Commenting on Your NZ

I think it’s worth looking at a few points that have been made in discussions over the last few days about commenting here, about moderation and and anonymity.

Moderation

It’s been claimed that Your NZ is “an unmoderated website”, and also “probably the most moderate and balanced blog there is”.

I generally try to be moderate and balanced here – as do a number of regular contributors in comments, so it’s more than just me. But a wide range of views are also encouraged. Growing support suggests there’s a niche for this approach.

This isn’t an unmoderated blog.

The tone is set via my posts and comments and by the comments of regulars. It’s a social media and people usually tend to adapt to the social setting they go into.

Every day I post this on Open Forum:

This post is open to anyone to comment on any topic that isn’t spam, illegal or offensive. All Your NZ posts are open but this one is to encourage you to raise topics that interest you. 

Comments worth more exposure may be repeated as posts.

Your NZ is a mostly political and social issues blog but not limited to that, and views from anywhere on the political spectrum are welcome. Some basic ground rules:

  • If possible support arguments, news, points or opinions with links to sources and facts.
  • Please don’t post anything illegal, potentially defamatory or abusive.
  • Debate hard if you like but respect people’s right to have varying views and to not be personally be attacked.
  • Don’t say to a stranger online anything you wouldn’t say to their face.

Moderation will be minimal if these guidelines are followed. Should they ever be necessary any moderator edits, deletes or bans will be clearly and openly advised.

There’s more in About but most people don’t go there, and a menu link to Good commenting, so there’s ample opportunity for visitors to get an idea about what’s encouraged.

I occasionally give gentle reminders to people if I think they are getting into inappropriate territory. I occasionally edit comments, showing clearly that I’ve done this. I very occasionally delete comments. And on some occasions I’ve moderated on request – anyone is welcome to query what they think are unfair or potentially illegal posts or comments.

Sure when free expression is seen as important sometimes people can express strongly and may push boundaries but that’s a fundamental part of an open forum.

And anyone who doesn’t agree with or like something that’s posted here has a right to respond.

Moderation isn’t very visible here because it’s not needed much, not because there isn’t any.

Anonymity

The question of whether people should be required to use their own names or be verified before commenting comes up from time to time.

I have chosen to be open about my identity online, as do some others. It has it’s advantages and it’s down sides.

But I think it’s important to allow people to comment using pseudonyms, there can be very good reasons for people having a degree of anonymity.

Readers can make their own judgements on the authenticity of comment.

Allowing anonymity is especially important when allowing and encouraging rights of response. If commenter identification was essential it would deter people from speaking up for and defending themselves.

Some people can abuse anonymity – but some people who are easily identifiable can be very abusive online too.

I don’t think the majority of people, who act responsibly, should be limited or discouraged from speaking out because of the abuse of a few.

Requiring commenters to be registered discourages some so it limits the possibilities for getting varying opinions. I find some registration systems to be a hassle so I don’t bother with them, so I don’t insist on them being used here.

I hope I don’t have to limit the easy access to speech here.

Yes there’s some risks with allowing free and relatively unfettered speech. But I think there’s significant risks fettering speech.

Thanks to those who support and contribute to the commenting culture here – open forums need to be joint projects.

Redlogix – not

Another post on anonymity and media (by Redlogix) at The Standard that seems somewhat illogical – Media Medicine.

One stark contradiction is that while journalists and media pundits love hurling the ‘cowardly anonymous blogger’ line at us; while they themselves zealously guard the anonymity of their own sources whenever it suits them.

And their papers routinely publish thundering right-wing editorial pieces without names attached. They cannot have it both ways; they cannot belittle and discredit bloggers for not using ‘real names’, while they themselves uncritically resort to the same. It’s a remarkable blind-spot.

This is a common defence of online anonymity – “if they do it we should be able to too”. But Redlogix ignores majors differences.

Newspapers are businesses that have to stay financially viable, which means maintaining readership and income. To do this they have to maintain a reputation.

Journalists are employees, and have to maintain standards to keep their careers.

Newspapers are heavily edited. They don’t realtime abusive rants and attacks, even in their online comments.

In contrast blogs are usually part time hobbies. Blog authors and commenters can come and go as they please using as many blogs and identities as they wish. They can hit and run. They can assassinate a character and disappear unnoticed into their day to day lives.

It’s a remarkable blind-spot

Redlogix has one of those him (or her) self.

They go on to suggest…

There is no reason why political journalists should not be required to reveal and name ALL of their sources. If you want to quote a politician, someone elected to Parliament to serve New Zealand, then you have to name them. No more ‘off-the-record’ or nameless ‘senior sources’.

…and more. Good grief, bloggers don’t reveal their own identities, many don’t even reveal what relevant groups, parties or organisations they associate with yet, journalists should reveal absolutely everything?

That’s a huge double standard.

The Press Gallery are accorded by convention special privileges, protections and access us ordinary bloggers don’t have, yet increasingly it’s obvious that as a whole we’re doing the better job.

Wow, really? I have far more respect for information and opinion delivered by Colin James, Fran O’Sullivan, Vernon Small  or Felix Marwick than I do of Redlogix, Eddie or Zetetic (they can be interesting and informative but…). Apart from anonymity it’s impossible to be sure what you are dealing with – my guess is that Redlogix is a one person pseudonym but the last two are highly debatable. Actually more than that, multiple people, one slush pseudonym is not only allowed at The Standard, it is a core part of it’s operation.

Authors and commenters have been rightly been far more noticed lately, but especially with the attitude and practices comonat The Standard it is a long way from competing for credibility with the traditional media and journalists.

Related posts:

Blog pseudonyms and anonymity

Brian Edwards has raised the issue of online anonymity again in The Anonymity Pandemic.

This has prompted much discussion, including a parallel thread at The Standard: The privilege of real-name blogging.

All the usual arguments for and against anonymity come up.

A key part of this debate came late at The Standard in a comment from ‘Jenny’:

Edwards and others are upset by what people are saying on the blogs. not by who they are.

I can’t speak for Brian but I get the impression that most complaints are not about what is said, but rather  how things are said. There’s a valid question about people (usually hiding behind pseudonyms) who abuse and attack and harrass on blogs. As I’ve said before – I think it’s the misuse of pseudonyms that’s the real issue, not the use of them.

Jenny goes on:

That is his right. The real message behind his plaint; Due to the democratising power of the internet, too many people are now having a say. The previous gatekeepers of political debate like himself can feel their power to shape public perceptions slipping away from them.

As uncomfortable as it may be for media ‘personalities’ like Edwards, having to address the ideas raised in blogs like this one has become inescapable. If those ideas are being freely, democratically and intelligently raised and held by large amounts of people. They can no longer be ignored.

I don’t think the issue is about “those ideas are being freely, democratically and intelligently raised”.

In fact Brian addressed this in his post.

On the contrary, the writers of these blogs appear to regard the unrestricted freedom of their anonymous correspondents to say what they want, in whatever way they want, as a healthy expression of democracy.

I think it is a healthy expression of democracy – blogs provide a valuable freedom of expression (some more free than others).

But…

… it is, in my submission, a democracy of the gutless whose commonest weapon is abuse hurled from behind the ramparts of their anonymity.

All freedoms involve responsibilities. It’s lack of the responsibility and lack of respect for the rights of others that causes most concern.

The minority who use anonymity as a gutless weapon can be used as a weapon to attack all those who choose to post under a pseudonym. That’s unfair on the many who exeercise their anonymity responsibly, but it’s what typically happens.

Bad behaviour is the main problem

If none of those using pseudonyms abused then anonymity wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s not a perfect world.

The best way to reduce criticisms of the use of pseudonyms is to reduce the misuse and abuse of them, by speaking up and confronting bad behaviour. This is partly up to blog managers and moderators, but best results come from exercising community responsibilities.

I see a lot of tacit support for abuse on blogs (as in wider society) it’s common for people to avoid getting involved in attacks on others to avoid becoming a target and a victim themselves. That’s understandable.

But if people using pseudonyms did more to confront those misusing them (forcefully but reasonably) then anonymity would become less of an issue.

 

The Eddie and Zetetic lies

The recent case of factless assertions at The Standard by Zetetic and Eddie has been detailed in previous posts. From reading Eddie’s responses it seems that he/she thinks it’s ok to smear as long as there’s no facts to prove the smear wrong. The latest smears have been proven wrong.

Will that stop Eddie and Zetetic? Unlikely. They have a bit of history, they’re recidivist bullshit artists. Eddie has posted since:

Joyce’s latest brainfart

By: – Date published: 11:27 am, May 19th, 2012

This week, Minister for Talking Big and Not Delivering, Steven Joyce, had his second opinion piece in the Herald of the year and, naturally, it bore no relation to the ‘vision’ in the previous one, or any of the 5 point strategies or 8 point action plans he has produced to date.

Instead, it said ‘wouldn’t it be great if more international students came here?’. Problem is, his actions are driving them away. International student numbers plunged 7% last year. Why?

Because Joyce is cutting tertiary education.

Another accusation, without factual backing. Sure, international student numbers were down last year. Why? It didn’t take long for  facts.

Dave Guerin

I agree that Joyce’s op-ed was ridiculous but the reason for the decline in export education last year was the Chch quakes.The 37% loss in Canterbury students could not be made up by growth elsewhere.

You can find the full stats at http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/excel_doc/0019/102592/Export-Education-Levy-Full-Year-2003-to-2011.xls

Dave Guerin is CEO/Education Strategist of ED – “Education Directions Ltd  interprets the policy and strategic environment in which New Zealand tertiary education operates, which helps clients make better decisions.”He would appear ton have better educational credentials than Eddie.
So it appears that Eddie has made not only a factless assertion, but it’s a proven wrong assertion.
Eddie’s previous post?

Minister pleased with anemic economy

For quite some time, National has beem trying to claim credit for low interest rates…

An absurd claim in the headline – and another claim absent facts (and spellchecking).

And, of course, low interest rates don’t make buying a house more affordable.

They actually hinder people trying to save up a deposit because their savings get lower returns.

Another statement of apparent fact that is highly debatable. For a start, the interest can make a huge difference on mortgage affordability. And interest on savings is usually a very minor factor in raising a deposit.

So there seems to be a habit of making factless assertions, some are obviously wrong, some are proven wrong. Does this happen often? My guess (from observation recollection) is yes.

These factless and incorrect accusations and statements could be sloppiness, they could be ineptness, or they could be lying.

Do these factual indiscretions matter. Aren’t they just a couple of anonymous bloggers? Yes, they are anonymous, and they are bloggers. Many bloggers are anonymous, often with very good reasons for retaining anonymity – avoiding the personal attacks that identified bloggers get is one. Many bloggers are private individuals with businesses and jobs and families to protect.

There are quite a few political bloggers, with a wide variety of factualness, bullshit, and deleberate lying. What’s the problem with Eddie and Zetetic?

For a start, The Standard is not just another blog in a crowd.

As the most widely-read and influential leftwing blog in New Zealand, The Standard is a great platform to get yourself heard.

And – there could be a bigger lie. Or at least a hiding of the truth. And I think that matters.

Eddie and Zetetic appear to be doing more than personal blogging. There’s been claims they’re not actually people as such, but pseudonyms used by organisations. Even by parties. For example…

Footnote: We’ve put the name “Eddie” in inverted commas for good reason. There are several variants of Eddie, including Labour Party staffers. Merely suggesting that once copped us a six-month ban from The Standard; we didn’t name any names; just raised the possibility. We must have it a raw nerve. We don’t know who the current “Eddie” is, but if blogosphere chatter is to be believed, it could just be a Labour Party MP who gets in touble when he says things under his own name; we stress; could!

Zetetic and Eddie can’t be Labour MPs – The Standard has stressed a number of times that MPs must post their under their own identity. But is it possible either of Zetetic or Eddie is a proxy for MPs? That wouldn’t be difficult to do, or believe.

If Eddie or Zetetic are paid staffers I think it raises very important issues. Should parliamentary staffers be active in clandesdtine misinformation campaigns? I certainly don’t  think it’s appropriate at all. They are supposed to be working for us, not sabotaging the democratic process. Some of this trying to be addressed with Holly Walkers’s Lobbying Disclosure Bill, but that would have to be drawn from the ballot – and agreed to by enough politicians.

Eddie and Zetetic certainly do seem to have strong political agendas that are weak on facts. If they are fronts for and sort of political organisation I think that matters.

I think it should matter to people in parties orn organisations that may use secret skulduggery. Because while that skuldugery may seem “justified” if it brings down the enemy without, what if it’s also used within?

Eddie posted Some good vision which has proven to be a controversial speech within Labour. Some have seen it as a leadership challenge, others have seen it as inspirational.

But just say something like this was part of a factional fight – would it be good for an anonymous “identity” used by one faction to be used to promote one side?

Political organisations should be open and honest about how they operate – shouldn’t they? To their members at least. And to all their MPs. And they should really be open and honest with the public too, if they want to earn votes.

Our MS Media ha been criticised lately. They will always be criticised by people not getting favourable cover, media reports can be ruthless. But at least when broadcast or print media publish something we know where it is coming from. We often know the name of who wrote it.

Blogs and other online social media are much easier to misuse, in relative secrecy. Anonymous abuse is widespread.

Use of the Internet for anonymous abuse of our democratic process and our parliamentary process should be very concerning aspect, if it were to happen. Or if it is happening.

Faceless critics and social media

In his Sports Comment in the ODT Brent Edwards talks about “faceless critics and social media making life hell for rugby coaches”. He is specifically referring to disgraceful attacks on Blues coach Pat Lam on talkback radio and online.

You could read it on the websites. You could listen to it on the radio. All of it was anonymous.

Those who have been making his life a misery are doing so via the Internet or either as callers or texters to talkback radio.

What sort of people are they? Why do they bother? If they hold such a strong opinion why are they so coy about letting readers or listeners know who they are?

It’s a form of cowardice. How can you judge the merit, or otherwise, of someone’s opinion if you don’t know the person or their background?

Anonymity is a frequent debate on blogs. I don’t think it’s an issue if comment is reasonable, but anonymous personal attacks can easily be seen as cowardly.

Edwards takes it further:

The social media has changed our lives and, in most respects, not for the better.

That’s highly debatable – there are certainly downsides of social media, but there are many benefits as well. It’s just another reflection of wider society.

But the personal and rascist abuse directed at Lam, and his family and players, has nothing to do with rugby and everything to do with people sniping away under cover of anonymity.

It’s an issue which should concern all New Zealanders. It’s time for the faceless critics to shut up or be held to account.

They won’t shut up, there will always be snipers and abusers in society. But there are things we can do to balance the abuse.

This isn’t about anonymity, even though it does aid some cretins.

What is important is for the majority of decent people commenting online to stand up against it. Anonymous people can playb as much a part in this as well as identifable people.

Speak up against abuse, personal attacks and online cowardice and it will be less of a problem.

It’s up to all of us who use the Internet.

And if we do this and set a better example maybe it will rub out some of the radio abuse as well.