The Conversation has a new set of moderation policies which is motivated by a desire to improve [their] climate change coverage. It involves a zero tolerance approach to moderating climate change deniers, and sceptics. Not only will their comments be removed, but their accounts will be locked.
I have to admit a slight negative bias towards moderation at The Conversation. This is mostly because I had my comments removed and my account locked. This was – I think – because I was violating one of their comment policies by not using a real name. Fair enough, it is one of their policies. However, it did happen just as I added my actual name to my Twitter profile (which was how I was logging into my The Conversation account) and also happened at about the same time as I was involved in a discussion with a well-known “skeptic” who was using multiple identities in a single comment thread. It also came without any warning and appears to be final.
The motivation behind requiring real names is to maintain a transparent forum. The problem with this is that anyone can make up a real name; it all seems rather pointless if there isn’t some way to actually check that this really is someone’s actual name. An identifiable pseudonym seems as transparent as someone with virtually no online profile who happens to be using a real name (their own, or otherwise). Anyway, their site, their rules.
As far as their new moderations rules go, I’m somewhat uncertain as to whether or not these are a good idea. I’m all for strong moderation and I think the help I’ve had on this site has improved the comment threads. However, I don’t simply delete comments and ban people because they’re climate change deniers/sceptics. It normally requires a series of comments that don’t confirm to the moderation policy, or comments policy.
If the plan is to simply delete the comments, and lock the accounts, of climate change deniers/sceptics, who gets to decide? How do you avoid banning those who really are trying to engage in good faith, but are saying things that make them sound like they’re “sceptics”? I know it’s unlikely, but maybe some people are actually trying to learn something, rather than be disruptive. Also, where do you draw the line? I think there is a difference between someone who disputes that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and someone who thinks climate sensitivity is probably going to be low. It’s also possible to agree about the science and disagree about what we should do. How are they defining a climate change denier/sceptic?
I think arguing about the science is often pointless, but there are certainly some things worth discussing, and we should be able to discuss the possible policy responses, even with those with whom we largely disagree. So, I tend to think that this new The Conversation moderation policy is not well thought out and will probably backfire. On the other hand, having spent a number of years running quite an active blog, I’m well aware how difficult moderation can be. So, maybe it is worth trying something like this. Wait and see, I guess. Of course, since I can’t comment there, I’m not going to be too bothered one way or the other 🙂