The Guardian is a longstanding British newspaper (and now news website) that has for a long time championed left wing and liberal values. The newspaper itself grew out of a liberal non-conformist movement in Manchester during the 1820s. The earlier Manchester Observer had supported the protestors of The Peterloo Massacre (1819), pushing for voting rights (supporting parliamentary reform -bringing an end to rotten buroughs) and promoting literacy among the working class. When the Manchester Observer was then closed down (sued for libel following its publication of accounts from the Peterloo Massacre), the Manchester Guardian somewhat took its place, and later became known simply as The Guardian.
In many ways, then, the Guardian is a newspaper born out of a tension between the industrial north and the governing south in the early Nineteenth century. Founded by a cotton merchant, John Edward Taylor (who opposed the protestors of the Peterloo Massacre), the Manchester Guardian was arguably less radical – and less working class – in nature than the Manchester Observer. But it was still progressive overall, being backed by the Little Circle; a group supporting parliamentary reform; seeking proportional representation. It is worth remembering that, by today’s terms, England was not far from being a feudal society in the early Nineteenth Century. Most men, indeed, did not have the vote until the electoral reforms of 1918 – reforms made famous for allowing some women the vote. These were reforms, broadly speaking, supported by the Guardian at that time.
The scene I am trying to set, and which I think (from researching its history) is broadly true, is that of a liberal newspaper necessarily caught between conservative and progressive forces. A newspaper that I thought would champion freedom of speech, freedom of expression, the rights of people to have a voice. A newspaper broadly associable with modernity, egalitarianism, democracy, the Enlightenment etc etc. A newspaper capable of speaking truth to power, whilst at the same time representing a socially progressive movement forwards, away from the dark ages.
But… They delete comments! They have deleted my comments! They’ve even deleted comments that quote lines from Monty Python!
I have been commenting on Guardian articles for a few years. The comment sections are great places for people to share ideas and trade arguments. In recent years, there have been crunch times when many people have felt compelled to make their feelings and opinions heard. Commenters, for example, would often criticize Tony Blair for his support of the Iraq war, and criticize the Blairs in general for charging huge fees for giving speeches. And then there was the Charlie Hebdo incident, and later the Paris Attacks. People on the left became torn between opposing Islamic extremism and wanting to show support for religious minority groups. I think the Charlie Hebdo incident created a shift in opinion/comment in the Guardian comment sections, because many left wing commenters began to become more openly hostile towards Islamic militancy in Europe. And that’s when the modmins really started to delete comments.
I would often put a lot of thought and effort into writing a comment (a short essay!), only to then see it get deleted. Where my comment once was, a line would take its place:
This comment was removed by a moderator because it did not abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail, see our FAQs.
Part of commenting is reading other comments and commenting on them. It’s a forum where people can bounce ideas off each other. It’s great because you get to learn things from other people. But the deleting of comments would ruin this whole experience, because lots of comments would get deleted, and any responses to those comments would also then get deleted. Typically, people who had put a lot of time and thought into their comments would get pissed off to see their comments deleted. So they would then make a comment to question why their comment had been deleted. Like this:
And guess what?! The Guardian would always then delete those comments! That comment ended up looking like this a few moments later:
The message coming from the Guardian seemed to be that critical comment relating to issues of race, gender, religion etc was verboten. And what’s more, any criticism of the Guardian’s censorship of comments was off the table too. Criticism was not allowed! Meta criticism was definitely not allowed.
And then there’s feminism! The Guardian employs many feminist writers, which is a good thing, because feminism can raise many important and interesting points for everyone. But it deletes so many comments that take issue with feminism, which is a bad thing. Ideas should always be up for discussion and debate. One article that comes to mind is The seven priorities for young feminists today. Many decent comments got deleted on that one. I didn’t manage to copy many of the original comments. The comment ‘Male suicides’ may be short and betray a hint of desperation, but is it a comment worthy of being deleted, when the suicide rate for men is actually very high?:
They deleted ‘Male suicides’ but left ‘Feminism is moribund’. UrbanLeprechaun’s comment “8. Recognise that it is hard being a man” disappeared completely, presumably because his account got deleted (which happens regularly!):
OK, I wish I could have found some better examples of good comments being deleted. But believe me, many long and thoughtful comments have also been deleted, and presumably simply on the grounds that the modmins didn’t like them.
As a Monty Python fan, I particularly hate it when the modmins delete comments that quote lines from Monty Python films. Chuck48 (below) is presumably responding to just having a Monty Python line deleted, so responds by repeating the line ‘The people’s front of Judea will not be silenced’, with a note to the moderator: ‘Learn to take a joke moderator. I was just saying that ever [sic] manifesto sounds like something the PFJ would say:
What has The Guardian come to, in terms of religious of political freedoms, when Monty Python lines are verboten?
As SuperTurboFunkatron so nicely put it, before his/her comment was deleted:
Seems freedom of speech is awesome so long as it’s what people want to hear 😦
Sad face indeed!
So where do we go with this? What can be said about a world where a British newspaper that seemingly stands for freedom of speech is so quick to censor comments that are critically engaging with religion, feminism, politics, war, etc etc?
Perhaps I need to make it my mission to find more examples of decent comments that have been deleted. But if I can just start a ball rolling here, I will be happy, because I haven’t read many other blogs of articles on the Guardian’s deleting of comments. So if anyone else out there reads this, please feel welcome to find more examples and quote them yourself.
I happen to think that freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important rights and obligations we have. I thought that the Guardian would also be supportive of freedom of speech, thought, expression, etc. Perhaps they just need to take stock of this situation and make some changes to if, or how, they moderate their comment sections.
If The Guardian needs to understand one thing, it’s that important and contentious issues should not be shut down as a first option. Anything important is contentious, so there has to be an intelligent conversation around everything, regardless of whether someone, somewhere, will take offense. That’s the hallmark of a civilised society. And if you are deleting Monty Python quotes as a matter of course?! Take a look at yourself!