By Tony Attwood, publisher of Untold
A few days ago a comment appeared on Untold which struck me as very odd. It said…
“guys every time you delete a comment that does not resemble yours your no better than ISIS as far as I’m concerned apart from the unfortunate killing of innocent people. Free speech !!!!!!”
This occurred just at the time of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, something that affected me far more greatly than any other appalling atrocities during my lifetime, primarily because of its direct relevance to freedom of speech.
Now I am not trying to discuss the outrage in Paris – there are many many sites far better suited for and equipped for that job. So, please let’s not go there. But the issue is that the writer compared Untold to ISIS because we did not publish his comment.
In fact, as it happened, the only reason we hadn’t published the comment up to that point was the fact that the writer had not written in before from that computer location, and so his comment was held in moderation, and we didn’t have anyone handling moderation that night.
But the point the writer made, just at the time of the direct attack on freedom of speech in Paris, gave me pause for thought.
Although constantly accused of acting otherwise, I’ve always tried to keep Untold open to commentaries of all types, but month by month, since we started seven years ago, it has become harder and harder to do so not least because of the huge rise of late in people writing in, dismissing our entire research base with a couple of sentences saying exactly the opposite to what we’ve said, but supplying no supporting data for their view, and indeed saying the same thing as had been said by others many times before.
And that is at the heart of our issue of freedom of speech. Is it really worth publishing the same type of comment backed up by no evidence over and over and over again? I think not, because all it does is put off people with something original to say, or people with evidence to back up their thoughts. We publish the same old same old, and lose the insightful new ideas.
There are around a quarter of a million comments on this site that you can go and read – I don’t want to stop them coming in, but I don’t see the point of buying ever more web storage space to see the same message repeated over and over.
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And yet, for years, I have been publishing such comments along with a reply that says something like, “We’ve published our conclusions based on a wide range of research and inferences drawn from evidence that we have also published, while you have simply stated that this position is unfounded. If you would care to consider our evidence and then come back with yours, we can have a debate.”
But to return to the man who compares Untold to ISIS, original comment is not without interest…
Ahhh yes the blame game continues. Blame everybody else bar the one person the blame actually starts and stops with, you know the man that has final say on everything the man that if he has a plan “we follow it if he doesn’t we just shut up”. Just answer one question for me ” Do you believe Arsene Wenger can win Arsenal FC a major Trophy in the next 2+ years”
That is a comment we receive here very regularly and as I say we have published it quite a few times, with detailed answers, but after a while it gets boring. I’ve said so many times that I think we will win more trophies – do I have to keep saying that each time someone writes in and demands an answer?
But after that comment wasn’t published I got some more abuse from the same source, the gist of which that I was gutless for not publishing his comments.
The notion that somehow this particular person has an absolute right to comment on Untold is, for me, at least, odd. Does he imagine there is some sort of constitution in the UK that says that everyone has the right to comment? Does he think that saying that Untold is on a par with the Islamic State is likely to influence us into turning to his way of thinking? Or is he just being abusive? I am really not sure.
And more bizarrely does he actually think that after nearly 5000 articles we have not actually got a body of evidence upon which the views propagated in Untold are based? What does he think Walter has been doing all these years?
Indeed leaving aside the abusive commentary, what he seems to be wanting is that he is allowed to put a point of view that is contrary to the viewpoint expressed on the banner headline of this site, and then demand the right to dictate that his point should be debated. So presumably on the basis that he can’t influence what is debated in the House of Commons or in the Financial Times, they too are also no better than ISIS.
Overall this approach seems to be somewhat like me writing to the Daily Mail and saying, “everyone knows that immigrants from Europe contribute more to the financial well being of the UK than they take out in benefits; do you really think that by trying to pull us out of the EU anything will get better?” and expecting it to be published. The difference between Untold and the Mail is that the Mail would not even publish my viewpoint if I backed it up with a lot of relevant and well-sourced data, whereas anyone who writes in giving a contrary view to that proclaimed on the site, with the same level of evidence as we give to support our views, does get a hearing.
Perhaps more than anything else it is like writing to a Bolton fans blog saying “supporting Bolton is stupid” and expecting that to be published and claiming that they are no better than ISIS if they don’t.
And yet that is the sort of thing (obviously about Arsenal and Arsene Wenger not Bolton) that we get day after day by the hundreds. For yes, we’ve got about quarter of a million comments published on this site, but we’ve had the same amount again that have not been published. If anyone thinks I am being unreasonable in doing that, I suggest they set up a blog and get it up to the readership level of Untold, and then see how you cope with the barrage of abusive and irrelevant comments that turn up each day.
There’s no absolute freedom of speech, as Blacksheep pointed out to me most clearly on Sunday as we discussed these matters driving to London, (we do take these things seriously at Untold and spend ages agonising over such issues. But beyond that, as publisher I know that if I don’t put some sort of focus and control on the debate, then the really insightful complex commentaries (which are the ones I really value and want to encourage) get lost in the mess of shouting rather pointless repetitive questions and comments and the mindless abuse.
Believing that one has a right to have any comment published on another person’s blog is just stretching freedom of expression to ludicrous proportions – especially when one remembers just how many blogs there are out there run by the aaa.
Anyway, because I’ve got a bit fed up with writing my explanations so often about why I am not publishing comments without any evidential backup, I have written down a rough set of rules that reflect how we are running on the site at the moment. There is a link below. What I should also add is that while we do put some people in long term moderation after they have been abusive once or twice, other people who have really gone too far are just banned from making comments completely, so we don’t have to see what they say, not so much because it is upsetting, but rather because the endless repetition of the same old stuff without evidence is just so dull. That might not be ideal, but it saves time, and it is a damn sight better than the policy of one of our rivals of taking any comment that they don’t like and actually changing it, in order to make fun of the sender.
I think we’ve now done comments and what is and what is not published, to death, so let’s leave the topic now. I hope you understand, and if not, I’m sorry, but there are many, many blogs out there that don’t work on an evidence base and do have a totally opposing point of view to that espoused on the front page of Untold. And there are many much more important topics to talk about than whether I choose to publish a particular comment or not.
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