Who Guards the Guardian?

The fastest way to spread an idea is to censor it. Naomi Wolf

Before the internet significantly shifted the goalposts, like most people, EYE tended to rely on only one or two trusted media outlets to tell me what was going on in the world and, to a fair extent, what my opinion should be about it.

My own personal information dual carriageway tended to include the (apparently) left of centre Guardian.  Even now that a superhighway of options allow for a more holistic approach to news consumption, I still have a soft spot for it.  After all where else could I go to find things like live updates direct from Kate Bush’s first stage performance in 35 years.

Which is why I was so disappointed to discover the level of contempt it’s editorial team really have for people like me.

When I say people like me, what I really mean to say is people like men.  A curious business model, given that 49% of their potential readership are biologically anchored to that perspective.

In fairness, I personally think their approach indirectly short changes the majority of women as well but for now let’s stick to my experience of direct sex discrimination.

comment

The problem began soon after I signed up for a Guardian user account which allows you to contribute to discussions BTL (below the line) of most of their articles.

After submitting a grand total of (count them) four comments, I was surprised to wake up one morning to discover that my account had been flagged for something called ‘pre-moderation’.

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For the uninitiated: ‘pre-moderation’ is a special measure Guardian’s discussion moderators employ ‘in isolated situations [where] a particular user may be identified as a risk, based on a pattern of behaviour (e.g. spam, trolling, repeated/frequent borderline abuse). Less than 1% of users experience this special ‘temporary‘ measure which ‘should result relatively quickly in either their posting ability being suspended completely or the filter being removed’.

So long story short, I had been identified as a risk based on a ‘pattern of behaviour’ established by two comments and therefore all of my future contributions had to be pre-screened before appearing on the site in case I said something naughty or rude.

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Both of the (count them) two ‘offending’ posts had included links to relevant pages on my blog, so at first I figured I must have transgressed some golden rule about directing readers away from the mothership.

To a certain extent I was right, in so far as this was the initial explanation I received from one of the Moderators.  Nevertheless it all seemed a bit heavy handed and unconvincing, especially given that the moderation guidelines clearly state that the Guardian actually encourages contributors to link to their own blogs, as long as it revealing, relevant, informative and/or provides more background or context about a particular perspective…

Q: Can I link to my own blog?
A: We encourage contributors to the Guardian website to include links to content which is revealing, relevant, informative and/or provides more background or context about a particular perspective, situation or topic. That means it’s OK to link to specific posts on your own blog when it’s appropriate, given the guidelines above.

Given the (apparent) epidemic of sexist trolling, I suspected that perhaps the moderators are particularly twitchy around articles inviting discussions about gender equality and it quickly became apparent that this was the real reason for my undignified fast tracking to the naughty step.

A quick enquiry on the twitterverse suggested that this was in fact standard operating procedure, with various followers explaining how they had been put in ‘special measures’ or even banned entirely after radical feminists had flagged their entirely constructive comments as ‘abussive’.

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This explanation certainly made more sense because both of my allegedly ‘offensive’ but entirely ‘on topic’ contributions were BTL of articles by the Guardian’s poster girl for fourth wave feminism, Laura Bates.  One generated a lot of traffic to an entirely relevant (and hopefully) informative analysis of Mx Bates’ apparent reluctance to document examples of everyday sexism experienced by men (except when it suits her preferred perception of patriarchy).

A bit of further research established that censorship of perfectly palatable polite male perspectives is actually a common occurrence.  Ultimately this revelation has convinced me to pay a monthly subscription in return for some proper journalism but after one user informed me that they had been in ‘pre-moderation’ for over 18 months, I pledged to see my ‘temporary special measure’ experience to a conclusion and keep track of moderation decisions along the way.

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This quickly lead to a number of actual transgressions of the ten sacred community commandments as I discovered that first rule of comment is free club is that you do not discuss the rules of comment is free club.

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Article: Women are silenced online just as in real life it will take more than twitter to change that.

Censored comment: Dr Martin, are you aware of any research to establish if there is evidence of direct sex discrimination arising from the way moderators currently moderate?

If you want to discuss the moderation rules you have to contact the moderators directly and if the moderators don’t want to discuss the rules with you they will simply ignore you.

ryan

After a month of daily contributions and despite some relatively random and inconsistent outcomes it became clear that I was only really being screened out of conversations about gender equality. Even light hearted humour on the theme couldn’t get past the cold hearted censors once they had me in their sights….

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Article: Ryan Gosling directing Lost River interview

Censored comment: How come all the right wing radical feminists are all so hot to trot for this guy?

Article: Mrs, Ms or Miss – why do forms require women to reveal their marital status (by Myf Warhorse)

Censored comment: When I first read this headline I thought that ‘Myf’ was being proposed as some sort of protest alternative.

Cold hearted, censorious and completely inconsistent as comments with links to my blog on heavily censored discussion threads sometimes passed the pre-screening exercise.  Including one linking to my examination of the Guardian’s quite remarkable approach to moderation.

And so after initially talking himself into a corner with his interpretation of the rules, my moderator simply started ignoring me as soon as I enquired about the Guardian’s policy on equal opportunity.

Fortunately by this stage I had discovered that the Guardian have a ‘reader’s editor’, so I decided that the next inevitable step was to raise the matter with him.

Predictably enough, and despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, one of Mfy Elliot’s assistants advised me that issues with moderation didn’t fall within their remit and very helpfully forwarded my request straight back to the moderation team who were already ignoring me.

When I pointed out the fact that the moderation team had already completely ignored my request to lodge an equal opportunity complaint, the reader’s editor office took the mature precaution of simply ignoring me also.

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By this stage I was two months into my ‘temporary’ pre moderation experience and had pretty much exhausted my analysis of the acceptable boundaries…

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Article: Koç pops up at Bilderberg: could this be the year to let it all hang out?

Comment: Cock.

Article: Yvette Cooper team accused of implying Labour needs leader to be a parent.

Comment: Balls.

I also appeared to have also exhausted any ‘right of appeal’ and so after my ‘temporary pre-moderation’ status passed the five month mark, I decided it was about time to assert the ‘rights’ afforded to me under the Equality Act 2010.

Personally, like George Carlin, I prefer to think of them as ‘privileges’ because in reality you don’t have a ‘right’ to equality of opportunity if someone as innocuous as the Reader’s Editor of the Guardian can decide that you don’t.

Ultimately, wether it’s a right or a privilege, the difference that makes all the difference sometimes only comes when you decide to assert yourself. So I decided to switch gears and get in touch with the man of the people one more time…

I’d be grateful if you would confirm who within the Guardian Media Group is responsible for investigating complaints under the Group’s Equal Opportunity policy.

My understanding is that Section 29 of the Equality Act 2010 provides protection for service users from unfair discrimination and I would like to make a complaint about the Comment is Free Service. EiB

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Remarkably, despite initially asking for some more detail about the nature of my complaint, the Reader’s Editor reverted back to la la la not listening mode, at least to the extent that they ignored my replies and my request to advise who within the Guardian is responsible for equal opportunities.

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Happily, I’m guessing that they didn’t ignore me entirely because when I assertively notified the moderation team that they had seven days to remove the ‘temporary’ pre-moderation measure from my account…their response was surprisingly compliant….

I’m happy to inform you that your account has been taken out of pre-mod, as I’m satisfied you have a handle on what is and isn’t appropriate.  Senior Community Moderator

Freedom of speech was restored and, for a time, I was allowed to make lengthy and unrestrained but ‘on topic’ observations on such things as Laura Bates’ extremely disingenuous understanding of the term Feminazi.

Sadly such equitable treatment ended soon enough when my perspectives on domestic violence and austerity cuts to state services where confined to the memory hole on the basis of community commandment number 8.  In other words my male perspective was not ‘relevant’ because domestic violence and ‘austerity cuts are clearly ‘women’s issues’.

After all this time EYEis still trying to find someone who will reasonably consider my complaint but I suspect I am wasting my time.

A common complaint BTL (and I assume a proposed justification for my treatment) is that men are crowding out discussions about women’s gender equality issues and consequently intimidating fragile feminists from making their own contribution.

Realistically this argument is as ridiculous as it is a plainly passive aggressive attempt to censor anyone who strays too far from the extremely fourth wave feminist editoral party line.

Why Guardian do we have to always have comments open, it is nothing more than a platform for hate speech. Rodin (regular contributor to a popular hate speech platform).

In recent years The Guardian has been increasingly accused of dumbing down and generating click bait for the principal purpose of generating revenue streams.

Editors are chasing more readers for less money, and the way to make money is to attract as many readers and keep them on the site so they can soak up the ads. It doesn’t have to be lowest common denominator journalism—the Guardian is trying to become a global site for serious English-speaking readers—but most of the time it is. Nick Cohen

One of the consequences of this strategy appears to include the regular promotion of intensely radical, separatist, petty, censorious and sometimes illogical political opinions of a feminist nature.

Fair enough as far as it’s fair enough, but these articles proactively invite discussion below the line so it’s a bit childish to complain when hardly anyone agrees with the proposed opinion.

If a discussion thread is predominately populated by people challenging aspects of the columnist’s preferred narrative or pointing out some of the inherent contradictions then perhaps the Guardian should consider listening to the message now and again instead of constantly shooting the messengers.  After all, where else is a bloke supposed to go to voice a perspective on equality that is generally ignored and often ridiculed.

Having sat on the sidelines watching this interaction for some time, I finally decided to join in last spring. For the same reason that I started this blog, I believe that it’s increasingly important that men engage in the ‘equality debate’ in a constructive, coherent, competent but confident manner. A belief that was originally informed by a niave perception that most men currently involved in the debate were angry mysogynistic neanderthals who spent most of the time tweeting rape threats.

As it turns out, this perception of so called “MRA’s” is largely mythical, albeit understandable given the mainstream media’s mocking and insistence that it is predominately men who discourage open, honest and inclusive discussions.

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Article: Why do fewer women tweet political party hashtags?

.Censored comment: [The Guardian] ‘community’ will comprise of an extremely diverse mix of people who all equally ‘believe’ they have a right to their opinion, along with a right not to be unreasonably offended…everyone is expected to abide by the ’10 Community Commandments’ and have faith in the invisible Guardians to enforce them….[based on my experience]  either someone out there is dangerously disengaged from the concept of reasonable offence or else the Guardians in our community really have become the foot soldiers for people who are prepared to use offence as a weapon to silence opinions that they don’t like. I find that thought extremely offensive indeed. EiB

The Naomi Wolf quote at the top of this page came from her recent article. ‘The fastest way to spread extremism is with the censor’s boot’. Ridiculously 4 out of my 5 attempts to join that discussion were censored so I thought it was appropriate to close with the one comment the Guardian were prepared to agree on…

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Article: ‘The fastest way to spread extremism is with the censor’s boot’.

Approved comment: I really dislike censorship.

You can keep track of my ongoing efforts to find someone who’s prepared to take my equal opportunity complaint seriously here.

“The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?” Lord Leveson 2011

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