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OffGuardian tells Jessica Valenti why ‘Comment is Free’ matters (because she apparently doesn’t know)


by BlackCatte

The Guardian is unraveling. Having tried to manage its own readers with draconian moderation, it now admits even that policy is a humiliating failure and – today – it tries a new angle – banning comments completely

It obviously isn’t putting its full weight behind this idea at this point, because it chooses Jessica Valenti to float the idea, and she’s not someone you’d entrust with anything but a fairly forlorn hope. Her role at the Graun is to talk interminable nonsense on a wide variety of “social issue” clickbait topics, with a special reference to reality-reversal victim narratives. So she’s ideal for a test-run on this latest bit of “consensus totalitarianism” the management trust has come up with. Let’s skim through what she says. It’s not clever, but it is revealing…

“…It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m not fond of comments sections. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many female writers who are….”

Two sentences in and I have to interject. Jessica – I’m a female writer, and I am fond of comment sections. Actually, if we can think bigger than our own personal comfort zones for just a moment, I firmly believe comment sections, forums, and all places online where information is freely exchanged are an incredible step forward in the liberation of human thought.

“…On most sites – from YouTube to local newspapers – comments are a place where the most noxious thoughts rise to the top and smart conversations are lost in a sea of garbage….”

True. We all get garbage, and trolls, and spam, and idiots hawking insane ideas. But that’s free speech. It includes the freedom to talk garbage. So why not woman-up and take it. And don’t forget we also get insight, thoughtful criticism, challenges to our group-think, facts or points of view we might otherwise never be exposed to. With the advent of the internet for the first time in human history ordinary people can become part of news dissemination. In the comments section they can correct mistakes (or lies), add links to other sources of information, debate the ideas being put across.

It’s a quiet revolution that has entirely broken the mainstream’s monopoly on creating consensus. It’s a small miracle and a huge achievement for human emancipation.

And yet here you are, advocating for closing it down.

“…There’s a reason, after all, that the refrain “don’t read the comments” has become ubiquitous among journalists.”

Yes there is – but I don’t think it’s a good reason. I think the institutionalised fear and hostility and avoidance you all feel towards your own readership is quite shocking. Does it not occur to you that you should listen to them, engage with what they say? You come over as baffled, angry and out of touch, like some fading monarchy on the eve of revolution.

“…But if we’re not to read them, why have them at all?…”

Good question Jessica – if you and your chums at Graun HQ don’t read the comments, what’s the point in them being there? Hmmm…let me think of a possible answer…oh, wait – maybe it’s all the thousands of other people beside you and your chums, who read your paper and might not like being denied any opportunity to have a voice? Why does this even need to be explained to you? Have you all become so inward-looking, self-referencing and self-reinforcing that you’ve gone collectively mad?

“I wasn’t always a comments-hater…Comments even made my writing better those days; feedback from readers broadened the way I thought and sometimes changed my mind…But as the internet and audiences grew, so did the bile. Now if feels as if comments uphold power structures instead of subverting them: sexism, racism and homophobia are the norm; threats and harassment are common. (That’s not even counting social media.)”

Well it might “feel” (to you) as if comments “uphold power structures”, but that’s just a blatant attempt at squaring your calls for censorship with the self-delusion that you are all about speaking truth to power. You’re not about that Jessica. You’re paid by the Graun to write clickbait designed to make a lot of noise about mostly non-issues and “subvert” precisely nothing, and you’re apparently so lost to reality that you’re currently advocating for wholesale censorship of free speech in the name of feminism and oppressed minorities.

“As Laurie Penny has written, ‘An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill and urinate on you.'”

Ok….Let’s just say that sounds like a set of issues better dealt with by Ms Penny and her (I hope) extensive team of analysts. We should probably leave them to it and get on…

“The problem is so bad that online harassment is a keynote subject this year at the Online News Association conference.”

Well, of course it is. When they close down free speech on the internet it will be to protect us all from harassment. That way no one will be able to complain. And if they do they can be arrested. For harassment.

“Comments sections also give the impression that all thoughts are created equal when, well, they’re not.”

True. They aren’t. Do you think we should censor stupidity? Because I have to tell you – that probably would not work out so well for you.

“When Popular Science stopped publishing comments, for example, it was because “everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again…scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’”

I think you should question the skein of thought that led to you putting the word ‘debate’ in ironic quotation marks. I mean do you even know there is no such thing as “scientific certainty?” It’s an oxymoron. Science is an open-ended process that is constantly testing itself and its own hypotheses, and is always “up for grabs”. When Popular Science close their comments down they aren’t doing it in the name of science, any more than the Graun will be doing it in the name of freedom. It’s just the authoritarianism in the system expressing itself. Creeping in. Bit by bit.

“My own exhaustion with comments these days has less to do with explicit harassment – which, at places like the Guardian, is swiftly taken care of. (Thank you, moderators!)
Rather, it’s the never-ending stream of derision that women, people of color and other marginalized communities endure; the constant insistence that you or what you write is stupid

[…]

For writers, wading into comments doesn’t make a lot of sense – it’s like working a second shift where you willingly subject yourself to attacks from people you have never met and hopefully never will. Especially if you are a woman.”

Small sidebar moment: Don’t think me unkind, but has it occurred to you that when people call your writing “stupid” it’s not necessarily a patriarchal conspiracy by white males to rob you of your dignity, but just a sign you’re not very good at what you do?

I mean, is there anything that ever happens to you that can’t be viewed as some aspect of your perennial female victimhood? I’m a feminist, and I live in total awareness of the plight of women over the ages, but here’s a tip: fifty per cent of the population live with being non-male, and most of us manage to avoid seeing it as some sort of lifelong free pass to blame everyone else for our own failures.

“It’s true, I could just stop reading comments. But I shouldn’t have to. Ignoring hateful things doesn’t make them go away, and telling women to simply avoid comments is just another way of saying we’re too lazy or overwhelmed to fix the real problem.Websites and news sources are increasingly moving forward without comments because they find them unnecessary and counterproductive. In my perfect world, more places would follow their lead.Because the nastiness on our doorstep has piled too high for too long, and I just want to get out of the house.”

Absolutely. Why should other people be allowed to retain their right to free speech when Jessica Valenti doesn’t like what they say? Take it down. Take it all down. The most important thing is that Jessica shouldn’t have to go through the emotional trauma of not reading something.

Cuz, when you think about it, other people having different opinions from yours is a kind of harassment. It’s really aggression. It’s really hate speech against your belief system. When people disagree with you, they assault you with their unwanted thoughts. Especially if you’re a woman. We need to “fix the real problem” and stop people freely expressing themselves. Let’s all try to make Jessica’s “perfect world” a reality.

freespeech

But wait a moment, Jess…I’m a woman too. Which means I’m also a victim of – well, everything, and also entitled to not be harassed by people whose opinions totally piss me off.

People like you for example. The kind of jargon-wittering, agenda-hyping, bandwagon-jumping “feminist” that none of us need speaking in our name; one of the “me-me” crowd who confuses vacuous narcissism with personal politics, self-appointed victimhood with equality and vindictive gender-rage with challenging the patriarchy. People who are paid to promote fuzzy ideas of personal entitlement that require the dissolution of other people’s freedoms in order to be effective, and to exploit the exploitation of women and minorities for the promotion of Stalinist notions of social control which strip everyone of their basic human rights in the name of protecting them.

To quote a great sage on the topic – It’s true, I could just stop reading you. But I shouldn’t have to. Ignoring hateful things doesn’t make them go away, so I want you to stop harassing me with your opinions, respect my dignity as a woman and desist from writing in the Guardian.

Because the nastiness on our doorstep has piled too high for too long.


32 Comments

  1. Michael Fonda says

    Where have you been all my life? As someone who regards himself as a reformed feminist and even–gasp!–an MRA-symp type, I had given up hope of ever reading anything by a feminist again that wasn’t the enervating, passive/aggressive cookie-cutter drivel that has me fantasizing about building a wall around Wesley College prior to tossing a few zombies-of-color over the side.

    Consider me predictably simpatico with your delightful skewering of the dick-headed Ms Valenti. Well done, It has been nothing less for me than a psychological restorative.

    So, two comments: Since you actually seem to possess an honest brain, what exactly is the point of feminism these days? I really don’t see a whole lot. When the clear establishment favorite for leader of the free world wears panties I’d say you girls pretty much have it cooked. At least in the west. Also, there is a group of largely female MRAs calling themselves the Honey Badger Brigade who do YouTube “radio” shows and who, like you, have gray cells and know how to use them. They’ve been looking for a feminist to debate with. I think you and they could do much better than that and have a nice civil discussion of genuine interest.

    In case you’re not familiar with them, their main intellectual powerhouse, Karen Straughan, is quite a remarkable woman. A lower-class working mother of three she has somehow found the time to not only enjoy a career as a dirty book writer, but has worked her way through a staggering amount of research and found all kinds of things feminists undoubtedly would have preferred she’d not. She once caused Cenk Uygur to have a most gratifying on-air meltdown by calmly and reasonably pointing out that he seriously doesn’t know his stuff.


    (meltdown commences in stages at about the 21 minute mark)

    Karen has her own YT channel but if you want to see some of her best YT work search “girl writes what.” You may find it something of an adventure.

    Cheers.

    Like

  2. chrisb says

    The reason people often go online is to join in the conversation in the comments thread. I often don’t even bother to read the article, just see what us plebs are talking about. (I did have the manners to read your article, Catte).

    The bad news is this. Most papers writing witless rubbish will go under. The Guardian unfortunately lives off public sector jobs adverts. That is the taxes we pay.

    Like

  3. A., Walker says

    It seems poor form writing incognito to criticize Ms Valenti’s thin skin regarding sexist internet comments. It makes the defense of obscenity, harassment, and even violent threats as free speech ring hollow. Criticism of Ms. Valenti’s opinions or even her shortcomings as a journalist as well as the ethics of the Guardian is perfectly valid. Nonetheless. when one demands higher standards one is obliged to embrace them. Sniping at isolated comments requires no skill and seldom provides any insight, merely smug self satisfaction. I’ll assume ‘BlackCatte’ is a female writer as she claims, but that doesn’t mean she can really object to the suggestion many female writers don’t like the comments section. Many does not mean all or even most, merely a significant in number, and male authors in general are seldom submitted to the same level of sexual innuendo and threat that is increasingly common online. Of course, when one plays the anonymous provocateur one probably doesn’t lose sleep over lunatics googling one’s real life address. As a provocateur (masked or otherwise) the goal is to raise a ruckus. But is overlaying mocking speech bubbles on to a photograph of Stalin really the level of journalistic integrity you want from The Guardian?

    Liked by 1 person

    • joe Staten says

      Can you point out where this article “defends” “violent threats”? I don’t see it, and I’ve read over it twice. And what does anonymity have to do with anything?

      Valenti is openly advocating banning comments because she “shouldn’t have to” read things she doesn’t like. That argument is so stupid and so dangerous it deserves nothing but ridicule. if you don’t see that I don’t know what to say.

      Liked by 1 person

    • But but but! The world and its institutions should bow to the will of Black Catte! Why shut down comments sections on online newspapers when actual physical newspapers totally had them?!

      … oh, wait.

      Like

      • Correct me if I’m wrong here, but what you seem to be saying is it’s ok to ban online comments because before the internet happened they didn’t exist? So, by this reasoning, I guess you think it was also ok for the tyrants of old to ban newspapers and printed books – because before the printing press was invented they didn’t exist either?

        Chelsea – up your game, you’re making us girls looks stupid.

        And no – the world and its institutions should not “bow to the will of BlackCatte” – or Jessica Valenti, or any one person or group of people – which is why comments sections should stay open and free to all.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I have no objection to the claim that many female writers don’t like the comments section. I just don’t happen to agree with you that it’s a good enough reason to end free speech.

      Sorry about that. 🙂

      Like

  4. Michael Davidson says

    Its gotten to the point where ive started to think that Valenti and the rest of the SJW crowd are merely a right wing psyop

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stevemill says

      A better article than anything the G has published in its mendacious W3 campaign.

      Like

  5. 👍 well said, never heard of this woman until I read one of her articles today….
    Holy hell….She’s a special kind of out of touch.
    Thank you for your take

    Like

  6. RUwithmeDRWU says

    Is Valenti delusional, or a cynical hack? She’s delusional if she believes she is more than comment-creation clickbait as a writer.

    I lean towards the latter: yes, she sort of believes what she writes but she’s also a corporate shill who knows where her bread is buttered – although there’s a desperation in the latest ploy. This one was too funny not to check out though. I do thank her for her part in curing me of my lab rat like urge to press buttons.

    I mostly quit looking at her columns after her absurd suggestion that disparity between pay to men and women should be fixed by…….wait for it…….lowering the pay of men. That would be okay – not raising the pay of women, mind you. Too hard. High standards there, wow, viva the revolution. Anybody remember that column?

    Like

  7. Well, Catte, I think you nailed it again!
    The main problem, obviously, is that Grauniad signed a pact with Mephistopheles, their side of the pact was to lie and brainwash. But as their lies and sloppy journalism were constantly being pointed out, they realized the need to build a cocoon around themselves. The victimhood talk is just the fig-leaf for that, as they think some of their traditional readers might possibly respond to that gambit.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rodney says

    First off, Am I ever happy I found this site, a breath of needed fresh air that makes me feel I’m in good company. Thankyou

    Here in Canada we had the same experience with our self-proclaimed “newspaper of record”, the Globe and Mail. Intelligent informed commenters were all completely censured. Leaving only inane, useless, self-supporting, witlessly approving and completely off topic comments. Often times the comments included links to other articles which really fleshed out the story showing the other sides and allowing the thoughtful reader to come to their own informed conclusions.

    Shutting down comments in my humble opinion is a dis-service to the reading public.

    Like

    • RUwithmeDRWU says

      I’m thrilled to have found this site too! One thing though, I doubt the sincerity of any urge by the Guardian to shut down their comments. They’d have to start running opinion pieces that were not total clickbait then.

      Like

    • That’s a good article, and the piece it’s dissecting is actually even more blatant than Valenti’s, but similar enough in tone and language to make it more than apparent this is some Think Tank-formulated campaign, and using women to initiate the roll-out is a cynical way to sell this crude attempt at censorship as being about protecting the vulnerable and eliminating “hate speech.”

      Like

  9. unheilig says

    I’m old and tired and more and more often wondering whether fighting for the Guardian’s soul is worth the candle. And then I read a column by George Monbiot or Seumas Milne or one or two others and I think, well, maybe it is, even if the war’s lost before battle is engaged.

    Great column and great comments, btw.

    Like

  10. Jennifer Hor says

    I should think that if The Guardian sacks long-time staff who had respect for journalism and their readers, and employs in their stead people like Jessica Valenti, whose grasp of the art of writing and engaging with readers is shaky, to write pieces that deliberately take an extreme view to cause aggravation and arouse strong feeling, all in the pursuit of corporate profit, then the kind of flak that Valenti has experienced is to be expected.

    Valenti seems to have grown up in a sheltered environment where criticism was never tolerated and praise was given to her constantly over even the smallest thing she did (or did not do). From what I see of her writing, it is petulant and immature and lacks insight,. Is it wise of The Guardian to tell Valenti, who seems woefully unsuited for her job, to write pieces that are deliberately provocative, solely for the purpose of attracting readers to bump up its readership?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow. I’ve only just discovered this site. If the rest of the articles are of this quality, I’m not going to have a life until I’ve devoured everything. It’s not often I read an article that is so well-written, incisive and at the same time made me laugh out loud.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Excellent stuff, thanks. I do like how George Monbiot gets right in there with the comments. He is an increasingly isolated quality writer at the Graun. Perhaps there should be a league table of writers who have engaged with their comments… and a prize. Anyhow I do like your comprehensive take down of Jessica. Richly deserved.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s all a kind of tacit admission of defeat. Can anyone really put the good genie of dialogue within journalism back in the bottle? I say ‘no’. Can a brand like The Guardian survive a volte face on being ‘free’, or ‘liberal’, regardless of whether it ever truly was?

    I’ve read a proposal for a simple solution to the annoyance of excessive trolling on comment boards. There is a voting system in place at The Guardian, but it is all but meaningless. I guess some people might scroll through the pages of comments looking for double or triple figure comments and ignoring the rest, but I can’t image that there are many who do. The comments that are made first always get far more votes than later ones for obvious reasons. So what is the point? It is currently nothing more than an X-Factor of commentary.
    If large publications like The G wanted to, they could develop the software; revise their voting system to make most, if not all moderation a matter for the reader to adjudicate. By having optional filters on your own personal display of comments, filters that can be set by the reader, these combined with a facility to vote down other people’s comments as well as up, then readers can decide for themselves how much offence/ free speech they want to see on their screen. I can’t see how bigots wouldn’t lose their platform through this, and it seems genuinely democratic to me.
    I am no techie, but I imagine this isn’t hard to introduce (in fact I’ve read that it has been in place elsewhere).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mog, yes that’s interesting. In the early days of CIF I had a laptop pc on which I could bestow hundreds of ‘likes’ to any comment – it had a strangely sensitive mouse pad thing and by tapping really fast… anyhow I explained this ability many times on CIF and complained that the likes were meaningless to the moderators – I was ignored. They do appear to have changed this system so that this bug doesn’t remain. But at the time there was some discussion about at least a -ve like, and a selection of possible filters: well informed, abusive, adhom, etc.. They could also publish all the moderated comments on a hall of shame. What about anonymity? Should they verify people? …I’m not sure.

      Like

      • If they were serious about reader commentary at the G (which they obviously aren’t as shown by this website and article), there are many things they could do – give readers a reason why their comments had been deleted would be a fine start!
        Professional moderation could be restricted to the extremes (maybe cases of sub judice) and the rest could be up to the reader. Rather than a hall of shame, we could have the option to see all comments, or even only those voted down. The categories idea I like. There are many options if they wanted to develop the idea.
        The don’t though, the point being that the ‘abuse’ argument for restriction is easily answered through simple changes to the comment board architecture – revealing it to be a false argument.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Francis says

    I appreciate you’re not asking, and I usually ignore appeals for support online from sites without a revenue stream, but should you manage to provide a secure link, I’d happily support this. Thank you, BlackCatte. Guardian, take note

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Michaelk says

    Where to start and what to say? How far to the totaltitarian right can the Guardian move before it slides off edge of liberal values completely? I think the answer is very, very, far, indeed. Recently there have been articles that, from my dazed perspective, sound dangerously close to justifying state fascism and violence, including the murder of UK citizens in Syria. I’m thinking specifically of Rosenberg and Behr. So, Valenti’s puff piece seems almost harmless compared to this, though her revealing article is part of the same totalitarian trend, clamping down on free speech and ‘excessive democracy’. The Guardian’s journalists exist, as is self-evident from Valenti’s piece, inside what seems like a virtual Versailles and as the media aristocrats they like to think they are, they look out of the windows and notice a cloud of dust on the horizon. Something is moving along the road from Paris. What is it? It sure looks… Big. If one shuts up gossiping for a moment and tells the orchestra to stop playing, and listens carefully, one can hear loud voices and people singing obscene songs ridiculing the inhabitants inside the glittering halls and beautiful rooms of the great palace of Versailles itself. God! It’s us they criticizing and questioning! Those peasants really don’t like us at all, do they? What to do? Well, comptesse Valenti has a really radical idea hidden behind her fan. She turns away from the window and tells the orchestra to play louder than they’ve ever played before, in a vain attempt to drown out the sound of the people moving closer and closer to Versailles. And if that doesn’t work, one can always call out the Swiss Guards.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Brad Benson says

    When are you going to write what you really think? ; ) My goodness! I cannot believe the blatant honesty in the Guardian of late. A few days ago, they openly admitted to blatant censorship and now their writers are urging for more.

    Obviously, they have lost their sense of irony. Censorship is something which they always practiced, but pretended to manage with a set of “moderation standards”, which were primarily founded in etiquette. In reality, the comments section was never free and etiquette had nothing to do with it.

    By banning the most knowledgeable and articulate comment writers, the result has been that the Guardian Comment Threads are now filled with the type of comments to which Ms. Valenti claims to object–120-character-or-less, frequently incoherent screeds, as written by brain-dead morons (much like their “journalists”).

    Liked by 1 person

  17. mar77i says

    Actually, go team comment sections. And go team fact-bound.

    We all get garbage, and trolls, and spam, and idiots hawking insane ideas.
    But that’s free speech. It includes the freedom to talk garbage.
    So why not woman-up and take it.

    With that attitude please proceed. I’m sure you’re familiar with [0] or at least the stance of it, but as a guy I just feel uncomfortable facing people bringing up the issue over and over. It’s tiring and makes me inclined to think they’re so consumed by it they couldn’t have objective, factual discussion about anything but that topic. It’s not my cause to point fingers, but it’s something that I came across again lately and got me thinking.

    There was a 4chan screenshot collection about the “Tits or gtfo!”, and the argument that there are no girls on the internet, and it’s somewhere along this topic too. You usually can’t tell people to not be butthurt for the wrong reasons instead of doing the fact palaver like grown-ups should be able to do. Then again, 4chan is anything but grownups talking, even when it’s grown-ups expressing in the attitudes and vocabulary of 12yos.

    [0] https://www.usenix.org/blog/my-daughters-high-school-programming-teacher

    Like

  18. I do love a good filleting. Especially on content from the multi talented Jessica who has grasped the management brief with both hands. I can hardly believe that this was the Guardian but its trajectory continues down to tabloid and beyond. Thanks for the surgical response. Don’t know how much more of Graun’s decline I can watch.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. “…There’s a reason, after all, that the refrain “don’t read the comments” has become ubiquitous among journalists.”

    From day 1 of Komment Macht Frei one of the house rules has been that no criticism of a Guardian journalist be allowed and any such criticism was subsequently deleted. This resulted in page after page of repeated “comment deleted” notices whenever Harding wrote anything.

    Liked by 3 people

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