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Everything in moderation

I’ve got a lot of admiration for Conor Foley’s work and I do think some of the stick he gets here is out of order. I’ve also corresponded with the guy privately and I have no doubt he is a decent person with whom I’d be glad to have a drink.  That said, what he’s been writing on a CiF thread these last couple of days is simply astonishing.

If you read the thread in its entirety, in one go as I’ve just done, I’m sure (like me) you’ll get the sense that Conor has realised he’s gone off half-cocked in the early exchanges and is now reigning himself in somewhat. I certainly think he regrets the “shut down Harry’s Place” clarion call with which he opened.

It’s also clear to me that he totally mischaracterizes the commentary at HP. Only a couple of days ago I was lamenting the content of one thread as an “embarrassment to HP” and I know the other editors have expressed similar sentiments at various times. But the plain facts are that nothing like “80%” of the comments are of the right-wing/Islamophobic/violent/libellous nutbar variety that Conor maintains is the case. We have our fair share, but then we have our fair share of anti-Semitic/far-left looney tunes, also. Even so, the threads are often replete with dissenters. One of this blog’s biggest critics is occasional visitor Lee John Barnes from the BNP. I just don’t recognise the Harry’s Place Conor describes.

I was particularly incredulous at this:

But can you show me a pattern of such comments which have not been moderated [at CiF]? If not, can I ask the same question back to you, do you think it is acceptable for a website to carry the sort of threads containing the racism, bigotry, abuse and lies that regularly appear at HP?

Ignoring the facts that, yes, it would be easy to cite such threads at CiF and, no, HP does not regularly carry “racism” and “lies”, the salient point is that CiF is the blogging forum for the most popular online newspaper in the UK, moderated by paid, full-time staff, and HP is a two-bit blog with a regular readership of a few thousand maintained by a bunch of hobbyists.

Conor returns to this same point over and over; that it’s an obligation to moderate and if you don’t/can’t you should close down or be shut down. This is, whether he intends it to be or not, a call for all blogs to become professional. The truth is that the level of moderation he calls for (and to a less extent that even I would like to see) is unachievable for a blog that sometimes receives hundreds of comments on a single post when the author (who is the only person who can moderate his/her thread) is busy with the day job. We accept the need to remove overtly racist and libellous comments and have done so in the past (which makes his recent remark concerning a comment deletion today that he suggests heralds a new dawn for HP moderation standards nothing but a cheap smear), but moderating to the standards Conor demands would require full-time oversight, the implication of which is that blogging becomes the preserve of the privileged who can indulge their hobby 24/7 and still pay the mortgage.

I can’t believe this is what he wants, but it’s what his commentary necessarily implies.

As an aside, Conor was writing recently for ‘Crooked no-agenda Timber’. One of my most nauseating blogging experiences was reading a thread at CT where some of the regular commenters expressed their support for the murder of Iraqi interpreters. To be fair, not only do I think CT is an eminently readable blog, Dsquared at least took some of the commenters to task. As for threats of violence, I was recently subject to an ACTUAL (as opposed to imagined) threat of violence at Conor’s other regular blogging haunt, Liberal Conspiracy. The comment in question was never removed. I’m not aware that we’ve ever allowed a threat of physical violence to remain posted at HP.

These two observations either prove something or they prove nothing. I’m inclined to think the latter, but everything Conor has written on the CiF thread demands he ought to think otherwise.

More than anything else, I’d like Conor to supply his Foley File – the list of blogs, fora and community sites he’d like to see shut down. I demand it includes Facebook which I’ll wager is laden with libellous and abusive comments and is owned by multi-millionaires with thousands of staff at their disposal.

Of course, we all know that the Foley Files do not exist. I hope I’m not misrepresenting him when I say that, contrary to appearances, the etiquette deficit in cyber-space does not keep Conor awake at night.

No, it’s much more simple than that. He doesn’t like HP. Well, I don’t like brussel sprouts. Like me, he’s just going to have to get over it.

***Note to commenters – try not to prove his point by needlessly traducing Conor’s name. Try to debate in a way that would make your mothers proud.

David T adds:

Conor’s charge dates back to an email exchange just over a year ago, which resulted from his wife finding a comment in a discussion on a thread from a reader who suggested that “we should arrange some Pashtuns to beat the shit out of him” when he was in Afghanistan. This statement had upset his wife, who was reduced to tears. Conor then emailed a number of HP editors to chastise us for not having removed his comment before his wife had found it. He considered this comment:

“a direct incitement to a terrorist attack”

It is not nice to find that people are saying horrid things about you on the internet. God knows, I don’t enjoy it. There is never an excuse for wishing harm to a person, and the commenter who expressed these views should be ashamed of himself.

People being rude is unfortunately one of the products of expressing opinions on the internet. Others are likely to comment on them. Sometimes they will be insightful and will test your views. Sometimes they will be plain nasty. You can avoid all this, by not participating in public debate.

However, to suggest that a comment on a message board, in English, and aimed an an Anglophone audience could incite Pashtuns to attack Conor is just… odd.

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