Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Economist and censorship

One of my comments to an Economist article was deleted. It seems to me that they were wrong and misguided to do so. Or am I being subjective?

I am an old fan of this publication. I started reading it more than 10 years ago and it is still my favourite. Not long ago, I was paying $1-200 / year for a subscription, but I discontinued due to lack of time.

Just the other day I noticed a few comments following this daily chart on Global nuclear power:

Underneath, the following comment:


ximik took offence, writing


I wrote a short comment meant to bring a smile on those felt insulted by Zambino:

USA should be on a separate, "nucular" list, together with @Zambino :)

Much to my surprise, hours later, I get an email from The Economist:

The attached comment, posted under the pen name Indelible Bonobo, has been deleted from The Economist online.  The comment was removed because it breaks our comments policy
We remind you that repeated violation of our comments policy may result in your being blocked from posting comments on The Economist online.
Yours sincerely,
Comments Moderator The Economist online

The email also suggested that I may have confused Zambino with Lucano..

Looking through the rules (ec-cp) I found the following which may apply to the aforementioned exchange:

  1. Post, link to or otherwise publish any Messages containing material that is obscene, racist, homophobic or sexist or that contains any form of hate speech;
  2. Post, link to or otherwise publish any Messages that are illegal, libellous, defamatory or may prejudice ongoing legal proceedings or breach a court injunction or other order;
  3. Post, link to or otherwise publish any Messages that are abusive, threatening or make any form of personal attack on another user or an employee of The Economist;
  4. Restrict or inhibit any other user from using the Forums.

My view is that if any rule was broken by me, the aforementioned messages break more rules and to a greater extent. The fact that they have not been censored indicates one of the following:

  1. The Moderator does not judge comments in context, looking only for specific “infractions”, such as whether another user’s name is mentioned.
  2. Only comments specifically flagged are considered for deletion (i.e., even though other messages break rules more flagrantly, they will not be deleted unless a user reports them).
  3. The Moderator may assess comments politically – i.e., the USA readers may have a greater economic value to the publication than the Armenian, Bulgarian and Romanian readers combined and as such their outrage is less acceptable than that of USA readers.
  4. The Moderator may have felt that my “Indelible” pen name is a sign of defiance Batting EyelashesMonkey

The problem with such an approach is that it may backfire. Faced with all these possibilities and no hint from the censor as to which presumption is correct, my logical reaction would be to stop commenting on that site. Besides, as a Libertarian, I favour a moderation environment where users can and should correct themselves and each other rather than relying on some kind of “big daddy” to do it for them. This is why, rather than complain or fill in an abuse form, I preferred to simply comment with an innocuous joke. Or was the target of my irony right to take offense and file a complaint?

What do you think? Was the Economist right to delete my comment?

Sources / More info: ec-gn, ec-cp, ec-cntct, ec-yt

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