Comment was suspended

The comments function on Comment is Free wasn’t working yesterday morning and for a while the world seemed a calm, serene place. Reading the site, without the subsequent reams of vitriolic abuse masquerading as opinion, it felt like some semblance of order had returned to the (virtual) universe, as if a thousand shrieking Banshees had been sealed in an airtight container and dropped into the sea. Unfortunately, they soon managed to get it up and running again, so once more the trolls are running amok.

I’m a long time reader of The Guardian, and still consider it to be the most innovative newspaper on the market, although I must confess I prefer The Times during the week – its size is more practical on a busy train, and its news coverage is excellent. One major advantage of reading The Times is that you won’t be troubled by any opinion pieces by Seamus Milne, whom I find particularly loathsome. Look at those eyes and tell me he isn’t infected with devils. He looks like a cross between a Cornish pixie and a sadistic dentist. Every article the man writes is hair-shirted, self-hating, left-wing bilge that gives the paper a bad name. I would go into more detail but I’m starting to feel irritated just thinking about him, so maybe another time.

But I digress. Yes, I have long been a fan of The Guardian, despite its obvious faults and despite the fact that my own politics seem to grow further apart from much of its editorial stance with every passing year. Comment is Free, on the other hand, is something else entirely. When it was launched in March 2006 I thought it was an interesting move for a newspaper to make – hitherto, the mainstream media had only been touching the blogging phenomenon with a bargepole; that is, when they weren’t commissioning disparaging pieces about it. But here was The Guardian effectively folding its comment section in with a mass blog, replete with the ability for anyone to respond in real-time. And there’s the problem.

Pick any article at random and the chances are that the comments will be packed with hate-filled ramblings, inarticulate rebuttals and bizarrely punctuated missives. You will read: whacko conspiracy theories, people claiming that the author is part of a Zionist conspiracy, people claiming that the author is a hate-filled ‘Islamophobe’, accusations of the author being a blood thirsty, warmongering, neo-conservative Nazi. Perhaps one comment in twenty (and I’m being very generous here) will be worthy of reading. I think Tafka PP summed it up nicely when she described CiF as an “online version of the Middle East Conflict.”

In theory, CiF is an illuminating forum for the intelligent exchange of ideas. In reality, it’s a dumping ground for the disenfranchised and discredited British Left, the very people so deftly taken apart in one of my favourite books from last year, Nick Cohen’s What’s Left?

Comment may indeed be free, but what The Guardian has actually created is an intellectual limbo: an auditorium packed with thousands of people screaming incomprehensibly at each other. Never in the field of public debate has so much heat been created and so little light. Here’s hoping the comments functionality breaks down again soon. Irreparably.


Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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7 comments on “Comment was suspended
  1. nmcintosh says:

    Hello – I share some responsibility for Comment is free. While I think some of your comments about it are a little harsh – there’s some very good discussion in there, on a whole range of subjects – it’s true we could do more to raise the tone of the debate, especially around discussions on the Middle East. These are the ones which create most interest, and heat.

    It’s not easy, given the scale of the site’s audience now – there are hundreds of thousands of readers and comments every month. But we’re working on making it easier to find the good stuff, promise, taking on feedback of the kind you’ve given us here. In the meantime, I’m afraid we’ll be doing our level best to keep the comments function running 🙂

  2. miss welby says:

    hi, I’ve updated my link to you from the old blog to this new one.
    sorry for the delay and happy new year

  3. Citizen Sane says:

    Nmcintosh – Thanks for your input. I don’t envy the jobs of the people behind the scenes trying to moderate and keep order with the thousands of people sticking their two pence worth in – it must be near impossible to properly police. Something definitely needs to be done to raise the tone of the debate, as you say, but what can you do about it? That’s why I’d actually prefer to see the comments switched off! Another idea might be to only allow people who actually have a blog of their own to participate – to register you must supply your blog’s URL, for example. At least then only people who are actively trying to add to the conversation themselves are taking part and there’s a means to respond properly to people. Kind of Darwinian too, as the people that actually DO make salient and interesting points rather than just personally abusing the writer of the piece will drum up readers to their own sites. OK, it’s a bit exclusive, but at least it encourages people who are serious about blogging and maintaining a dialogue rather than people who are happy to criticise and carp but write nothing original of their own. Just a thought…..

    Miss Welby – thanks. As is customary, I’ve linked back to you.

  4. miss welby says:

    “As is customary, I’ve linked back to you”

    really? where?!?

    anyway, do you prefer to be linked as “liberal elite” or as “citizen sane”?

    please let me know on my blog. ciao!

  5. ph says:

    CS, you seem surprised that the Cif contributors appear to be such ranting left wing loonies. Well the truth is that the British left has always been composed of such madmen, of of which the ones who could turn a good phrase wrote for the Guardian. Most of these folk had to find outlets for their madness by working in education or at a push some other government job. ( they are at their most pestilential whilst at University). Thankfully CiF has given the the left a rope almost long enough to hang itself.

  6. Citizen Sane says:

    Miss Welby – the link is definitely there now.

    PH – my beef is much more with the commenters than the contributors at CiF. There is actually a fairly good variety of opinion from commissioned writers (apart from the aforementioned Seamus Milne and a few other moonbats). But the comments section? Quagmire.

  7. ph says:

    sorry, I meant to say contributors. Actually some of the Guardian commentators are OK, apart from Polly Toynbee whose intense hatred of everything Tory makes her look unreasonable and so can be safely ignored.

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