As with other online platforms, Kiwiblog has been considering what changes in restrictions on commenting are appropriate in light of the terrorist attack in Christchurch. This blog post is to update people on what my thoughts and decisions are.
I thought it would be useful to examine and comment on the different aspects of the terrorist’s actions and purported beliefs.
Murder and Violence
The terrorist killed 50 people. He believed his beliefs justified violence and killing. There are lots of people with strong beliefs but very very very few who think it is okay to kill innocent people, let alone actually do it.
Any incitement to serious violence is of course not acceptable on Kiwiblog, and never has been. In fact I have on two occasions supplied information to the Police when a comment was seen as a serious threat.
The terrorist was a white supremacist. He judges people based on their skin colour or where they are born. He doesn’t think non-white people should live in “European countries”
Again such views and beliefs are not and never have been acceptable on Kiwiblog. Judging people based on where they were born, their bloodline or the colour of their skin is repulsive. Human beings should be regarded as individuals not just members of a group.
It is acceptable to discuss differences between nationalities and races, if done in a considered way. For example why do Asian students do so well at American universities. Why do black athletes dominate certain running categories etc.
The terrorist says he was profoundly anti-immigration, linked to his white supremacy. He claimed Jews were okay so long as they live in Israel. Muslims are okay as long as they live in a Muslim country. Asians are okay so long as they live in Asia. He says that he saw legal immigration as a very bad thing.
His views are repugnant to me. I am a huge fan of controlled immigration. I think NZ has a generally excellent immigration system where anyone can qualify for residency regardless of race, nationality or religion. What counts is their education, age, income, wealth, English language proficiency job skills etc. I think immigration is both economically and culturally good for New Zealand, so long as immigrants successfully integrate into New Zealand communities. And the vast majority do, or at least their children do which is most important.
But there are a range of legitimate views on immigration. Labour campaigned at the last election to slash immigration numbers by tens of thousands. New Zealand First has campaigned against immigration for decades, and has a history of statements attacking Asian immigration.
I may disagree with those views, but if people wish to post in favour of Labour party policy or NZ First party policy on immigration, they should be allowed to do so here.
But there is a difference between debating immigration policy and the pros and cons of immigration and scapegoating immigrants who are already here. Statements suggesting people who have chosen New Zealand as their home should not be here will not be acceptable.
I use the term Islamophobia here as it is commonly used. But for reasons which will become clear, I find it an unhelpful term.
When it comes to religion, it is a fact that there is huge antipathy in many quarters to Islam, compared to other religions. Why is this? Why does Islam have such antipathy which Hinduism doesn’t, Buddhism doesn’t, Taoism doesn’t, Shinto doesn’t, Sikhism doesn’t, and Baha’i doesn’t?
The obvious answer is because of the number of terror attacks that are done in the name of Islam or motivated by an interpretation of Islam.
All religions have some attacks done in their names. Northern Ireland had religious conflict for many decades, for example. But the number of attacks in the name of Islam are exponentially higher than any other religion.
A website that tracks such attacks has recorded (and there will be many they miss) 36,958 attacks since 9/11 (the most well known attack). That is over 2,000 attacks a year or 175 attacks a month, 40 attacks a week or 5 attacks a day.
The toll from these attacks is monumental. 225,000 innocent victims have been killed. That is equivalent to the population of Wellington. A further 306,000 have been injured – equivalent to the combined population of Hamilton and Tauranga.
The reason there is antipathy towards Islam in many quarters is because people are scared. They want these attacks to stop. It doesn’t matter they still have a higher chance of being killed in a road accident. You can’t just tell people to ignore almost 37,000 attacks. And these attacks are not just in a few “hot spots”. They have occurred in 101 different countries.
Do not for a second interpret this as minimising the slaughter in Christchurch. Every human life lost to violence is tragic. The point is that there is a rational basis for some people’s dislike of Islam. And again don’t confuse that with saying there is a rational basis to dislike Muslims. They key is to not conflate a religion with its adherents.
The Catholic Church deserves condemnation for its cover up of sexual abuse and for having the third highest ranking official in the Vatican as a paedophile. But a negative view of the Catholic Church should not mean one has a negative view of Catholics.
The attack in Christchurch was vile not just for the loss of innocent life, but the fact the victims were selected for their religion. Equally vile is that in the last 18 years there have been 1,585 attacks on Christians, motivated by the fact they were Christians, which killed 11,804 people and wounded a further 14,297.
There are also other aspects of the Islamic religion that some people find problematic. Sizable minorities support the death penalty for apostates, stoning for adultery, honour killings for pre-martial sex.
Islam also differs somewhat from most religions in that it has a political aspect to it, commonly called Islamism. Most Muslims are not Islamists. There are difficult questions about how compatible Islamism (NB not Islam) is with liberal democratic values.
So I absolutely reject that one should not be able to criticise the Islamic religion. However it should be done in a way that doesn’t stigmatise all Muslims and/or suggests a commonality of view.
The one thing which would do the most in the world to reduce so called Islamophobia is a huge reduction in the number of attacks by Islamic extremists. And there is some good news there. The number killed in such attacks has been dropping – down from 32,863 in 2014 to 11,769 in 2018. The defeat of ISIL probably has a part in this.
That guest post
One issue that has been discussed on Kiwiblog is whether there should be a ban on Muslim immigration. I vehemently disagree with such a proposal, and the proponents of it. But does that mean it should be deemed as beyond debate?
Well in case it has escaped people’s attention, it was one of the most debated policies of the 2016 US presidential election, and basically the policy of the winner of that election. It was debated vigorously in the US for not just the campaign, but also the two years since as Trump as he has tried to effectively implement it in various forms. It seems ridiculous to me that an issue which had been debated for the last three years in the US, could be deemed beyond debate in New Zealand.
The sad reality is that Trump filled a vacuum. Because there are no easy answers to the problems of attacks from Islamic extremists (if there were, they’d be happening) many politicians shy away from even discussing the problem. Then when Trump comes along, he gets support because he is the only person out there with a purported solution. His solution is wrong and stupid but a wrong stupid solution gets more support than a void.
Now some may say the US is a country filled with racists so the mere fact they’ve been debating a Muslim immigration ban for three years doesn’t mean we should allow a blog post on it in New Zealand.
So let’s look at Europe. Is this topic taboo in Europe? Well far from being taboo a Chatham House poll over 10 European countries found 55% of Europeans support a Muslim migration ban and only 20% disagreed with it. Now I’m one of the 20% who disagree but consider the insanity of the demand that such a topic can’t even be discussed on a blog in New Zealand when it is supported by majorities in Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland plus pluralities in Spain and the UK.
Closer to home a poll in Australia showed plurality support for a ban on Muslim immigration. Again I think they’re wrong but I really think it is dangerous grounds to treat a majority of Germans, French, Italians and Greeks as far right neo-nazi extremists whose views should not even be allowed to be spoken out loud.
In fact the sad reality is the growth in support of far right parties in Europe is because the mainstream parties have not come up with credible solutions to issues around immigration and integration. Populist parties will always rush to fill a void.
So for the last two weeks some people have tried to close down Kiwiblog because three years ago I allowed a guest post (which I disagreed with) by David Garrett which advocated for a policy that has been debated endlessly in the United States for three years, has majority support in Europe and plurality support in Australia. Media have demanded to know why this post has not been deleted. I’ve been labelled a party to the slaughter in Christchurch because of this post. The sheer bile on Twitter has been vile led by certain prominent people.
A number of people have contacted me offline to discuss Kiwiblog’s moderation policy and the desirability of changes. Those exchanges have been useful. Inciting virtual lynch mobs far less so.
The view of some on Twitter is that such a view in opposition to Muslim immigration is so extreme that one can’t ever allow someone to read something in favour of it.
They really need to get out of their bubbles.
Now one should recognise that debating stuff such as an immigration ban on Muslims is hurtful to Muslims. Absolutely it is. And most Muslims are themselves victims of the violent Islamic extremists. They are often both literal victims (ie are killed) but suffer the backlash where they have to worry about their safety in public. They can suffer acts of casual abuse, and feel that elements of their adopted country are hostile to them. And the Christchurch shooting has shown how real those fears can be.
So bearing in mind that allowing a debate on stuff such as an immigration ban can be hurtful to many Muslims, why allow it at all?
Well as I explained to the media, my preference is for people to be convinced their views are wrong. The thing I like on Kiwiblog is that we have people who comment from across the political spectrum. Views get challenged. My views get challenged every day by commenters.
And if you do not allow a debate on an issue, you tend to make people become more convinced of their beliefs. Then they tend to go off to a silo where they only find people who agree with them. And that is how people become extremists and radicalised. There is a huge amount of academic literature on how people on the Internet are self-selecting into silos and how harmful this is to public discourse.
In one of the malicious misrepresentations I have ever seen, Russell Brown took this explanation I made to the media, and summarised it was that I tolerate racists and don’t want them to go to even more racist websites and I am “a piece of shit”. Remember that this is about allowing a guest post on a topic that is one of the most debated issues in Europe and North America.
So as should be clear I am not deleting the guest post. But I have been reflecting on how I would handle such a request in future.
While people can respond in comments to the guest post, they don’t have the same reach, as many don’t read the comments. So in future with a topic such as this I would commission a rebuttal piece and run then together so people can see the arguments in favour, and the arguments against.
I would also be more likely to write the rebuttal piece myself.
Of course there are some topics I would not allow a guest post on, even with a rebuttal. The post on Muslim immigration was a borderline call. But in the end my judgement was that one could not pretend this was not a topic that could be ignored as if it didn’t exist and have support from majorities in many democratic countries.
As I indicated earlier I don’t find the term Islamophobia useful. In fact earlier today I quoted the leader of the world’s largest Muslim organisation saying the term is often used as a weapon to prevent criticisms of extremist aspects of Islam.
I have no problems with criticism of Islam (or Scientology or Mormonism or Catholicism). But I do have a problem with people smearing all Muslims as if they all have the same beliefs, same characteristics etc. Some people have an unhealthy antagonism to Muslims, and I would say they should be called Muslimophobes, not Islamophobes.
And Muslimophobia is not welcome on Kiwiblog.
Judging 1.5 billion people off their religious affiliation is bizarre. I’m lucky as I have traveled a lot. I’ve met, socialised, and worked with scores of Muslims ranging from the leader of the Arab Youth League to Internet experts from dozens of Muslim countries to friends back home. The best hospitality I had in my Middle East tour was in Iran.
Kiwiblog is now applying far far more scrutiny to comments that fail to differentiate between legitimate scrutiny of Islam and are just bile against Muslims. They are not welcome here, and if you can’t work out the difference, neither are you.
And some (a small minority) need to learn some empathy. When the Prime Minister wears a hijab at a mourning celebration, it is not an Islamic takeover of New Zealand. It is the Prime Minister being a decent human being and respecting the fact 50 people of the Muslim faith were slaughtered. If 50 people had been killed at a synagogue, I am sure a similar gesture would be made. Such a gesture means a hell of a lot to those who have been targeted for their faith. Have a bit of bloody empathy for what it must be like to be a Muslim in New Zealand at this time.
At the end of this post is the new proposed moderation policy for Kiwiblog. It is in fact very little changed from the existing policy. But it has been tweaked to give examples of unacceptable comment and some extra emphasis. You are welcome to give feedback on the policy. I’ll listen to feedback but of course the final decision is mine.
I note Stuff has announced a new moderation policy also. I was surprised to read that one in three comments submitted to Stuff never appear. That is a huge proportion. My rough estimate of comments being deemed unacceptable by the moderators on Kiwiblog is somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20.
But the more interesting thing with Stuff is they have a list of topics which they simply no longer allow debate on. This includes 1080, beneficiaries, fluoride, immigrants, Israel, Treaty of Waitangi, transgender issues and vaccinations. They are of course entitled to do that, but I find it very sad to have a media outlet rule certain topics as not allowing comments. Again my preference is to convince people they are wrong on 1080, fluoride etc.
But again use some empathy when commenting, especially if talking about groups of people. Don’t say “Muslims” if the more correct term is “Islamic extremists”. Don’t talk about any race or religion as if everyone is the same. And most of all bear in mind 50 people were killed in Christchurch and their families, friends and fellow Muslims are going through as terrible time as you can imagine. They are the victims of what happened in Christchurch. You having to comment differently on Kiwiblog doesn’t make you a victim.
The more substantial change is around the moderation process. The old process was after the fact. All comments would appear automatically. Only if someone submitted a formal complaint about a comment would it be reviewed be me, and if unacceptable deleted or edited. Strikes and suspensions were also given out to repeat offenders.
There were three major problems with the old process. The first is that a lot of unacceptable comments were never complained about, so they remained on Kiwiblog despite breaching the comments policy.
The second is that it was very time intensive. I’d have to locate the comment, review it, if inappropriate edit it, issue a strike, update the strikes page, change the user status so they can’t post and set a reminder for when they can post again. This could take 10 to 15 minutes.
The third is that the inappropriate comment would remain there until reviewed and in the meantime people would respond to it and things would just get messier.
So I changed the process so that comments would be reviewed before they appear. This has a number of drawbacks also, namely:
- Having to read and approve over 500 comments a day
- Delays on comments appearing can make threads less useful
- There is increased legal risk to Kiwiblog if a comment has been approved in advance, rather than appear automatically
- Less transparency with the moderation
However the advantages are:
- The back end allows you to see all comments awaiting approval and deal with each in a few seconds.
- While the number of comments is too much for one person to moderate, around a dozen great people have stepped forward to help moderate so as we get up to speed, delays should reduce
- Far fewer inappropriate comments appear on Kiwiblog
- Less thread hijacking
Commenters who choose to post under their real names or linked to their real identity, will qualify for auto-approve status. This provides an incentive for people to do so, but still allows you to comment with an alias.
It is possible at some stage I might extend auto-approve status to others. The system will be reviewed regularly.
The moderator have a chat group where we discuss borderline cases. I may post some extracts from that group at some stage so people can see examples of what we are ruling in or out.
New proposed moderation policy
Commenting on Kiwiblog is a privilege not a right. The privilege will be removed for repeated unacceptable comments.
Unacceptable comments include but are not limited to:
Do not make comments that could expose Kiwiblog or yourself to defamation.
Trolling is an attempt to deliberately disrupt a conversation by being grossly offensive or massively off topic.
Comments on a post should be a response to the topic of the post. While some thread drift is inevitable, do not try to divert the thread into another topic. Use the daily General Debate for other topics.
Attack arguments, not people. It will generally be unacceptable to call someone a moron, but it will be acceptable to say their argument is moronic. That may seem a fine distinction, but an important one. However don’t try and push the distinction to breaking point. If you say that someone’s argument has the integrity of a syphilitic pygmy (for example), then that would find you with a warning or strike.
Abusive nicknames for MPs such as “Ardern the liar”, “Golly G”, “Simple Simon” will be unacceptable. You can critique something they have said or done, but not just repeat an abusive nickname.
Gratitious references to attributes people have no control over
People can’t choose their gender, race, skin colour or sexual orientation. There will be times when those attributes about a public figure can be a legitimate discuss in in relation to an political event.
But slagging off someone on the basis of something they can’t control is unacceptable.
Grossly offensive generalisations are not acceptable either. Treat people as individuals. This is not to say one can’t discuss group characteristics (such as why certain races are over-represented in crime statistics), but it should be done in a way which is not derogatory of the entire group.
Lumping 1.5 billion Muslims all in together is almost certainly going to be unacceptable. One can criticize a religion and/or specific acts or teachings. But don’t attribute things to every follower of a religion. Be as specific as you can. If there was an attack by Islamic extremists, say “Islamic extremists” instead of “Muslims”.
There is some tolerance for swearing so long as it is not directed at someone. Calling someone a c**t is almost never acceptable, but the use of the word in other contexts may be. Telling someone to f**k off is not acceptable.
Give other commenters the courtesy of referring to them by the name or alias they use on this blog. Do not reveal personal details about them such as their name, address, phone number etc. unless it is somehow connected to a public issue. If in doubt, check.