Well, wouldn’t you know it. On the very day I decide to put down some candid thoughts on the business of moderation, a ruck kicks off between two of Slugger’s bloggers, comments are removed and a row ensues about free speech on Slugger. Demonstrating that the Internet is ultimately a free space, Ignited has *some* of the original copy. He reports feeling “quite perturbed at the censorship of Turgon’s comments as it undermines what I believe was the strength of Slugger: that of freedom to contribute, and debate with fellow commentators”. Chekov feels a line has been crossed: http://url.ie/15bv.I don’t intend to comment directly on the events of the other night, except to say that on Slugger we try not to duck difficult issues. In this case we made an approach to interview Belfast City councillor and former MLA Billy Hutchinson, and it clearly caused some upset. That’s not unusual for Slugger. We have a very mixed audience and not everything we chose to cover is comfortable for all of our commenters.
I would make three remarks on the general principles involved.
One, moderation is something that by and large has fallen to two or three experienced bloggers. Often it’s a fairly easy call, but at other times, the surgeon’s knife is called for. Understanding how to moderate with a light touch is a skill to be acquired and not something that comes as easily as it may seem.
Two, the purpose of light touch moderation is primarily to improve the general level of debate. In general that is how we go on. Personally I am much more likely to clip abuse hurled at some third party than any given criticism of me. But the rule should be that so long as it is civil it should stand.
Three, we are serious about finding new ways of developing the comment zone to encourage higher level discourse here, but strong and adept moderation will likely always form the backbone of good online engagement. As I have said before we need greater bluntness in our exchanges combined with greater civility.
I hope we will be able to arrange for and publish the interview with Billy Hutchinson within the next week or so.
In the meantime we’re going to do some in-house work on this to develop more of a common code and try to make sure there are more than just the core team of moderators. In the meantime, let the conversation continue…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty