Guardian and its new talk guidelines…

One of the key aspects of online communication is its basic mutuality. With that in mind, I’m glad to see our long term mantra of Play the ball and not the man (still tops the Google search) has been co-opted into the Guardian’s Talk Policy. In the same spirit, I think we can learn from the more discursive way they’ve explained what they are looking for as well as setting out what they will remove. We’ll try to pull together a similar set, not forgetting to include a mention of our old favourite, whataboutery.

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  • Aaron

    I hope they gave you a decent consultancy fee for that Mick 🙂

    In my view though, a billion offensive comments wouldn’t do as much damage to the Guardian’s brand as the way that they rolled this out yesterday did – a single stern blog post, reprinted across all of their blogs, without any attempt to make it fit with the voice of the relevant blog. Talk about dropping the mask…

  • willis


    I saw that this morning and thought of you. Amazing that such a gender specific rule could make it to the top in the Guardian. Obviously a tribute to our fine sporting tradition.

  • Cruimh

    Instead of congratulating yourself how about applying the rule ?

  • Mick Fealty


    An email would have sufficed. Here’s the Commenting Policy as is.

  • Cruimh

    Read the thread – I already know the commenting policy. It would be lovely if it was enforced.

  • Cruimh

    I apologise Mick.

  • I hope I am not contravening any rules by observing that the comment threads on Comment Is Free are simply unreadable due to the sheer amount of crackpots, fanatics, windbags and sockpuppets.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think that is partly why they’ve beefed up the commenting policy. But it does raise the question of standards, both for bloggers and commenters.

    I’ve always felt that the entry point for online debate should be low, but the quality bar high. Yet some commenters (and I mean it as a wider generic term, not simply those on CIF or Slugger), think that simply slagging someone is enough to discredit their argument or think that, somehow, it will obliterate the provenance of the original.

    At its worst moments (and at least on Slugger there has been more good times than bad), it puts me in mind of this passage from a New Yorker piece, published last year:

    Connolley believes that Wikipedia “gives no privilege to those who know what they’re talking about,” a view that is echoed by many academics and former contributors, including Larry Sanger, who argues that too many Wikipedians are fundamentally suspicious of experts and unjustly confident of their own opinions. He left Wikipedia in March, 2002, after Wales ran out of money to support the site during the dot-com bust.

    Sanger concluded that he had become a symbol of authority in an anti-authoritarian community. “Wikipedia has gone from a nearly perfect anarchy to an anarchy with gang rule,” he told me. (Sanger is now the director of collaborative projects at the online foundation Digital Universe, where he is helping to develop a Web-based encyclopedia, a hybrid between a wiki and a traditional reference work. He promises that it will have “the lowest error rate in history.”) Even Eric Raymond, the open-source pioneer whose work inspired Wales, argues that “ ‘disaster’ is not too strong a word” for Wikipedia.

    In his view, the site is “infested with moonbats.” (Think hobgoblins of little minds, varsity division.) He has found his corrections to entries on science fiction dismantled by users who evidently felt that he was trespassing on their terrain.

    I spoke to someone in London last night, who was insistent that anonymity is the abiding problem with internet discussion/comment/knowledge production. Actually, it more elusive than that. It is rather that “it gives no privilege to those who know what they are taking about”. This is not about needing to cite qualifications about taking issues seriously and applying some industry to your inputs.

  • It is rather that “it gives no privilege to those who know what they are taking about”.

    I think it has a lot to do with authority. The authority traditionally conceded to newspapers, journals and TV programmess wasn’t simply based on the fact that these could produce informed reporting and comment, but also upon the fact that until recently there was no accessible means of contesting this authority, because the cost of entry was too high.

    What happens when there is a means of answering back -as is the case with Comment is Free- is that there are maybe three competing impulses: one (a) which seeks to challenge the authority of the post, by referring to the argument set forth, and another (b) which seeks to challenge the authority of the author, and the last one (c) which seeks to challenge the authority of the form i.e. the supposedly authoritative media outlet producing supposedly authoritative comment. And I’m confining myself here to where the commenter is addressing the content of the original post.

    I don’t see anything wrong with any of (a), (b) or (c) per se, but there is a time and a place for each, and the problem seems to me that the format of the comment thread simply cannot cope with all these competing impulses in order to produce something worth reading and participating in, particularly when it’s on a website promoting itself on the strength of its commentary, the prestige of its commentators, and the established authority of the newspaper itself.