Jan 20, 2009

Comments Policy on This Blog

The Quadrant hoax, with all the associated fussing and feuding, plus the vitriol associated with debates about the Middle East, has made me realise that I need a comments policy for thi

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

The Quadrant hoax, with all the associated fussing and feuding, plus the vitriol associated with debates about the Middle East, has made me realise that I need a comments policy for this blog.

I watch a lot of blogs. The ones that have consistently quality discussions disallow personal abuse. I don’t think this is in any way undemocratic. Those who want no-holds barred blogs can either start their own, or participate in those that don’t moderate comments.

Trying not to reinvent the wheel, I’ve looked at other blogs’ policies.

John Quiggin says his blog is not public space, given that he publishes it at his own expense and in his own time. “There is no automatic right to comment here,” he says, before laying down some common sense rules.

Andrew Norton asks for comments that are

“civil, relevant, and reasonably concise. Since the bad can easily drive out the good in comments, I’m going to take a hard line against those who use bad language, abuse other commenters, digress too far from the thread’s subject, ramble, or engage in prolonged debates. Comments that breach the policy will be deleted, and the offending commenters put in moderation or banned completely.”

The women behind Skepticlawyer say:

“Keep it civil and all will be fine. Personal slurs directed at us will be deleted. Personal slurs directed at other commenters will be SOONED. The practice – invented by Catallaxy’s Jason Soon – involves the substitution of lavish praise for foul abuse. Defamatory remarks will be deleted, unless you wish to indemnify us for all losses at law. Repeat offenders will go in the moderation filter, possibly permanently.

It should be said that Catallaxy, being run by libertarians, is one of the no-holds barred blogs, so far as I can see.

Larvatus Prodeo has rules about abuse, plus a lot of guidelines on the use of sock puppets and the like.

All well and good. This blog, though, is a little different from those quoted above. Most bloggers blog for the non-financial rewards. As Quiggin says, their blogs are private spaces, not public ones. There has been a hot debate running, as I have highlighted here, about the difference between journalists and bloggers, with the point being made that most bloggers don’t see themselves as journalists. Fair enough, and I’ll have more to say about this on another occasion.

But I am a journalist who blogs. I am doing this blog as part of my work as a journalist, and I do get paid a (very small) amount for doing it. Therefore I think it is analogous (in a pathetically small way) to a media outlet – not a completely public space, but not an entirely private one either. So it is  appropriate to vary the usual rules a little.

So here are some notes towards a policy. I am posting them here  today to invite comment before I finalise them.



In my work on this blog and elsewhere, I regard myself as bound by the Media Alliance Code of Ethics and Press Council principles. I also look at the ABC Editorial Policies for guidance, although many of them are not relevant to an operation like this one, or to freelance journalism.

In particular I will endeavour to report truthfully, correct errors of fact promptly and, within the guidelines laid out below, allow fair right of reply to both factual allegations and expressions of opinion.

Given that part of the purpose of this blog is to discuss journalistic practice, I will make every attempt to be transparent about my ethical decisions, and respond to readers who want to question me about them.


1. Vigorous but civil debate is encouraged.

2. Personal abuse directed at other commenters will be deleted or the comment edited as necessary.

3. Sexist, homophobic and racist comments will be either deleted or edited to remove the offensive material.

4. I will tolerate a higher level of abuse directed at me than I would tolerate against other commenters. Even here, though, there will be limits.

5. Likewise, there will be a higher level of tolerance for abuse directed against public figures, but even here there are limits.

5. I will not allow this blog to be used for unreasonable breaches of personal privacy.

6. I do not intend to be sued for defamation over this blog. If I think a comment places me at risk of this, I will delete or edit as necessary.

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7 thoughts on “Comments Policy on This Blog

  1. Jack Robertson

    Pardon the belated link-whoring, MS, I’ve written a wider bit at my place about the epistemological function of such rules (in a broad sense) in the internet era, in case you or anyone’s interested. S’been a hobby horse for a while.

    “Now more than ever, wandering through this brand new electronic desert, I can think of no more contextualising and steadying literary landmarks than those tended by the same old bastards that have been keeping us brilliant tortured pens down and out of print for centuries now: those nepotistic, lazy, lethargic, self-serving, gatekeeping, elitist, ignorant, tin-eared, ass-kissing, dollar-chasing dead tree foresters.”

  2. VinnieLeSkip

    Reasons why Margaret Simons is one of a kind journo: “4. I will tolerate a higher level of abuse directed at me than I would tolerate against other commenters.”

    Can we replace the middleaged mafia that dominate our newspaper opinion pages with your type of journo?

  3. kasmann90

    It is tedious that folk have to be reminded about these things. A reasonable person would think these guidelines should be second nature to people who read and write, but nope.

  4. Jack Robertson

    Ah, HD, you speak the truth: you most certainly are the Oz blogosphere expert in the application of defamation laws – or threats, hollow or otherwise, there-of – to the fine dark art of…erm…’moderating’ comments threads. Yours and other blogsites’, ahem, ahem. (Right MB? Right KP?) You wild and crazy libertarian you.

    Jus’ teasin’, scep – don’t sue!

  5. Jack Robertson

    If my long-winded burble elsewhere helped bring this on…sorry, and…good.

    These rules look good MS. Don’t get swayed off them by blogosphere meta-criticism (end of the world, doomed, censorship, all that). At MK’s instigation I once tried cack-handedly to do this sort of thing while Contr. Editing Webdiary, and made the easily-heckled mistakes of tying myself in knots over grammatical/house style mouse poo, while also trying to ‘template’ the subjective slack out of those highly-contentious adjectives in your 1, 2 and 3. (My fairly inglorious exchange with Pav at LP demonstrates the ‘one woman’s sexism is another man’s iconoclasm’ dilemma to a t. There-in lies the rub, I guess. (I think that’s where the ‘my blog my rules’ bit works best: you get to be your own one-man HREOC.) Good luck with promulgating-by-repeated-application a consistent set of uncrossable lines re: those ‘isms’ in your good faith reader’s minds. (There’ll be plenty of trolls who’ll push your definitions to the contentious limit just to cry ‘Aha!’. I’ve done it myself, alas. Just press ‘delete’ without a second thought. We get the message eventually.)

    One thing: again mostly with opportunist/gobby court clowns like me in mind I seriously suggest bunging a character-limiter in your comments draft box. A fait accompli word-count restriction on how long we can gob on tends to have a remarkable scarecrow effect on those of us who like the sound of our own pens a little too much – at, for you, time and angst-free moderating cost.

    Good luck with it MS.

  6. Ben

    I’m interested in (6) on defamation. Australia has strong defamation laws, and I think bloggers in Australia do need to worry about falling foul of defamation laws. How do you edit your own posts with defamation in mind? I’m sure your long experience as a journalist helps. On comments, don’t you worry that announcing that you will edit comments for defamation will leave you MORE liable for defamation than if you didn’t edit comments? If you didn’t edit comments for defamation you could argue that any defamatory comments were not comments that you made or controlled. If you do edit for defamation you will have to consider every comment from a defamation point of view. Is this analysis correct?

  7. skepticlawyer

    Good rules, Margaret — you’ll go well. SOONING is fun, however; the problem at Catallaxy was that only Jason and I did it consistently. Both LE and I do it at skepticlawyer, and it works nicely. That said, the defamatory stuff (and being lawyers, we know what that is) just has to go — and straight away, too. It’s just not worth leaving around in comments threads.

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