Pre-Moderation Policy at CiF?

CiFWatcher, over at the Telegraph blog site, says that CiF has introduced a pre-moderation policy:

CIF has a longstanding problem with antisemitism posted there. … The pattern is that the Editors commission an article from one of their stable of one-sided anti-Israel commentators in the full knowledge that it will open the floodgates to antisemitic comments – it never fails. The Moderators have failed to even spot most of the antisemitic posts – indeed they admit that they rely on readers to do so. A few weeks ago Matt Seaton (the new CIF Editor) was asked about the implication of the changes for the problem of antisemitism on CIF: “Will it mean that the Moderators pick up and delete more of the antisemitic comments, instead of relying on the readers to do it? I hope so.”

His response: “the short answer is yes. I can’t promise you that antisemitic comments and other instances of hate speech will disappear from the site overnight, but (from early June) I think you will notice a progressive improvement.”

So what has happened? What impact did the facelift have?

CiFWatcher has identified a new pattern of pre-moderating comments by posters who are not hostile to Israel. By contrast, comments by some of CiF’s more notorious anti-semitic posters do not appear to be pre-moderated at all. Specifically, CiFWatcher has seen their comments appear immediately after the comment to which they are responding; while the “non-Zionophobes” find that their responses appear “with a delay, if at all”.

CiFWatcher is trying to gain a clearer picture of how CiF’s new pre-moderation policy is being operated:

So any pro-Israel CIF commenters who are now being pre-moderated might like to let me know, on Well, if there are a lot of you, you’d like to know – wouldn’t you – and so would we. 

There are a number of possibilities here. One, as CiFWatcher points out, is that the policy is being applied clumsily but with an attempt at “even handedness”. For example, editors might feel that every time they target a post which suggests that the world is being controlled by a shadowy cabal of Jews, they need to moderate one “pro-Israel” comment, so as to acheive “balance”. Alternatively, CiF editors – with limited time and experience – may not be picking up on the sometimes barely disguised “nudge nudge, wink wink” racism that the more experience anti-semites are adept as slipping into their posts.

The difficulty is that CiF’s pre-moderation policy – like all comment moderation – is inevitably controversial in practice, and has proved a source of rancour. Comment moderation always derails a debate, as the discussion shifts from the topic at hand, and on to the moderation policy.

I can see why CiF has tightened up its moderation policy. I find CiF a very unpleasant place, and neither write nor routinely read the site. In particular, its comments threads are a vile bear pit. Naturally, they should want to do something about it. It is a stain on the reputation of the Guardian.

I should admit, at this point, that although I still have author rights on CiF, I cannot post comments on other commentators’ threads. This is because, some months ago, I refused to promise never to call Inayat Bunglawala “Bungle”. The Guardian decided that their commentators could not be referred to by their nicknames. I suggested that, as they were allowing commentators to refer to politicians by their nicknames – I gave a few examples – nicknames should also be permitted in relation to commentators who themselves were also politicians or public figures. I was told that they regarded “Bungle” as a racist nickname; although the particular editor backtracked when I asked him to explain why he thought that was so.

In any case, I haven’t missed commentating or posting at CiF.

CiF’s real problem is not some problematic posters, who need to be pre-moderated. Moderation is an admission of failure. CiF’s malaise is fundamentally cultural. It invites a certain type of audience, but has failed to create an ethos in which posters take each other on in an effective manner. Then it is surprised that it attracts conspiracy mongers and Holocaust deniers.