My 'biased' view of the Biased BBC blog - part six - Moderation failure
Yesterday, as part of a series of posts looking the Biased BBC blog and the accusations it makes against the corporation, I started to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issue, and pointed out some recent mistakes that had been made on the BBC's website which fit into the Biased BBC pattern of seeing bias against Israel, and more generally Judaism, at every turn.
Today I want to look at an even more serious case, which took took place last month on the BBC's Editors Blog.
Around the time of the screening of the BBC's recent programme about the 9/11 conspiracy theories, posts regarding the show were hi-jacked by conspiracy theorists being directly led there from Alex Jone's PrisonPlanet website.
Amongst the many pro-conspiracy theorist comments was #44 by Truthseeker. The post was without a doubt anti-Semitic in nature. It asserted that media coverage of 9/11 and the London bombings of July 2005 were examples of the behaviour contained in the "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" - a notorious anti-Semitic forged document from the turn of the 20th century. It also [not shown in my screen capture] contained the URL of a site that had clearly anti-Semitic content on it.
I was engaged in a thread on Biased BBC at the time about the conspiracy theory documentary, because a lot of the people on there, as a knee-jerk reaction, automatically assumed that the programme was going to support the conspiracy theory, and take the opportunity to be anti-Bush and anti-American. I was trying to point out that this wasn't going to be the case.
When the issue of this comment was raised, I was confident that the BBC's moderation policy would see it swiftly deleted. So I complained about the post myself using the "Complain about this post" button, knowing that it would be removed within minutes, and show the people on Biased BBC how wrong they were.
But it wasn't.
So I pressed the button again an hour or so later.
In the meantime, people over at Biased BBC had also complained on the Editors blog, complained via the BBC Complaints system, and phoned BBC Information.
Yet still the offensive post remained online.
The wording on the Editor's blog added creedence to the general Biased BBC view that the BBC was condoning these anti-Semitic views:
Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.
This led people on the Biased BBC blog to assume that Conspiracy Files series editor Mike Rudin had personally approved the anti-Semitic comment for publication.
Having found that my "Complain about this post" button pushes had been to no effect, I then used the BBC Complaints site to register a comlaint that the BBC moderation policy had failed.
A couple of days later I got a very nicely worded and polite email, which explained that:
I have checked the blog and can no longer find the contribution by TruthSeeker. It appears to have now been removed. We appreciate all feedback about contributions made to the Editor's Blog and please be assured your complaint has been registered and made available to the News Editors.
But that wasn't the point.
By the time I got to making an official complaint, I wasn't complaing about the comment itself, I was complaining about the failure of the BBC's moderation process, which allowed racist anti-Semitic material to be published on one of their blogs, despite repeated complaints from multiple people through multiple channels.
This happened during office hours on a weekday, but it took the BBC until the next day to remove the offending post, even though it was clearly in breach of the house rules on two counts - in the racist nature of the comment, and in containing a URL to racist material on another website.
Now I understand the volume of comments the BBC receives, and understand that processes can sometimes break down.
But that volume or the claim of an error does nothing to defend the BBC from the kind of view that this type of blunder supports on the Biased BBC site. Namely that the BBC is institutionally anti-Semitic, and so it appeared to them that even when the comment was reviewed several times by the moderation team, they, and by extension the BBC, simply did not see a problem with it.
These are a couple of representative quotes from the Biased BBC site:
The BBC site...is absolutely the most "moderated" place on the net I have ever contributed or tried to contribute to. Nevermind them removing stuff, they don't even allow a lot of things to appear in the first place. Yet even with all this "moderating" comments like the Protocols of Zion one get through? This, to me, smells more of selection and censorship than moderating.
My guess is that they will leave these comments up for another two or three days, and then languidly remove them claiming a "mix up", or staff "shortages" (!!) or some other lie.
In fact, there even developed a school of thought on Biased BBC that they should stop complaining, since whilst the comment remained published it gave them a permalink URL on the BBC site with which to demonstrate their arguments.
Regardless of the details of this specific situation, the BBC should do a couple of things to make the moderation of their user-generated content areas more transparent.
For a start, the Editor's Blog, and the other BBC blogs using the same system, should adjust the disclaimer that "Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them." to more realisticly reflect who actually does the moderation.
Secondly, they should more generally be up-front about who is actually doing the moderating on the site in the BBC's name. The DNA powered message boards, the blogs, the various pseudo-blogs dotted around bbc.co.uk, and the BBC News Have Your Say boards are all moderated by different groups of people, leading to a difference in quality and consistency.
Some of the boards are moderated by BBC staff, and some of the moderation is contracted out. The clearest exposition of how one of these areas works, the Have Your Say boards, is actually tucked away in the replies to a post on the Open Secrets blog.
The BBC could also be more open about the sheer volume of correspondence that it receives, and the odds of a comment actually being published.
In the final part of this series, I want to look at my own experience of striving for impartiality on the services I worked on at the BBC, and to draw some general conclusions about the future of a unbiased BBC at a time when the internet is enabling greater public scrutiny of the media than ever before.