Saturday, 12 November 2011

Hate Speech On Nottingham Post Website - Off Topic Post of the Week

The Nottingham Post website comment moderators are guilty of a serious lapse of judgment at the moment, regularly allowing disgusting hate speech comments despite them being reported. In fact, they are more likely to remove posts challenging the hate speech while leaving the original post online.

Let me give you some examples of posts that remain despite being reported -

On this article about an organisation on refugee issues -

“We spend to much money and devote too many resources to Asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, the overwhelming majority of people do not want them here and they add nothing to our society other than debt."

“Brainwash them young. I wonder if the stories will tell how they passed through several safe countries, which they are obligated under conventions to seek asylum in first, before they came to easy touch Britain.”

“Will this exhibition be in the fiction section ?”

“Guess what, Erik, the vast majority of people don't want any more ''asylum seekers'. They go on what they see in real life, not what they've read in Das Kapital.”

In addition, a commenter made justified criticisms about Israel in the comments and this was removed immediately. I also wrote a more detailed post providing details of the oppression of Palestinians by the Israelis and that was also removed within hours. However repeated posts libelling the first poster as an anti-semite have been left up. That is just not acceptable.

Now let's have a look at this one about the Market Square occupation, a demonstration that I fully support -

"These people serve no purpose what so ever...This bunch of campers are no better than a beggar apart from they get away with begging."
Nicely bringing 'beggars' in here...

"...perhaps the benefits agency should take an interest just to see who is actually not actively looking for a job, or supposedly too ill to work ???"

Ah yes, the 'benefit cheats' meme, always a winner.

"...water cannon the lot"
Absolutely, a bit of violent oppression never goes amiss after all...

"...just remember what today is" (posted on Remembrance Armistice Day)
BOOM! Internet smackdown. Evoking poppies/our boys/Remembrance Day ALWAYS wins the argument, no matter what you're trying to say. Mint Imperials are MUCH nicer than Werthers originals, JUST REMEMBER WHAT DAY IT IS.

This is where it got a bit nasty. I have previously admitted to having mental health problems so when this type of comment comes up -

"veggiesosage - keep taking the tablets they dont appear to be working"

I reserve the right to get a bit upset. Despite reporting it this comment is still there. I tried adding a riposte but it was immediately removed, although does now appear to have been allowed. I would much rather both the above comment and my reply were removed.

Moving on to an article about the government's work programme where your punishment for being unemployed is being made to work for free sweeping up a Tesco warehouse -


Nice use of capslock there. Textbook.

"To many people rely on benefits its about time they get kicked up their ****s end of"

That benefits cheat/scrounger meme combined with violence. There's a lot of that.

"The very least that the long-term unemployed should be made to do is get up in the morning and sign in at 7:30am at an unemployment centre, stay there all day and sign out at 5pm... That would, at least, keep some of them away from crime, working on the side or watching TV all day...If they don't want to do it then no benefits of any kind should be offered."

See? Often combined with "THEIR ALL CRINIMULS" logic.

" doesn't need trained nurses to see if frail patients need a drink or help being fed. Equally cleaning up road verges and canal tow paths isn't putting someone out of a paid job."
Ok, I accept that simple galloping inaccuracy is not the same as hate speech but the person who made that comment is a former benefits office manager. Not only should he know better but imagine being a claimant at his office eh? You'd be replacing nurses and council roadsweepers within the week.

It's too depressing to go on with this. You might think me rather sad for joining in with such conversations never mind getting upset about it and you may well have a point. But I find it very hard to stand by when blatant fascist rhetoric is encouraged and supported on a public 'news' website.

From what I've been told the 'moderators' are probably journalism interns based at the Daily Mail (the Post's owners) headquarters in London. They clearly have no proper understanding of racism, disablism or classism and will probably fit in very nicely in their future career as Mail 'journalists'. Unfortunately their actions reflect very badly on the Post, whose journalism I generally have a great deal of time for.


Comment allowed on refugee exhibition article by 'john_carlton'

"Now you know where the marxist Veggie and Neilant get their anti-semitism from. It is politilically driven, bigoted, racist hate - no different from the type trotted out by the old National Front. And no different to the attitudes of the those have persecuted Jews through the ages."

Addendum; This is the comment that the Nottingham Post repeatedly removes, without explanation -

"John_carlton you really need to look up what 'anti-semitism' means. The Semitic peoples includes a number of peoples not just Jewish people. For example it includes Arabs. As Israel is among the countries with the worst records of oppressing Arabs, particularly the Bedouin people who are being subject to enforced removal from their ancient lands in the Negev desert. It was even reported that Israel tried to sue the Bedouin for eviction costs.

Of course Israel's record of brutal repression of the Palestinians is well known. They are also one of the ancient semitic peoples. Again, forced removal, illegal settlement of their land by Israelis is common, as is punishment of entire communities for the (admittedly criminal) actions of a few individuals. It's a bit like when you were at school and teacher said everybody would be kept late after school if the boy who stole the pencils doesn't own up. Only with helicopter gunships.

It is therefore fair to say that the Israeli government is one of the most anti-semitic institutions on the planet.

It's also worth remembering that only a tiny number of the world's Jewish people are Israelis in the nation-state sense.

So to conflate 'criticism of Israel' with 'anti-semitism' is wildly inaccurate and I can only assume that you continue to do so for your own reasons, not for any real concern for Jewish people.

Israel's secret service, Mossad, regularly engages in planned state-sponsored assassinations of Israel's political enemies, mostly Palestinians. In a recent case, Mossad agents used stolen British passports to get near to their target.

Still want to try and argue that criticism of Israel is invalid? All of these traits mean that comparison of the world's most oppressive regimes in history, including the Godwin's Law defying one, is not inappropriate. Claiming equivalence is going too far I agree but the idea is that we are supposed to learn from the mistakes in history but Israel's treatment of those it considers its enemies questions how well they at least are doing that. Our government's support for them also questions ours.

The final irony is a group of people happily demonising refugees while accusing another of anti-semitism. Before the war certain right wing media continually denied pre-war Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jews and continually argued against accepting Jewish refugees to the UK (I won't name the newspaper concerned but it rhymes with Waily Fail). You, John_carlton and your racist friends on here would have been standing shoulder to shoulder with such people and you are their equivalent today. At least the Post is presenting refugee issues in a neutral light."

Nottingham Post readers; you decide whether the above breaches their comment terms and conditions but please do check the context if you think it does.

Whoever john_carlton actually is he is clearly a disgusting fascist and it is appalling that the Post repeatedly subjects its readers to his Nazi sympathising opinions and allows him to run a sustained harassment campaign falsely accusing others of anti-semitism.

If you agree with the above and you're on Twitter please have a pop at Tom Pegg, [Tom tells me he has made representations to Northcliffe Media which is probably all he can do] the Post's online publisher. I suspect even he isn't entirely responsible for moderating Nazi sympathising posts but he's certainly a lot nearer whoever does than the actual journos are.


Peter said...

I thought it was you who had joined the NEP message boards recently Andy. Yep, there's some real hatred and filth posted up there. All we can do is keep on chalenging. Although I will not be drawn into any furthur discusion with the facsist from Carlton.

Nice one Andy.

Andy said...

Actually I've been on there a while Peter, used to post as Andy, location;

The Post's moderators are appalling. Even the online publisher claims he has no influence over the comments which I find odd.

ErikPetersen said...

Hi Andy,

I'll start by saying that I don't think your comment should have been taken down. I suspect - and I'm guessing here - that it was nothing more than a moderator receiving a "religious abuse" message, looking at your post, thinking "Wow, that's long", and just hitting delete.
I would also humbly suggest that you might be a more efficient debater if you made your points more quickly, and tried not to fall for the off-topic bait so much. A three-paragraph story on an asylum seeker exhibition in local libraries is not really the place to debate the state of Israel and what "anti-semitic" really is. Quit letting those people dictate the terms of the debate.
Beyond that, I have to say that I don't really agree with you on the need to delete most of the posts you quote. To be sure, I disagree with them. But I believe we on the left have to live in the world.
The posts you quote mostly express views that are widely held in British society. Many of them are reflected in British governmental policies.
If we try to get rid of it by simply hitting "delete" or running to the mods, we don't really change anything. You need to let their comments stand, debate them and calmly refuse to get sidetracked when they start getting tied up in their own flawed arguments and try to change the subject onto whether or not you're "racist".
I've been called a facist, a racist, a champagne socialist, an ignorant redneck (partially guilty, m'lord) and more silly things than I can remember right now. It's what people say when they don't have anything to add to what I've actually written. It's my napalm in the morning - smells like victory.
You have useful points to make, but if you don't mind me saying I think a better solution than the delete button would be for you to continue playing the ball when they try to play the man.

Erik Petersen

Andy said...

Erik, what you say is all very arguable.

However, even I'm not naive enough to think it's a 'debate' going on here. I have absolutely no hope of convincing the john_carltons of this world of anything but other people read the comments and I want them to be able to see properly argued and evidenced challenges, boring as 'properly argued and evidenced' tends to be. But at least they're there. Or were until the moderators came in.

As for the debates about Israel, considering that Israel appears to be preparing to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities I cannot think of a single place where putting the argument that criticism of Israel doesn't equal anti-semitism is not appropriate. I am pretty much on the verge of taking biros into public toilets and writing it on the toilet paper. It's constant right game to play because it allows them to look concerned about racism when of course they are no such thing.

Again, and I can't reiterate this too many times, the irony of people demanding that asylum seekers be sent back to die and then bemoaning anti-semitism on a website owned by the Daily Mail with that organ's honourable history of saying the same about Jewish refugees before the war sends me into a tailspin.

Anti-semitism is quite a nasty charge to make against someone and if made inappropriately against someone should always be challenged. Instead your moderators removed the post criticising Israel and have left all the anti-semitism accusations up.

Despite me repeatedly reporting the 'keep taking the tablets' comment, telling them that I suffer from mental health problems, it is still there. I'd like to know how that fits into the commenting T+Cs. And while I don't give a tiny shit about the wanker who actually said it, I find the fact that it hasn't been remove pretty crushing and it really is a good job that I have no way of finding out who the moderator responsible is or I would be buying my ticket to London, only stopping off at the baseball bat shot. leaving it up there is utterly, comprehensively indefensible.

And that's the nub isn't it? The comment moderation is piss-poor, inconsistent and bears no notion to the T+Cs they claim to be upholding. Whoever is doing it is not fit to polish turds. The fact that your paper's journalists, the editor or even the online publisher all claim to have no say in the process is beyond the pale. That's an issue that needs exposing. You might want to make some noises about the issue internally as well because at the end of the day it's you and your colleagues that it reflects on, not a bunch of twatty journo interns at Northcliffe house.

ErikPetersen said...

Stop thinking for a moment about the person you're arguing against - because you're right, you'll likely never change his mind. Think about the third person who might be reading all this. If that person reads you acting relentlessly reasonable and calmly pointing out facts while the other guys get increasingly shrill and start calling you racist or anti-semitic or whatever, you win. You seem reasonable, they seem unhinged. An out-of-the-blue charge of anti-semitism doesn't make you sound anti-semitic, it makes them sound desperate. Let it go.

Regarding the other bit, it's not an online moderator's job to know your backstory. If I read something like "Keep taking the meds, they're not working", I'd probably think it's a cheap schoolyard taunt. Any moderator - Northcliffe, the BBC, the Guardian etc - has to wade through lots of those. It's not their job to know what might be particulary offensive to everybody. It is your job to only share the things you can handle sharing.
I have to say, I really don't know why you'd want to reveal highly personal things about yourself on anonymous sites where insults are everyone's stock-in-trade.
Finally, I'd say that if you want to stick up for decent thought on the internet, you might not want to include something about wanting to find out who somebody is and then go find them with a baseball bat. It makes me question how different you really are from the people you like to tangle with on the internet. It's what a keyboard warrior/bully says, and I would have thought it would be beneath you.

Andy said...

Erik, it IS the job of a moderator to take into account my backstory when I tell them about it when reporting the comment. Again, leaving that comment up there is utterly indefensible and reflects badly on The Post and everyone who works there.

As for the wisdom of giving personal details on the internet, firstly it was relevant at the time, I'm not embarrassed about having mental health problems and I shouldn't be expected to keep such things secret to avoid being bullied. You wouldn't tell someone who challenged a racist comment with 'I'm black and I find that racist comment offensive' to keep their ethnic origin secret. I don't regard the simple fact that I have mental health problems as 'highly personal' any more than I do my skin colour. Sometimes it's relevant to bring it up to demonstrate how damaging disability hate speech is.

I naively thought that the moderators would consistently apply their T&Cs and remove comments like that. Clearly that's not the case and I know that now.

For the record it wasn't me who made the initial post criticising Israel and as such it wasn't me who was accused of being an anti-semite. I simply supported the person who was with a carefully argued comment as to why the charge was inappropriate. It was removed.

What's the point of having a comments system if it's not taken seriously?

As for the baseball bat comments this is my blog and I very occasionally allow myself the luxury of dropping down a level. I reserve the right to very occasionally use intemperate language to express the level of frustration I feel. Anybody who reads my content regularly will know that such comments have no substance. If somebody wants to use it as an excuse to write me off as a 'keyboard warrior' then fuck 'em. Perhaps I should sub-contract the modding of my comments to Northcliffe's finest?

ErikPetersen said...

Most threatening language on the internet has no substance. That doesn't mean it makes the writers sound like people whose opinions ought to be taken seriously.

TomPegg said...

Hi Andy,

As you have already made clear, I’m the digital publisher for This Is Nottingham. I know you find it odd that neither I nor any of my colleagues at the Post are involved in comment moderation, but it is not a lie. But despite playing no part in the comment moderation, I have been brought into this argument and feel I should respond in person. So here’s an explanation of the situation from where I stand.

The website, as with all the sites in the This Is Network, is owned by Northcliffe Digital Publishing (NDP). NDP, and not the newspapers, has responsibility for the comments left on the site, and they have a trained comments moderation team which handles the entire This Is Network using the approach of ‘post moderation’.

'Post-moderation' means a comment will only be looked at by the moderators once a member of the public has reported it. It is currently considered the safest legal approach a web publishing company can take to comment moderation, as it absolves the publisher of responsibility for the comment until it is flagged up for the publisher’s attention by a member of the public.

If the publisher chose not to take the post-moderation approach, it would mean it was legally responsible for every comment published on its network. Because of the sheer volume of comments left across the This Is Network, it is simply not realistic that a moderation team would be able to view, and make an informed legal judgment, on each one. This is not a safe legal position to adopt, and when it comes to something like this, the legal considerations have to come first.

Of course, if NDP can only moderate comments that are flagged up, then it relies on a certain amount of self-policing from the site’s users. If users fail to report offensive comments, then the moderators won’t be able to act. But once they are notified, they will deal with the comment in what is considered to be a reasonable period of time (I’m afraid I don’t know have the specifics of how long this period of time is).

Unfortunately, yes, the tone and content of the comments and debate on the site can sometimes be disheartening, unappealing, and occasionally simply hateful. And you’re right, that doesn’t reflect well on website, or by association the newspaper. But it is not for the paper to intervene – it is down to the moderators. And those moderators can only respond to comments that they are made aware of. If you report them, they will be looked at.

You have made it clear on this blog what you think of the job the moderators are doing, or as you prefer to call them, the ‘twatty journalistic interns’. In fact these are trained, experienced media professionals who have a tough job to do and who in my opinion do it very well. But much like parking attendants, it’s not the sort of job that is ever going to win you an awful lot of praise – you will only notice them when you think they’ve got something wrong, rather than all the unseen times they’ve got something right.

You also have talked (joked?) about going after one of them with a baseball bat. I think it’s a shame you have allowed your anger about some posts left on a comments thread to spill over into so much open hostility towards the moderators and myself, because it does undermine your point a little. Is anyone really going to take advice on comment moderation from someone who has just branded them a Nazi sympathiser on Twitter? (Nice to meet you too, by the way).

Like I say, I think it’s a shame – because I agree with the underlying principle of all this. I don’t want to see hate speech on our sites either. I don’t want to see it anywhere, actually. I like the world much better when everyone is nice to everyone else. And I wish people would behave more nicely on those comments threads, because it would reflect much better on all of us.



Andy said...

Thanks for your concern Erik but I'm not really over worried about that. Mind you if anybody does tell you "I used to really like that NCCLols blog but since he made the joke about baseball bats I now realise that everything he wrote is entirely untrue. I feel such a fool."

Tom, thanks for joining in you've made some really interesting points there.

I have to be honest I am absolutely staggered at what you've told me about how the moderation system works. I'd always presumed that the 'only remove when reported' bit was just sloppy practice, not that it was by design.

I am also amazed that any media lawyer would advise Northcliffe that operating such a system 'absolves the publisher of responsibility for the comment until it is flagged up for the publisher’s attention'. I'm sorry but it just doesn't. Such an approach is clearly reckless.

It is, on the other hand, clearly the cheapest approach to take and I suspect that plays a bigger part in the decision making on this. I recommend you take a long, careful look at your publishing contract and check that Northcliffe are underwriting your legal costs. I presume you'd consider me liable for any comments on here, even though the comments are hosted by

Ironically the 'keep taking the medication' post has now been removed. This must have taken at least 5 days despite me repeatedly reporting it and explaining why it was particularly affecting me. As I explained to Erik I don't give the most miniscule of turds about that some lowlife decided to post it. However, I do care a great deal that a major media group thought it was acceptable to leave it up there for days despite me repeatedly reporting it. This aspect of the issue contributed to a considerable meltdown I had over the weekend, just so you know that such things have consequences. Nothing you say can justify that failure to act.

But of course, I realise now that the worst aspect of my meltdown was that said that I said that the publisher of a website which was currently publishing extreme right wing and disablist posts might be sympathetic to some of that stuff. I'm not in a position of responsibility at Twitter. I realise how irrational that is now because no reasonable person could POSSIBLY assume that the publisher of a website might be responsible for what goes out on that website. For what it's worth, I now know it's not your fault but you're not really gaining my sympathy by complaining at me for that yet defending the Northcliffe approach.

Thing is Tom, you seem a bit upset by that. Use that insight to try and imagine how I feel. Look at the comment at the top of the page. I've had another message privately from someone saying they won't place comments on the Post site because of the nature of the comments on there. Pretty much all reactions I've had have been supportive of my stance, sometimes combined with a concern about whether I'm ok, following what I posted on Twitter. The only remotely critical reactions I've had are yours and Erik's and you both work there.

TomPegg said...

Thanks for your response. Yes, I can understand your scepticism about the post moderation approach but actually there has been a precedent for this set by a number of court cases in recent years. If you look around you will probably discover that most news publishers in this country do the same.

Here is some further reading for you.

All the best,


Andy said...

Interesting read via that link Tom.

However, my understanding of the state of play regarding internet publishing is that once a publisher can reasonably be expected to be aware of a post then they are responsible for it legally. I would not want to go into court arguing that 'deliberately looking the other way' counts as reasonable. However, I would consider it a grand day out sitting in the public gallery to watch.

Besides, there's libel which I understand is where most of the caselaw has been made, I don't know whether an allegation of vicarious liability for harassment has ever been considered by the courts. Or where the responsibility inciting racial hatred lies. And it still doesn't justify leaving a wholly offensive comment up when it HAS been reported multiple times. And I'm not convinced the argument should just be about legality, hopefully morality might pop its head round the door occasionally.

I would be interested in seeing any caselaw on this subject so if you have any links I'd be grateful if you could pass them on. It's difficult to know what I'm searching for tbh.