Comments on comments

SEE UPDATE BELOW: The HetPat First Directive

I love comments on the internet.

Not all of them, obviously,  some of them are mean and spiteful, some are stupid and ignorant, some are very, very dull. And that’s just mine.

There’s a vile adage in circulation among professional journalists and more self-important bloggers: “Never read the bottom half of the internet.”

Fuck that. The bottom half is the internet; it is the raw, beating heart of the beast. I remember this realm when there was no top half of the internet. All the corporate-sponsored, proprietor-endorsed, Oxbridge-educated interlopers marched in late with their entitlement and their privilege and declared the internet theirs, with the same tactics and the same mindset as the baronets and princes who enclosed the commons in medieval times.

More to the point, I’ve learned so much from the internet, and most of what I have learned has been discovered below the line, not above. I wrote a Cif piece recently and was being heavily slated by a detractor. When another commenter challenged the criticism, he or she replied:

“I wasn’t criticising the article. I didn’t even read it (beyond the headline and a possibly couple more). I almost never read the articles here.”

I loved that. A guy or gal after my own heart. Just jumped straight into the barney below the line without regard to whatever nonsense I might have been spouting.

So, that’s a long way of saying I love getting your comments here. If you’re reading, please tell me what you think, for better or worse. At the previous home of this blog, I was graced with thousands of comments from regular or occasional visitors. We had a few tense exchanges and a few cross words, from me or others. That’s fine. I don’t mind people debating, arguing, squabbling, getting angry, offended or upset. If nothing here produces such reactions from some people occasionally, then I’m failing dismally.

But as is the way of these things, I should probably explain my position on commenting. I will be very, very reluctant to delete comments here. I’m basically an anarchist at heart, and have spent a fair bit of time in anarchist disorganisations over the years. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about anarchy it is that you need a hell of a lot of rules to make it work. So here are a few guidance points I’d like you to bear in mind.

1. The freedom of speech that allows us to be arseholes also allows others to tell us that we’re arseholes. 

That will generally be my policy. If you act like a dick or a twat (gender notwithstanding) do not complain when I tell you you that’s what you’re doing.

I generally believe in free speech, even for arseholes, and if someone is a complete arsehole, I’d rather the evidence were fully visible for all to see.

If you post racist shit, I’ll call you a racist shit, and I’ll ask you not to do it again on my blog.

If you post misandrist or misogynist shit, I’ll call you on it and ask you not to do it again on my blog.

Same goes for homophobia, transphobia, disablism and any other -ism that happens to get my goat.

2. The people here are my friends. 

I know it sounds naff, but trust me on this. You might fall out with each other, but please do me the favour of remembering that the person you’re slagging off and abusing is quite possibly someone dear to my heart, and it’s never pleasant to see friends cruelly abusing each other – so please try to talk to other commenters with  civility and respect. And I appreciate it isn’t always easy. I’m writing this as a memo to self more than anything.

3. Freedom of speech does not include the right to silence others

As I’ve explained here, online comments can be used to attempt to intimidate, bully or frighten people off a platform or into silence. Messages that are genuinely hateful or intimidating, whether aimed at individuals or groups, can have the effect of stifling the opinions of others. If, in my judgement, a comment is so abusive, hateful or intimidating that it is likely to drive other readers away from this blog, I will delete it without apology.

Incidentally, I’m generally more tolerant of abuse aimed at me than abuse aimed at others. Whatever else happens, you’re not getting me to shut up. So long as you understand I bite back, then knock yourself out. But please be as pleasant to each other as you can.

4. This is not an ideological safe space for anyone.

One thing I love about the comments I get is that they come from feminists, non-feminists and anti-feminists, MRAs and egalitarians from left, right and centre. Some I agree with, some I don’t, on all sides. I like it like that.

I’ll get jolly cross if anyone attempts to claim this site for any movement, so if you are upset to encounter a feminist voice or an MRA or anyone else here, then I’m afraid that’s your problem, not mine. Don’t look to me to intervene, and don’t try to bully unfavoured voices off the site. (See pt 3.)

5. The referee’s decision is final.

I’m making no promises about where and how I may or may not intervene. Any deletions or bannings or stiff talkings to will entirely depend upon what kind of day I’ve had. Sue me.


UPDATE, JULY 2013: The HetPat First Directive

Following a discussion thread about moderation, I agreed with the regular commenters here that there should be an extra rule, which I hereby dub The HetPat First Directive.

Thou shalt not generalise about gender activist movements or judge people’s arguments by their association.

What this means in practice is that I shall consider moderating any comments that make sweeping generalisations about feminists, MRAs or any similar group. This is not because all such generalisations are necessarily false (although in my view they usually are) but simply because such sweeping generalisations act, almost without exception, to derail threads and discussions, spark angry reactions and foster an atmosphere that is corrosive to debate. More discussion on the HetPat First Directive here.


And that’s about it. I reserve the right to change my mind about anything, anytime, ever. Does that seem fair? Why don’t you leave a comment.  I’ll probably ignore it. That’s my privilege.