Commenting and the election….

Every conversational site experiences a drop in the quality (and a rise in quantity) of commenting when an election campaign hits. It’s not surprising. Usually the blood is up (though I do wonder in this campaign how far it will get up), and the temptation to play the man rather than the ball is often too much for activists to resist.

I just want to make it clear in these early stages that I’d like to move towards a more hard line, no tolerance approach towards commenters who do not abide by the commenting rules of the site.

And be warned, that rule applies every bit as much to the blogging team as it does to ordinary ‘Joe Public’ commenters. I’m not asking anyone to take a vow of silence in the face of opinions or work they forcefully disagree with.

On the contrary, Slugger has always thrived on contention. Certainly play hard, but aim at the substance of the work and stay well clear of man playing, and whataboutery. These are primary signs of disengagement from debate.

Let me say too that this is as much a top line concern about the quality level of debate, as any important bottom line legal concerns over what people say. Debate here is generally permissive. We presume your intentions are good until you prove otherwise.

You can help us keep everything legal and decent by hitting the ‘offensive’ button where ever you believe there has been a breach of the site rules. Just remember this is a site for discussing politics.

So, please, resist the temptation to flag something just because you find it politically offensive, it has to be a clear case of man playing, or deliberate wandering off the point of the conversation.

Your (on topic) comments on this are welcome below…


  • Drumlins Rock

    I was was shocked by how low comments on a similar site went during the Irish Election, with one thread basically devoted to discussing politicians with “beards”, a phrase I was unaware of till I read the comments! We do push things a bit but are generally civilised in comparison, I hope.

    ps.I still object to Mr. Mallie’s “Favored Tweet” position, as it does not give a opportunity to challenge statements in this forum.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, you’ve made your point on that DR. But it’s my decision to keep Eamonn where he is for now.

    I want to keep the entry bar as low as possible so people can participate, but the quality bar as high as possible, even in the full pitch of the campaign.

    If that means less commenting, I’ll be happy. In all likelihood there are others who feel less inclined to get involved because of some the rougher or in-group behaviours are putting them off putting in more expert comment.

  • granni trixie

    Mick – your reminder does not fall on deaf ears and Im sure we will all try to abide by the rules. What I can see as problematic however is that surely it is legit to discuss the performance of individual MLAs especially Ministers as the basis for voting for them or not? Esepcially if we are to go into a new era away from voting on sectarian basis?

    A good example of this (which I refer to on another post,below) is that one might say that Education and Health would definately benefit from new personnel leading them as MInisters. Is this playing the man or women?
    (a genuine query).

  • Mick Fealty

    Not if you trick out why (and not some reference to SF’s generic past)… The why and the how are often much more interesting than the who…

    Of that does not entirely exclude the who, but… we’re not interested in slagging people for the sake of the slagging itself…

    Apart from anything it’s usually pretty dull fare for those who don’t share that particular passion…

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mick, should we consider putting some structure to the coverage? and also try to separate the polls to discuss the council elections on their own merits. Maybe get a viewpoint on each party, from a supporter, but wearing their “slugger commentator” hat not activist one.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t think we can cover all the councils, but I would like to spotlight some of them. Not sure how to cut that though. Balancing political comment with informed comment is important at time when we are likely to be force-fed large doses of party political spin. If we do have politicians on we need to think how we might incentivise them to tell us something interesting/useful.

  • Sean Og

    Adding a bit of structure helps keep posters focused but doesn’t garrantee quality.

    All the same a thread for each constituency, for example, helps keep things moving along.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sean, we could do that just by using open threads.

  • I must admit I feel ‘the man’ is too rarely played in north Irish politics.

    After all, when you vote you are voting for a man as much as a party. Why’s it wrong when discussing DUP politicians to bring up the fact that some of them believe the earth to be 6000 years old?

    After all, these are the very people who will be running our schools and museums, surely such beliefs are relevant.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Why’s it wrong when discussing DUP politicians to bring up the fact that some of them believe the earth to be 6000 years old?’

    For the same reason probably as bringing up belief in transubstantiation or limbo when discussing SDLP or SF politicians .

    Of course you (the voters) could ask these credulous politicians why they believe what they believe , and when you have listened to their answer, you might then want to ask them why do they believe what they believe about whatever it is that makes them believe it ? . You can of course carry on the downward spiral into the why’s and wherefores but in the final analysis it will come down to a mix of a wishful non evidence based belief in a ‘supernatural ‘ coupled with a desire not to give offence to the even more credulous in the hope of remaining electable .

    This is not rocket science 🙂

    ‘when you vote you are voting for a man as much as a party’

    And when you vote for a woman ? .

  • Mick Fealty


    Despite GF’s off topic rambling, he’s dead right on this.

    If it is relevant (and we have done quite a bit on this on Slugger over the years), mention it. If it is merely cover for a hasty intellectual retreat from the issue at hand it may land you with a Yellow Card.

    BTW, I’ve just ‘black spotted’ Alan Maskey.

  • nightrider

    It is relevant if a political party has an underlying fundamentalist philosophy which is virulently anti-science. That’s why politicians cannot hide behind the veil of ‘personal belief’. Either we live in a secular society where policies are ‘evidence based’ or subject to bias.
    eg, The opening of bookmakers on Sundays (as per rest of UK and Ireland). Would a DUP minister for relevant dept agree?

  • Nightrider – the DUP are hardly `virulently anti-science`. Many may have a different world view or different opinion than the majority. Regarding Sunday openings – the European Union designates Sundays as a special day of rest…

  • Just observing the discussion about DUP politicians believing the world began 6000 years ago.

    Is there not a distinction between “playing the man” who is being discussed in a topic and “playing the man” who is a blogger or commenter?

    Also, I think there is a place for criticising a politician for advancing his religious views in the appropriate context.

    If we assume that the public interest is the appropriate standard for political decision-making and we also assume that politicians, regardless of the personal belief system, is expected to arrive at a political decision which is pragmatic and in the public interest, are we not entitled to criticise the politician whose judgment has been coloured by his political or religious dogma?

    Are we not entitled to say that that this man is unfit for public office because of it?

  • Mick Fealty


    The ‘because’ is the critical point. The religion of some (maybe even most) DUP politicians is relevant sometimes. We do not live in a secular society. In comparison to England NI is a very religious society.

    In short, if it is relevant to the discussion (and truthful) it is likely to stand. If not, your contribution may go and you end up with a red or yellow card for your trouble.

    We tend to be more tolerant of attacks on bloggers because they are available to rebut any untruths (or make an intelligent decision whether to or not).

    Public figures are not. I always defer to Damien Mulley at this point: “Invisible People have Invisible Rights”.

  • Driftwood

    In comparison to England NI is a very religious society.

    But changing rapidly surely. Very few people I know (under 60) have any belief in the supernatural. Religion is based on ignorance and fear. Science is eroding the creation myths of every society and the hypocrisy and sexual scandals of the churches here are being papered over.

    England is now having to deal with a different kind of fundamentalism which liberal commentators are confronting. We should be able to do so here in NI.

    On that note, why do politicians refer to the ‘protestant’ and ‘catholic’ communities here when there are an ever growing (especially younger and educated people) ‘community’ who are neither.

  • Mark

    On a lighter issue , Mick i believe Alan Maskey has taken some posters hostage over on and is refusing to release them unless his black red is recinded .

    On the black cards themselves – Is there no coming back from one of those or is there time served of for good behavior i.e – talking up Slugger on the etc ….

    Only asking because I came pretty close the other week until you decided I was not in fact telling lies about Pete and was just ill tempered and sloppy ?.

    Whould that be playing the man ? or letting a personal dislike cloud your judgement in relation to posters who get cards .

    I ask this in all sercerity as 2 blacks in two days has me a little worried .

  • Mark

    Not looking to get banned Mick but the pressure to be the Jimmy Magee of the internet world where Jimmy’s claim to fame was getting every question he was asked on sport correct .

    I’m not implying that been wrong is alien to you but just maybe sometimes posters can get to you and put you in card producing form ( nevin ) …….

    Just an observation …..and put me in my place by all means if/when you think I’m out of order.

  • Mick Fealty

    You are safe enough Mark, for now. 😉

    Look, in Nevin’s case, I love the guy to bits. I was chuffed when he won our blogger of the year award in 08. But the tangents he’s been throwing were getting increasingly random and only working to kill any functional conversation.

    It’s not enough just be a decent guy (and incontrovertibly, Nevin is). You have to make an effort to engage. Check Google or Bing out for HR Grice’s Conversational Maxims for a hint of what I mean by that.

    Black cards can be rescinded, but only at my discretion.

  • wee buns

    What means black spotted?
    Also I’ve just noticed…an absence…of Pippikins.

  • Kevin Barry

    Yeah, where’s Pip? Miss her comments

  • granni trixie

    Has she run off with Munsterview?

    Come back Pip,all is forgiven.

  • Mark

    Thanks for that Mick , I’ll be making sure I watch my P’s and Q’s and most importantly , my Maxims – especially the Maxim of Relevance ….

  • Jo

    What if bloggers are standing as candidates?
    Aren’t they available, too?

    Aren’t their blogged views legitimate to bring up in terms of these being at odds with democratic credentials and role as a public representative, subject to the principles of public life?

  • joeCanuck


    Minor suggestion. When someone is given a card, might it be appropriate/worthwhile to give a generic reason why, so that the rest of us know where the line is?

  • DC

    I’ve seen Nevin commenting a lot over on Mark Devenport’s blog, the place where I usually end up after being banned on here.

    So much for free speech, extraneous or otherwise!

  • Mick Fealty

    There are limits to free speech, as you very well know DC, having tested the boundaries beyond the legal breaking point on more than one occasion.

    If someone as mild mannered as Nevin can get himself banned, I’d advise you to re-read the comments policy very carefully:

  • Turgon

    As ever I am supportive of you but as ever you know I have some disagreements on this. As an example we had to ban Trowbridge as he was repeatedly calling someone a murderer who had already threatened libel action (and who we had absolutely no evidence had done anything wrong): hence, Trowbridge was practically arranging for you to be sued.

    However, on the engagement thing remember some of us have no desire to engage. I desire no engagement with supporters of terrorism past or present: I desire unending verbal warfare: I try to attack, frustrate and defeat their attempts at claiming they are something other than what they are. In that context it is reasonable to remind people repeatedly that many in Sinn Fein were involved in terrorism and others were their cheerleaders (and exactly the same re loyalists). That is the fundamental tennant of why people like me would not support our politicians being in government with terrorists and why I argue and vote as I do.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think you misinterpret what I mean there Turgon. Someone with whom I had a lot of disagreement with online told me once that no one is obliged to respond to people or material they did not want to engage with. It’s the same with Slugger.

    If you do not wish to engage, then either don’t comment, or engage with someone/something else.

    For instance with Nevin, we were not getting that kind of response. He was ignoring all the material curated in front of him and then sending people off on meaningless wild goose-chases. That fails the quality bar because it is effectively spamming.

  • Turgon

    Fair enough but equally I think you know what I mean.

    The problem is that some take “engagement” as meaning an attempt to explore issues together. I want to do nothing with the supporters of republican or loyalist paramilitaires other than refute and destroy their arguments and correct their lies.

    I think the problem is the term “engage.” Engage is often taken to mean some form of agreement or even just mutual respect for a position and agreement to conduct debate on certain parameters. I cannot agree to any such: I will not engage but rather will contend for my views.

    Actually I think we are probably talking about the same thing here: the sticking point is that you mean “engage” as a process which does not necessarily end in agreement or politeness of anything else. To me the term means just that which is why I prefer “contend for my views” as that does not imply any form acknowledgement of the validity let alone correctness of my enemies views . I use the term enemy deliberately as opponent again implies some degree of respect.

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, then you can see why Nevin, much though we all love him, got pinged? I’m sorry to say though I don’t think he does.

    In my definition, contend is a subset of ‘engage’.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Turgon’s argument runs like this:

    – party x/politician y supported terrorism/committed murder
    – person z votes/supports party x

    – person z supports terrorism

    Not to trivialise, but just to transfer this:

    – party x/politician y supports AV
    – person z votes/supports party x
    – person z supports AV

    It’s a leap of logic.

    The difference being the nature of murder v AV. But even if person z has the same morality as Turgon, he may vote party x in the first instance, considering that the best way to prevent further murders by party x is to support it when it favours politics only, but withdraw the vote when it doesn’t. As is the case with most SF voters.

    If Turgon chooses to “destroy” person z, or even not be polite as he threatens, he shows exactly why it’s better to engage with an argument rather than “contend for his views.”

    As all the major religions, including Christianity, consider actions in the light of their underlying intention, and as it’s not for Turgon to determine that intention a priori, it’s an approach that could be considered morally right in itself. It would make for more interesting reading too.

  • pippakin

    Hello all.

    I had thought that, like the Cheshire Cat I would just fade away, perhaps I will.

    Did I disagree with Mick Fealty regarding what I regard as this infantile card system. Oh yes. Are there other more important things in life? Oh yes.

    Slugger has always been a great diversion but sometimes real life, and death, get in the way. Here is a link to the little blog for anyone who is interested.

    Grannie Trixie

    Elope? Never mind who with! Its years since I had the energy.

  • “It’s not enough just be a decent guy”

    I try to be, I always engage but, unintentionally, I sometimes trigger red mists.