Advertising & writing/commenting on blogs

Readers of the Online Opinion website and/or followers of some of the political blogs in Australia would probably have noticed some commentary about the withdrawal of advertising from those sites by a couple of corporations. This blog is part of that group of blogs which are collated under the label of The Domain, which is linked administratively to Online Opinion.

That means this blog has been caught up in that withdrawal of advertising.  As (the very few) regular followers of this blog may have noted, I haven’t been posting very much here of late (there are a few reasons why that’s the case, which I shan’t go into), so this situation has negligible effect on the income I now get from it (which I basically use to cover site hosting costs and the like).

However, it has raised some interesting questions about freedom of speech versus the right for businesses to decide where they advertise. There has been a suggestion this withdrawal of advertising was in response to concerns voiced about a stock standard anti-gay article by a person from the so-called Australian Family Association (who clearly only support one type of family while demeaning all the other types).  However, it seems it is more due to some even more obnoxious comments in response to the article.

In essence, it raises the long-standing dilemma for blogs of where to draw the line on moderating obnoxious or offensive comments.  My view on where to draw this line has changed over the years, and I’m far more  willing to delete comments which trespass into hate-speech or blatant vilification.

Having had a number of pieces published on Online Opinion over the years (about 36 of them, now that I’ve had a look), and engaged in responding to comments on many of them, it’s certainly the case that there is a cabal of persistent hatemongers who seem to descend (although ascend is probably more apt for sewer dwellers) any time there is a chance to vilify Muslims, refugees (or both), as well as migrants in general, or gays and lesbians. It can be distressing or aggravating to read or try to engage with such willful bile, and I can understand why some people don’t want to engage with such toxicity. Still, I’ve seen plenty worse on some mainstream media blogs and websites, and I haven’t noticed advertisers withdraw from those (although it’s possible some have).

Anyway, a potentially worthwhile debate about where to draw the line on such comments will probably end up just slotting into some well worn culture wars territory.  Rather than opining further on it here, I’ll just try to focus on posting (and cross-posting) things a bit more often.

There are plenty of other pieces on it on various blogs I am stablemates with, which traverse a very diverse range of philosophical positions (as do the many different pieces published on Online Opinion, which is one of the strengths of the site, even if some of the commenters do besmirch things from time to time). You can read the varying views (including amongst the commenters) at:

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24 Comments

  1. Excellent post, Andrew.

    Your reading of of the toxicity of commentary with respect to certain topics at OLO concurs with my own experience – but I’d add climate change as another. There’s also the issue of what Graham Young decides to censor and what he allows, which was apparently central to the unresolved complaints that led to lobbying advertisers.

    You’re also correct that the issue is not about the publication of Muehlenberg’s woeful article, and therefore not the ‘freedom of speech’ issue that Mr Young purports it to be. And then there’s the ‘secondary boycott’ claptrap…

    But as you say, it’s being well-discussed elsewhere…

  2. I find CJ Morgan’s comments miss the point.
    At least Young publishes rather than censors or boycotts. As one fed up with hair trigger censorship at blogs by paranoid moderators later explained away as, “removal of hate speech” (eg, a view they don;t agree with), I must congratulate him on his integrity.
    Very subjective, dare I say it, “convenient ” thing, this hate speech thing.
    Yes, the offending article was crap. Had some of the G and L hysterics been possessed of even a modicum of wit, they would have noticed also how Muehlenberg;s article was promptly shot down by posters.
    Unless an article is overtly offensive or inciteful, moderators should keep their personal biases to themselves and NOT censor out divergent viewpoints as they do at some sites- You are just setting a precedent that makes it so much easier people like Chris Mitchell of the Australian to follow suit.

  3. There is always going to be a line beyond which anybody will delete a comment (even if just for legal protection). The issue is really where that line should be.

    I used to let some fairly extreme stuff through on the basis it was better for people to be aware that such views existed, even if they were confronting or extremely offensive offensive or obnoxious. However, over time I felt I just didn’t want my site to be providing a platform to disseminate extreme villlification or ignorance. I would also prefer this site to have a tone which maintains some degree of reasonableness. However, it is still hard to be totally consistent on when to delete a comment.

    Graham Young is in a different position, as Online Opinion isn’t his website (in the sense of being a personal blog), so it’s not surprising he lets things through that I wouldn’t. It is up to Graham where he decides to draw that line in respect of his Online Opinion site – I’d probably still remove some of the more obnoxious comments, otherwise it does get a tone a bit too close to Andrew Bolt’s hatefests. But that’s his call.

  4. Andrew

    I agree that it can be difficult to know when to delete offensive comment. But my response has been the opposite to yours… I tend to leave much more now.

    Australians are increasingly too easily offended… often being offended as an excuse to avoid thinking about an issue. For example, a friends of mine is easily offended when it comes to climate change issues so she would prefer we didn’t discuss the issue and she has added given I know so much more about it she would prefer we didn’t talk about it. So she would prefer to remain ignorant that be challenged and potentially offended and have to think to defend a position.

    And it is important that there is discussion about why people are gay and lesbian. There is not nearly enough open and honest discussion about the inherent differences between the sexes or the differences, for example, between straight and lesbian women. The differences are real. And indeed marriage is traditionally not about equality – and in the culture I was raised maintains patriarchal traditions.

    Cheers,

  5. Its been a good ventilating, as the thing settles the commentary is getting a bit more reflective.

  6. I understand what you’re saying Jennifer. I don’t mind people disagreeing with my views (in fact I generally find it more interesting than just having people agree with each other).

    But whilst it can be hard to decide precisely where to draw the line, I do think we are better off without extreme villifiication or constant deliberate repetition of blatantly false and destructive stereotyping (e.g. trolling) – it it socially destructive and also can make the site itself unwelcoming for people who prefer a modicum of civility, even when strong and strident disagreement is occuring. When it got to a stage where I didn’t want to read the comment threads on my own blog, I figured I should moderate things a bit more.

    But everyone has their own taste and their own threshold of what level of stridency they want to submit themselves too – which is why having a diversity of sites for people to choose from is a good thing.

  7. I’ve taken time to follow that pingback above through Andrew B’s site then down the links ‘til I found a letter written by the person who lodged complaints with the advertisers at question.

    Seems, like me, that person found it necessary to write to Mr. Young and like me they found his response unacceptable in the extreme. (I’d best not go into the details)

    I chose to stop wasting my time by contributing to OLO – it wasn’t a difficult choice since I found myself reacting so badly the whole show became depressing – enough loonies out the front door any day.
    This other person, however, chose to take affirmative action and in result essentially had everyone’s advertising bombed.

    It is a shame that this action caused grief to others not involved directly but Mr. Young has been acting in ways that contradict the standards of his own charter.

    I note that some comments to Andrew express the same sentiment.

    It goes this way on the face of the record –
    OLO has a huge list of contributors; some quite prolific
    By going to the list they can be accessed as can any of their contributions.
    A significant number of those listed however seem to have had only a few bites of the cherry and then moved on.

    A reasonable person, having noticed this, might become curious and search through the files in order to discover the reason.

    That person, upon discovering – that these minor contributors were variously put down with escalating ridicule, sarcasm, ignore-ance, then abuse; seemingly staged in such a way to divert them, burr them up, embarrass, anger, then finally see them on their way – would become reasonably convinced the moderator of that weblog condoned that activity.

    Looking at the files from another angle reveals that a large number of the pen-names listed only contributed once.
    They went to a fa

  8. To finish that –
    They went to a fair amount of bother to sign up and register for that one contribution which raises the question as to whether they were somehow put off bothering again, dropped dead suddenly, or are maybe merely being listed there as bums on seats to bolster Mr. Young’s resume’?

    A hard core of Mr. Young’s contributors, at first glance, appear of leftish/green persuasion. The same people first appearing as all sweetness and light soon resort to spite at the slightest excuse.

    They do not speak their own piece forthrightly rather attack viciously to the extent that they do their own professed cause irreparable harm.
    It is the way that this sort of thing is choreographed on the pages mentioned here and others that leads me to suspect that these actions are intended to harm certain causes that these pages claim to foster.

    Goebbels himself couldn’t have done a better job.

  9. I think a lot of comments get wiped from blogs purely because they are of no political advantage to the people moderating them. I am yet to find anyone running a blog who doesn’t do it.

    I also don’t like politicians who try to shut down debate, limit the time allowed for it, or try to exclude detractors from having any say at all. This often happens in the parliament, but I have also seen it within political parties and on blogs.

    I find it useful to read and listen to all kinds of opinions. Although I am often accused of going off at a tangent myself, it is really part of a process of evaluating how one idea interacts with many others.

    What one person considers to be “vilification” is just ordinary commentary to another, depending on their own particular views on the topic.

    As anyone who reads Bartlett’s Blog on a regular basis would know, I don’t support ideas such as Homosexual Marriage & Adoption on good social, medical and economic grounds.

    If people who run blogs let everyone say whatever they want, this is DEMOCRACY IN ACTION. In any case, sometimes people who are very abusive end up cutting their own political throats in the process.

  10. I don’t get the impression that’s Graham’s agenda Caligula.

    It’s possible his personal political leanings come into play sometimes in some of the calls on moderation – it is hard to completely avoid that no matter how objective one tries to be. But if anything I get the impression he deletes comments quite rarely.

    As I mentioned, some of the comment threads contain stuff that is far too abusive and offensive for my taste, but it is a site which contains articles across a very broad spectrum of views, rather than a personal website – and there is far worse stuff in the comment threads on Andrew Bolt’s or Tim Blair’s personal blogs, and they are hosted by very well resourced and widely read mainstream media companies, who if anything should do a better job at filtering out hatespeech and incitements.

    In any case, I can’t control what happens on Online Opinion (apart from my own comments there) – but if people have concerns about specific content, they obviously have the right to raise those.

  11. I often get surveys emailed to me by Graham Young, which I generally fill out. I don’t read his blog, but someone told me he is a Liberal (Conservative).

    The last survey I received asked whether or not Anna Bligh’s handling of the floods here in Queensland would make her more popular in the eyes of the general public.

    Although it seems clear she has gained some short term support, I asked Graham Young to conduct the same poll a few months down the track, when the raw emotion has been subtracted from the equation.

  12. With the greatest respect Andrew your treatment might be different from mine.
    I raised an issue about what amounted to obscenity with Mr Young and copied him an extract from what is a comprehensive list.

    Yesterday I received an unsolicited e-mail from one of his associates of ‘The Domain’ with oblique references to litigation.

    I replied to that email and shortly afterward received another letter from that source – not addressed to ‘Calligula’ – but to my birth name.
    I submit that this sort of conduct betrays the purpose of weblogs and more to the point is unlawful.
    I began writing to blogs to draw attention to the bullying tactics within our governance only to find it entrenched in the blogs.
    I realise you are not of OLO, rather an associate of ‘The Domain’ – however you brought up the subject.

  13. Not a problem at all Caligula. No doubt you have had different experiences, and it is useful to hear them outlined.

    I’ve been aggravated and offended by some of the comments I’ve seen, but seeing I’ve usually chosen to engage with them (often in response to comments on my own articles), I’ve figured it would look over-sensitive if I complained. Plus I understand the dilemmas of whether or not to delete vomitous bile, having wrestled with it myself on this blog over the years.

  14. Dear Andrew –
    I can live with aggravation and being offended and to be fair I notice so can you.
    What I cannot stand is double standards so evidently (having evidence there on the record) being applied by a person claiming to abide by his own golden standard of ethical practice.

    To make that plain I’m not speaking about one blog – If someone says Nazis r’ us and blow the rest, I just stay away – but when someone sets up claiming balanced discourse and censors to keep things going his way – then breaches his/her own charter; if they do that it might explain why advertisers begin to doubt their veracity.

    You mentioned one blog at question – had a bit of a say yourself.
    Doing that attracts attention – one might assume.

    Have you had any solicitors letter yet?

  15. Dear Lorikeet –
    I run my own poor effort of a ‘non-monetised’ weblog.
    It leads towards my own views – not of politics as such but about the grief those I call ‘raffle winners’ and others of the self-ordained oligarchy are causing the rest of us Australians.

    Stupidly,I even run articles of support for others of an entirely different view if I believe their concerns have merit.

    I don’t want comments there from idiots or rabid partisans and so far have been lucky.
    And since my opinions are rather critical of (what was once called) the establishment, the status quo and what are demonstrably inadequate governance systems – the blog seems to attract an amazing deal of attention but precious little comment.

    It (my blog) does have its means of recording traffic and off-the shelf programs can track back emails to within coee of source.

    It has been ‘interesting’ tracking the clicks coming from ‘The Domain’ the last few days – from blogs I’ve not written to for some time.

    That and a slantwise threatening unsolicited email makes a bloke feel like a specimen under a microscope.

    So Lori – think about that and please, please, be circumspect about answering those surveys.

  16. Calligula:

    Perhaps I am being a bit slow today. Exactly what are you getting at? Do you think someone might be out to get me?

    Who’s to say I’m not out to get THEM?

  17. Lorikeet puts her claw (?) on some of the underlying problem with her conjectures as to Young, He is centrist by my reading, a bit to the right and explicates on some of the fears of the right, which is fine as long as he continues to allow for right of reply and an opportunity for folk of a different view a right of rebuttal, which he’s actually done far better over time than some.
    He actually does better than some of the so-called” progressive “or “intellectual”sites, as to this.
    In very recent times this writer was excluded from Sceptic Lawyer, a great drummer this last week as to “freedom of speech”, after passing a brief, non-inflamatory remark about the Israeli government’s “inquiry” into the peace flotilla incident, after some salutary abuse about my alleged “anti semitism”, without right of reply, after my response to a rambling essay about Muslims and dogs. Since when has ethnicity or race been a determinent of dishonesty?
    As for Larvatus Prodeoa, a fine site for much current affairs, but the moderation there is hair trigger and biased.
    It is a site that still has not resolved a contradiction between its proffered role as general current affairs blog and its simultaneous position as gathering point for GLF grouping s who’s interests some times come into conflict with other interests. Now, how is the resulting ascribing of hierarchy determined at s site catering for many diverse interests?
    Not by blasting the less aesthetically pleasing position off the site on some concocted excuse relating to sexism or homophobia, as occurred with me me for having the termerity to contest Anna Winter’s strange take the women who put Assange in.
    Mercifully for me, the news this week further contradicts the position of the women, but that’s neither here nor there.
    The point is, with both Young and his opponents, when does objective moderation stop and activism, re personal shibboleths, particularly to the point of exclusion of variant viewpoints, begin?

  18. No Lori –
    I doubt that you are out to get THEM – because, if so, you wouldn’t have been naïve enough to put the question.

    Have you heard of ‘cookies’?
    The internet cannot work without them.
    Some are relatively benign and others are not.

    Some link with your machine to assist your searches and communications.
    Others dredge your system for personal information then pass it back to whoever wants that info.
    Some are called VIRUSES.

    Answer your questionnaire then.
    While you do that to ‘assist someone with their little marketing survey’ they’ve probably made off with your bank account details in your E-Bay file or whatever.
    Entirely up to you – but I suggest that lad of yours take up reading IT at uni and stay home to help you untangle your computer whenever you do a ‘marketing survey’.

    Hope this helps –
    Calli

  19. Calligula:

    I have a son who is a Senior IT Security Specialist with the Department of Defence in Canberra. That’s right, he keeps the Russians & Chinese out of our security systems, & he also updates my computer at least twice a year.

    I once decided to investigate the holdings & interests of The Macquarie Group. Whenever I clear the web browser, their address remains. If there’s an enemy out there, it is more than likely them. They’re just another bunch of scumbags pretending to be benevolent contributors to various government enterprises (so THEY can take over).

    I am not on eBay, Facebook or Twitter. I don’t do internet banking, even though my son in Canberra says they are all safe if you have the right protection in place. I think I must be a far more suspicious creature than he, even though he has seizures from his work if he isn’t kept on medication. No, he is not epileptic!

    On the advice of an ex-bank employee, I only draw funds from the ATM outside of a bank & write the odd cheque. I once tried using a Debit Mastercard to pay my rates notice at the post office. Although the transaction was rejected 3 times, $500 was debited from my account twice, & the rates notice remained unpaid. Then the bank told me it might take 3 months to get the money back.

    In recent times, the superannuation fund has lost my paperwork, & someone from a vitamin company threw my cheque out with the envelope. The bank cannot seem to get anything right. No wonder people are stressed.

    If someone (government or otherwise) wants to get you, they will. I’m not afraid of anyone. I speak out about anything I think is wrong.

  20. Paul Walter:

    You pose some interesting questions as to why and when some posts are deleted. Have you ever considered that the moderator may have just had an argument with the boss, or just had everyone else telling him the same as you have off-blog, or even just kicked his/her toe?

    I like to watch the political programs on ABC1 on Sunday mornings. Sometimes the smallest issue is turned into a Hatefest, probably because there is sometimes so little worthy of discussion.

    Today they decided to fill empty minutes with Tony Abbott standing there, vaguely nodding his head. Some thought he was weird. I found his lack of participation appropriate.

    If you think other blogs are sometimes cruel in their savagery, try going onto Ozforums, where you can easily experience a complete crucifixion, and then everyone else will seem comparatively kind.

    Then please limp back and tell us what you have found.

  21. Dear Paul Walter –
    The ego is a wonderful thing and is of course the foundation for personality.
    These blogs tend to magnify the ego by removing the constraints of interpersonal contact and, forgive me, the chance of getting occasionally biffed on the nose if one pushes the argument too far.
    An imperfect illusion of being involved in group conversation while actually being alone before a computer tends to bring out the worst in some people all the time while others only goof occasionally.

    Ha – maybe every internet device should be fitted with a spring loaded boxing glove and a big red button to actuate it at the other end.
    If so I reckon we’d be able to identify moderators in the street by their eternally flattened honkers.

    It is easy to dismiss a person on the strength of a few hastily drafted words without knowing their background or seeing their body language.
    Meanwhile certain bloggers/moderators appear to have become motivated by something or other not readily evident on their resumes.
    When taken to task about that the usual response is dismissive and unsatisfactory – as so many have pointed out about this discussion spread over numerous blogs.

    So many people cannot be wrong about their perceptions – can smell the fish but cannot find where it’s hidden.

  22. Morning all.
    Yes Lorikeet, There is less than no space in th studio for much else, once you’ve accomodated the egos there, Like so much of the meeja commentary machine, it is run by out of touch plutocratic types not used to having their pronouncements scrutinised.
    The point I’m making generally is, “dont just censor or delete; engage with the readership and refute or rebutt, rather than clamp”.
    I don’t expect moderators and others to wholly conquer their own subjectivities- how could I do that when I’m prey to subjectivities of my own?
    But please some sites, stop just automaticaly dumping on folk with contempt prior to investigation.
    At least give a person a hearing before you send her on a tumbrill off to face the Guillotine.

  23. Paul Walter:

    I think this is a very intelligent and useful comment:

    “Don’t just censor or delete; engage with the readership and refute or rebutt, rather than clamp.”

    It’s also a good thing to allow other readers to reply to particular opinions. If they don’t participate, it makes things harder for the moderator.

    Some moderators outside of Bartlett’s Blog axe entire comments, sometimes based on a single objectionable or litigious word, which leaves their blogs relatively devoid of any commentary at all. This is unintelligent because it discourages public participation.

    Dumping on others on blogs doesn’t do anything for a person’s credibility, nor does name-calling or playing the racist card. This often has the effect of shutting down debate in favour of a pointless, non-point-scoring slanging match a la Ozforums.

  24. You’ve been watching that OLO barney, too?
    Most undignified and to my mind NONE of the participants came out of it particularly well.

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