Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Spencer’s ongoing moderation problems
A Jihad Watch post appeared the other day, specially devoted to the problem Spencer has been having with comments now and then that allegedly advocate egregious actions such as racism and genocide.
I say “allegedly” for two reasons: first, I have not seen these comments; and secondly, I am not entirely comfortable entrusting the categorization of these comments to Spencer, given both his McCarthyesque comportment with relation to the whole Vlaams Belang controversy (see my previous four essays here on this blog), and his generally obstinately prickly tenacity in holding on to certain of his opinions even when someone offers cogent counter-arguments—and then suddenly dropping the matter without addressing his interlocutor’s points (he has done this with me three times in the last month alone, and a couple of times in the distant past).
Regardless of the problem of proper categorization of the offense, we can concede and take for granted that there exist out there people who will post comments on JW that are offensive and cross the line into racism and genocide—and that among such comments are a few that are meant to sabotage the Jihad Watch project by making it appear as though Jihad Watch to one degree or another countenances such sentiments.
Given this, it seems to me that Spencer is not doing all he can do to manage this problem better.
One thing he can do is tighten up his semantics. On today’s post, for example, Spencer declares, vaguely, that:
If you advocate the violent suppression of those with whom you disagree, you are not welcome here. . .
That is a curious way of putting the offense. What kind of a psychopath would advocate the violent suppression of those with whom he “disagrees”? When I read that, it took an enormous amount of self-control for me to suppress my desire to post a comment in the form of this rhetorical question:
How about if we advocate the violent suppression of those who want to behead us and blow us up? Will we also be “not welcome here”...?
For that is the point which Spencer seems to be, with gingerly caution, fastidiously stepping around. A little later in his post, Spencer lifts a little finger in the general direction of sketching out what he has, thus far, only vaguely been proscribing:
. . .comments that are genocidal, advocating vigilantism, racist, etc. . . .
This is not enough. Spencer needs to write out an official manifesto that definitively expands upon his disclaimer, and keep that manifesto permanently available and visible on the Jihad Watch marquee.
The manifesto should contain the following:
1) A summation of the whole issue and problem, in a single paragraph of approximately 200 words—including:
a) the importance of the value of maintaining a balance between the encouragement of free speech and the difficulties of identifying offensive comments in a timely manner;
b) the difficulty, given the lack of a paid staff at Jihad Watch devoted to moderating comments, of the ongoing operation of identifying offensive comments in a timely manner;
c) the potential damage such offensive comments can have to the reputation of Jihad Watch, along with the issue of likely saboteurs who plant such comments in order to try to sabotage Jihad Watch;
d) an argument defending the position that the presence of offensive comments now and then at Jihad Watch should not lead anyone of intelligence and fairness to believe that the reputation of Jihad Watch is really damaged by that presence.
2) An exhaustive list of all the categories of comments that will be deemed unwelcome at Jihad Watch / Dhimmi Watch.
3) Arguments for the definition of the offensiveness of each category listed in #1, bifurcated into two super-categories:
a) those categories whose offensiveness lends itself to ambiguity and debate (e.g., vigilantism and racism);
b) those categories whose offensiveness is self-evident and universally agreed upon (e.g., genocide).
For those items under (b), the argument supplied would not try to support the defnition of offensiveness, but would rather clarify what kinds of speech constitute the offense. This function of argumentation should also pertain to every item, whether under (a) or (b).
4) Links to all previous articles, within Jihad Watch as well as elsewhere, wherein this issue has reared itself.
5) Verbatim quotes of a few of the offensive comments over the years—particularly the one that Ibrahim Hooper of C.A.I.R. used on the Paula Zahn show (which Spencer mentions in the post we are talking about, but never actually quotes).
6) And finally, a reminder to the reader of the manifesto that the argumentation defining types of offensive speech, along with the concomitant operation of identifying actual instances of speech that comport with the definitions—even in the best of circumstances with a paid staff of round-the-clock moderators— , is not an exact science, and that sometimes it is difficult to determine if a given written expression fits the definition.
With this manifesto published and permanently available on the Jihad Watch marquee, Spencer will never again have to go to the trouble of crafting a post every time this issue crops up. All he will have to do, any time somebody tries to smear JW with reference to the existence of offensive comments, is simply cite the manifesto.
An additional benefit of such a manifesto is that it will provide more clarity for all the people of good will who comment on Jihad Watch, giving them more of a guideline on what passions to rein in when their understandable rage and pride (in the Oriana Fallaci sense) gets the better of their emotions as they respond in a comments field to the reportage of yet another outrageous Islamic atrocity.