don’t fancy being sued for defamation. I don’t find it all that harsh and onerous even for large discussion threads. However I’m used to scanning and deleting emails quickly. I get one hundred or more daily from students and uni admin as B Laws course co-ordinator. It only takes a few seconds to scan and delete an email. It only takes 10-15 minutes daily to skim the dross, but then much longer to deal with the stuff that requires substantive replies. I imagine that’s the experience of most people in office jobs who cope with large volumes of daily email.

    BTW Murph – The Internet was only ever a “remarkable bastion of freedom” in the sense you suggest for those living in blissful ignorance of the legal risks which always existed: defamation or copyright breach litigation, possibility of criminal charges for publishing obscene and indecent material etc etc. The Internet was never a law-free zone, it just had a much smaller audience and therefore proportionately smaller chance of people taking umbrage. We’re sadder now but wiser.

  81. paul walter says:

    I agree with Graham Young. Having had to cope with the utter capriciousness of the moderation at some other sites, I think his rationale speaks more to me than the alternative.
    Odd really.
    Some of the other sites claim to be progressive/ “left”, whereas Graham is just an old fashioned liberal.
    I’d beleive others more if the experience of “fair” moderation paralleled the claims by the sites as to its practice there.

  82. murph the surf. says:

    So much sadder so much sadder…..
    Premosaic , IE version one – ah those were the days!
    So much energy and excitement. Now gone.Lost in a fog of correctitude.

  83. Graham Young says:

    Kim, if you are going to use people as authority you really ought to have an understanding of what they actually said. I agree that free speech doesn’t equal licence – that there are some boundaries – but that the boundaries are much broader than you allow, or that you claim the liberal tradition allows.

    You cite as part authority for your stance JS Mill, yet by using him as authority that “Free speech is not, in fact, the right to press one’s opinion based on demonstrably false claims” you demonstrate that you probably haven’t read him, or at least if you have missed some critical and fundamental points.

    I refer you to Chapter 2 where he specifically argues that wrong opinion must be allowed to be published.

    “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”


    “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

    Your reference supports my position. Mill would not have moderated those comments.

    I don’t need to quote examples from LP to prove it is a club – your account of its moderation practices proves that for me. If you don’t conform to what we believe to be true you will be moderated out. My moderation practice is basically, as long as it is something you could say in parliment or a public meeting and it is not abusive of a fellow commenter or author, or breaks the law, then it will be allowed.

    CJ, by saying that I give preference to people with homophobic etc. tendencies you are clearly inferring that I favour their point of view, and therefore am homophobic etc.

    I’m happy for you to exhibit your graffitied version of my face, but you should sign it with your real name. One of the major issues on the Internet is the coward’s castle of the pseudonym. Much less moderation would be required if people were honest and transparent about who they are.

  84. Fyodor says:

    Fyodor – we never see you around the cat any more. Any reason for that – you’re always welcome.

    LOL. Kind of you to say so, Sinc, but…um…what FDB said.

    It occurs to me that you don’t know me – or, rather, my blog-commenting – very well. I suggest you have a read of the archives at Catallaxy – it may cause you to reconsider.

    BTW – as an aside – congratulations on getting Judith Sloan on-board. She’s terrific.

    Resistance is useless!

    Not entirely true, Kimberella. A little resistance can be very useful.

  85. CJ Morgan says:

    Graham, I wasn’t proposing to promulgate the image that lampoons you. I repeat, as you know it was only ever intended as a private joke between half a dozen people who’d experienced the reality of your promotion of ‘free speech’. Nobody else would ever have seen it if you hadn’t saved it to your own site and invited people to view it. If you want people here to see it, publish the link.

    Also, as you also know, my real name is CJ Morgan. It’s the name under which I’m well-known in my community and under which I conduct business.

    You can dissimulate as much as you like, but we both know that this is a case of your chickens coming home to roost.

  86. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Fyodor – I remember you well. Snarky, troublesome and full of shit. Like almost everyone else there. But good insight from time to time. Like almost everyone else there.

  87. Kim says:

    Graham, I have no intention of arguing the toss further with you about LP’s moderation practices, which are really not the issue here.

    As Mel eloquently put it above, the gist of a lot of those comments is a claim that LGBT people are:

    a threat to civilisation, a danger to children, a perversion and a spreader of disease

    I very much doubt that such language and tropes as used by those commenters would have a place in a Parliamentary debate.

    It’s absolutely no surprise to me that people might find this stuff offensive, and LBGT people experience this sort of vile crap as directly personal; as the “Christian activists” who post it well know.

    It’s not some “Socratic” discussion of a public policy issue.

    All this talk about conspiracies, “the pink dollar”, the “Gay lobby” is tripe. I don’t know anything about Gregory Storer to know that this is vile and calculated rubbish that should not be published. You need to address the fact that this stuff was published on your site. Most of the rest of the debate about “free speech” is blather.

    You offer only a lame defense of this stuff, and refuses to defend its particulars, while preferring to argue a furphy that it was Muehlenberg’s article which was the subject of complaint. It is now very clear that’s not so.

    As quite a number of people have indicated repeatedly, you had and perhaps still have the option of opening a dialogue with the advertisers and other parties aggrieved by what’s published on his website. That would be a businesslike and professional way of proceeding. It seems to me that it has been quite possible at several points for you to resolve this issue to everyone’s satisfaction, including your own and in protection of your business interests.

    That you have chosen instead to launch a public campaign is also your decision. You are responsible for both that and his original moderation decisions and responses to people who comment on and read OLO.

    I have no desire to see you suffer financially or to see OLO close down. However, I do believe you need to modify your own moderation practices. You may not see a need to do so, but clearly others do, and that’s at the heart of this issue.

  88. Fyodor says:

    Fyodor – I remember you well. Snarky, troublesome and full of shit.

    Heh – too well!

  89. Ken Parish says:

    Given the way the discussion on this controversy has developed and facts now known, I’ve decided that it is appropriate to record an apology to OLO complainant Gregory Storer, and I have done so in an update at the foot of the other post on this topic.

  90. derrida derider says:

    Aw gee, I missed the party. Typical bunch of snobs, the lot of you – don’t think I’m inviting any of you to my 60th.

  91. Tim Lambert says:

    I think Graham Young is being a bit precious with his complaint about a portrait of him with a Hitler moustache given that he called me a “digital brownshirt” because I posted comments at OLO.

  92. Graham Young says:

    Kim, why don’t you quite when you’re ahead. I note that you haven’t taken up the issue of the classical liberal position on free speech. I’ll assume your defeated by the reality of what Mill thought and wrote.

    So let’s look at a few other realities.

    1. You brought LP’s moderation practices into the debate, not me. You held them up as a model. You can’t now shy away from them.

    2. The original objection was to the article. Unlike the Mill position, which you could have known if you’d bothered to research it, you can’t actually know directly about this because the correspondence was between me and the advertising agency. We were asked to take the ad off the article because we were told that the article was “offensive”. We were told that it had been raised by an employee of IBM, and then subsequently there was a claim about an employee of the advertising agency.

    We were then told after we had removed the ad that they were reconsidering their position on the site, not the blog network. The problem with the blog network only became apparent in late January when advertising should have returned to normal. The first mention that there was a problem with the comments was from Gregory Storer. I have not been notified that this was the case from the actual parties who made the decision. That includes the explanations that the bank and IBM have given to Pearson and various complainants. Storer is a standover merchant and I don’t put much store in his account, although I do know that he approached various sponsors because I have seen the correspondence.

    3. Mel is making up her own quotes, they are not what is on the site. That said I think Bill Heffernan is quite capable of uttering them in parliament.

    4. Exactly how could this be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction? Removing a comment which Greg Storer dislikes but which is the position of the three large monotheistic religions? Where exactly is the middle ground here?

    5. I am not making any blanket accusations of conspiracies against the whole gay community – that would be absurd. I have actually received support from gays on this issue. There was obviously activity by a number of people in this respect on the basis of the information that I have available.

    Tim, I didn’t call you a Nazi, which is what CJ is doing to me, nor did I call you a “digital brown shirt”, what I said is that you use “brown shirt-tactics”, and it wasn’t because you posted at OLO, it was because of your cyber-bullying on a number of sites.

  93. Liam says:

    I think the party’s just getting started, DD.
    Look! There’s still Campari left in the bottle!

  94. Kim says:

    Graham, having read the comments thread in question, Mel’s summary is an accurate description of the slurs made, some of which I copied here at your request.

    I think it seems fairly pointless for you and I to discuss this matter further. I don’t know what the middle ground is, but I would have assumed that given your emphasis on how important the advertising income is to OLO, you might have an interest in trying to find it. Again, describing people as “standover merchants” doesn’t seem helpful in trying to find a resolution which would both protect OLO’s existence and income and reassure people that the site does not condone vilification.

  95. Fyodor says:

    There’s still Campari left in the bottle!

    Aye. We’ll always have Camparis.

  96. Graham Young says:

    Um, Kim you can’t even make sense of John Stuart Mill when there is a heap of commentary around about what he says even if you haven’t gotten around to reading it, so I’m not about to rely on your applause for Mel’s summary of the discussion thread as a reliable summary.

    BTW, I meant to deal with your comment that I “launch[ed] a public campaign”. I actually didn’t ask Christopher Pearson to write an article about this. The first time I have spoken to Christopher is when he rang me to check various facts.

    I did do a blog post about OLO’s sponsorship of the HREOC Human Rights Awards and why I publish challenging opinions back in December. It is classic JS Mill and it mentions this issue at the end although it obviously had it at its heart.

    The reason there is a public campaign is that others have started it. I am scrambling to keep up. Corporates can’t expect that this sort of thing will stay secret, and nor should it. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure that if the issue was anything but On Line Opinion you would be arguing that corporates have a duty beyond the bottom line and commercial considerations. But suddenly you are a Friedmanite because it suits.

    Can I take it that my 5 points are correct even though I know that your silence doesn’t betoken consent? Given the high priority you put in moderation of deciding which truth claims to allow I would assume that you would be prepared to help the moderators here to know which of your claims to erase. And if you won’t comment, then silence does betoken something.

    Or are you prepared to admit that the LP model is not one of pure reason but tribal position, and leave a trail to show how you came to that realisation?

    A position which I was happy to accept in organising advertising for you, because diversity is what makes the world go round. Yours might be a bigoted site, but it is high quality bigotry, with readers that most advertisers would want to reach.

    I’d have to say that the attitude of LP to me is puzzling. You’ve made tens of thousands out of my arrangement, and at the first whiff of trouble you’re all shafting me when all I was doing was being true to my pluralistic principles, the same ones that bought the trouble with the gay activists. If I wasn’t so open to publishing wrong opinion you wouldn’t have been part of the arrangement.

    I’m happy to have the argument here because CT has been more generous and honourable to On Line Opinion and the arrangement.

  97. murph the surf. says:

    “Or are you prepared to admit that the LP model is not one of pure reason but tribal position, and leave a trail to show how you came to that realisation?’
    Interesting question….
    I have got to say I have watched with keen interest the last few days of left wingers self identified getting in a tizz about commercial concerns. as it can be read at one level anyway.
    The whole discussion about acceptability to corporates – hey look maybe I misread it all but just classic stuff.

  98. Paul Bamford says:

    I return to the question I raised in #57: how is it invidious to pull people up for truth claims? Now that I’ve read the Muehlenberg article in question it seems especially pertinent. The article is a classic of example of cherry-picking quotes from selected opponents to demonstrate that all your opponents are E-V-I-L scary people. It should have been left for Quadrant to pick up and publish on their web-site where it probably properly belongs.

    Graham’s defence of the publication of the article at OLO on Millian grounds just doesn’t work. My vaguely Millian principles might oblige me to oppose various forms of government censorship but I don’t believe they’d oblige me to publish obviously fact-free crap if I were the editor of an on-line or paper publication. But then, maybe I don’t understand Millian principles any better than Kim – I once tore a neo-nazi poster off a telegraph pole on the grounds that I wasn’t infringing their rights to hang posters on telegraph poles – I was exercising my right to remove something offensive from my immediate environment. As no neo-nazis were actually harmed by the act, I don’t feel too badly about it.

    Letting the article through in that form was just slack editing – the same sort of slack editing that got Keith Windschuttle hoaxed in January last year (or was it the year before – things sort of merge into a foggy blur when you’re reading Quadrant). If OLO is to be the publication it aspires to be then maybe it needs to publish fewer and better articles.

  99. Mistress Kimberella says:

    Graham – I said before there is little point us discussing this further..

    I had not previously been aware of the approach you had to moderation.

    Leaving aside your invective we clearly have very different understandings of the bounds of speech.

    Both of us have to act in good faith in accordance with our principles.

    I don’t question you have been. But Don is right. Our norms are irreconcilable.

    Let’s leave it there.

    I am sorry you are potentially financially threatened. I think you had other and more productive ways open to you to resolve this. But you must act as you think best.

    I don’t plan to comment further on the OLO matter. I may continue sparring with Dr Wilson.

    And you should not assume I speak forI Di not.LP. I have stated very openly and clearly that U

  100. Mistress Kimberella says:

    Sorry! My phone mangled the last para.

    I was saying I have been clear I am not speaking for LP.

  101. Mel says:

    Graham, here is an example of the sort of comments you approved:

    “God says it vile,abomination and your not gonna live with him, u homos are heading towards hell and eternal darkness wher there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, is that what u want fine, go there.

    U are a scourge to society, a cancer to civilization, spare us your filth
    It would be better for us if u go live out in the Sahara desert.

    Posted by HELLFIRE HARRY, Friday, 26 November 2010 7:59:32 PM”

    My summation of the commentary on the thread in question is dead accurate.

    Do you think the same accusations made about other minorities are OK? Would you, for example, allow someone to post a comment saying “[Jews] are a scourge to society, a cancer to civilization, spare us your filth” ?

    Obviously the answer is no. You apply double standards, Graham. You are a hypocrite. You’ve been caught red handed with your pants around your ankles. Apologise to Mr Storer, the gay community and the advertisers you offended and you may just win them back. Man up, show a little grace under pressure and things might just work out OK for you.

  102. Kim says:

    @101 – to be confessional, beer + mobile phone commenting = mangling!

  103. Graham Young says:

    Kim, what invective are you referring to? You claimed my moderation was poor and not in line with my professed beliefs in classical liberalism. I think I have a right to be offended by that, but unlike Gregory I’ll take it to the court of public opinion, not pressure a third party to discipline you.

    I’ve given you the proof that my moderation is classically liberal. Surely the least you can gracefully do is to acknowledge that.

    I wasn’t aware that you didn’t speak for LP. Does this mean that your account of the moderation process if wrong? I must have missed this disclaimer. You certainly spoke as if you did. My apologies to the group.

  104. Kim says:

    Sorry, Graham, I haven’t had the chance to think carefully about your reading of J. S. Mill. As I said, I don’t question the fact that you’re acting in good faith. I think it might be beneficial to turn the temperature down on all this, so I’ll go read my Mill! :)

    As to invective:

    high quality bigotry

    But let’s leave it there.

    I regret it if I gave the impression that I was speaking on behalf of LP. I did say in my own post that I was not. Sorry if that didn’t come across here.

    Anyway, I wanted to clarify that, but now I’m going to leave the whole thing alone.

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  106. Tim Lambert says:

    Graham Young says:

    Tim, I didn’t call you a Nazi, which is what CJ is doing to me, nor did I call you a “digital brown shirt”, what I said is that you use “brown shirt-tactics”, and it wasn’t because you posted at OLO, it was because of your cyber-bullying on a number of sites.

    CJ didn’t call you a Nazi. He put a Hitler moustache on your picture. I don’t think any reasonable person could interpret that as a statement that you actually Hitler, but rather that you were acting in some way like Hitler. In other words, he is make a similar sort of argument to yours that I am using Nazi tactics by making comments on blogs like this one.

  107. paul walter says:

    This mistress Kimberella.
    A dominatrix? Phwooa!

  108. CJ Morgan says:

    Of course, Young’s citation of J.S. Mill exposes his utter hypocrisy with respect to ‘free speech’. Central to this whole brouhaha is his censorship of people who argue against the vilification that he permits, an example of which is in woulfe’s post above.

    That’s just one of many, many similar examples of Young’s very partial moderation (and indeed is exactly the kind of practice that led to him being lampooned with a ‘Hitler’ moustache last year). On that subject, I agree that it was a puerile thing to do, but it was a private joke that expressed the frustration of several people whom Young had unreasonably censored at OLO. It was never, ever intended for public distribution.

  109. Ken Parish says:

    I intend drawing a line now under direct slagging and defending of OLO’s moderation policies. OLO is not associated with Troppo and its moderation policies are very different. Don’s post canvases general issues of policy and philosophy surrrounding moderation and blogs. Although it was triggered by the OLO/Muehlenberg controversy, I don’t think it’s productive to prolong debate about the rights or wrongs of Graham’s approach. Moreover, I’m pretty sure all relevant points have been made more than once.

    Accordingly any further comments seeking to do so will be deleted.

  110. D Artemis says:

    I have just received the following for objecting to being banned from OLO for merely writing the words “I disagree with the moderator”.

    To Graham Young

    No I am not a sock puppet – I have been forced to create a profile yet again to post on OLO because of your pathetic bullying.

    On 13 February 2011 07:30, Graham Young wrote:

    So you’re a sock puppet. I basically realised that.

    I’ve removed your profile.


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