Writer's Guidelines and Policy
Banning some words HERE on This Website
Sept. 3: After hundreds of comments, we've decided NOT to ban any words on OpEdNEws, and will more aggressively deal with trolls and bigots using comment flagging and article editing software we are developing which will help our limited editorial staff.
1-after over 250 comments on the announcement to ban some words, while allowing full discussion of issues, we backed off and will not institute, and never did institute the policy. OpEdNews is run with a Web 2.0 bottom up philosophy of management.
2- The fact is, the Israel Palestine conflict is one of the most inflammatory discussions to be found. Many sites, perhaps most sites do not allow full discussion of it, meaning discussion by supporters of Palestine and supporters of Israel and AIPAC. Most Democratic and Republican sites ban support of Palestine and many liberal sites ban support of Israel.
OpEdNews is one of the very few that allow civil discussion by both sides. We believe if there is going to be any hope for peace that both sides must talk to each other and we struggle to create a forum for that, as conflict-full as it can sometimes be.
Matter of fact, when our readers (400,000 unique visitors a month) were asked to list any high traffic sites (under 6000 alea ranking among US sites) which allow as wide a range of discussion of issues as OpEdNews, they did not come up with a single one. That would suggesst that rather than being a restrictive site, we're the MOST OPEN SITE on the web.
3-Over the past five or six days since this discussion began, we have had about 25-30 subscribers unsubscribe because of their dissatisfaction with our original take on the issue (out of over 7200 members and 10,000+ subscribers) . We have had more than that many people sign up as either subscribers or members in that time, so we have a net gain, relative to this issue. On any day we see about 5-30 people unsubscribe, usually because they are cutting their bandwidth, so the five or six a day who unsubscribed due to this discussion did not in any way cause so much as a bump in the unsubscribing pattern.
4-Bottom line is we listened to our members. No word banning will take place. We'll be instituting several software solutions:
-member ranking comments on several parameters
-member burying of comments, like digg.com does.
-allowing more members to hide or delete troll rated comments, including bigoted ones.
-word recognition software to cue writers with suggestions, if they use language that tends to be abused.
5-The fact is that the words we chose really are used by bigots to hide behind to express hate. There are legitimate uses for them and there are abuses. Anyone who denies this is naive, disingenuous or fool. We'll be having community discussions on what constitutes reasonable usage and unreasonable usage and then creating FAQs based on member conclusions of the discussions. Those will be used as both non-mandatory guidelines for writers and commenters as well as for editors and trusted authors who will be deciding on troll ratings.
6- The Middle east conflict is one of the hardest problems in the world.We're proud to have the site with one of if not the widest tolerances for discussion of issues. Routine and ordinary ways to solve the Middle East conflict have failed. New ways to approach it, talk about it, explore the issues must be considered and we're trying to do that with integrity and openness. We're not going to get it right every time, but we are going to take risks, as we experiment with different ways to make our open forum work.
7- I encourage readers to check out our site directory for articles on Israel, Palestinian Homeland, Middle East, Lebanon and you will find hundreds of articles covering all ranges. Before you judge us, from one attack article, and a sour grapes rejected writer, see for yourself.
For many, discussion of middle east issues is a very hot, passionate topic that can easily lead to anger, accusations and recriminations. .
I don't know if there is another site on the web, with commenting, that allows strong opinions ranging as widely, from both sides of this issue, as OpEdNews allows. Most take one side or another or ban discussion on it altogether.
added at 6;45 PM EST: A Challenge. Mention any high traffic progressive sites on the web that allow as wide a discussion, including postings of articles and blogs on the middle east as OpEdNews. I believe that most block all discussion or only allow or encouragearticles and blogs on one side or the other-- Pro-palestinian and anti-Israel, Anti- zionist or Pro-Israel. I'll check with that site or sites on how they handle this challenge of hate. But if you can't think of one, take a moment before raising the accusation of censorship. Meanwhile, the response to this ban has been huge, with some excelleent observations and suggestions. Consider it temporary, while we work out solutions that are not as draconian. So... make suggestions. It is intolerable to allow the continued use of hate dripping words used dishonestly.
After consultation with our team of editors, we're banning the use of the words: Zionism, Zionist, Islamicism, Islamicist. These words are too often used too loosely as a veiled way to express racist, hate messages.
We do not, in any way, intend to restrict or censor criticism of Israeli or Palestinian actions, policies or behaviors. But we do believe that this approach will prevent people from abusing our community and members with hate talk and force all writers to use more nuanced, descriptive, precise language.
The only rare exception to this rule, will be the use of the terms to discuss how others are using them. For example, if a writer on another site, or a politician refers to the term, then discussion of that person or media site's use of the term will probably acceptable. This does not mean that quoting others is acceptable. It is not. For example, if Senator Hatch describes the world Islamicist plot to force sharia to be observed planet-wide, then it would be appropriate to discuss his use of the word.
This is discussion of the USE of the word. On the other hand, we really don't want to see articles on Islamicist or Zionist plots or conspiracies. And we will not tolerate quotation of other people talking about zionist or islamicist plots or conspiracies.
While we're at it, the "N" word is also banned, except in circumstances like those described above, and even then, it should be referred to as "the N word." (added at 6:54 PM EST: curse words are discouraged. The "C" word, offensive to many women, is also banned, and bigoted and hate speech are not tolerated.
Violators will be warned, and depending on their connection to the community, be given one or more chances, unless it is their first posting, in which case, they may be summarily banned. You dont' start off a conversation in a new community with hate speech, or language that is oft abused for hate speech.
The bottom line is that criticism of Israel is fine. Defense of Israel is fine. Criticism of Israeli settlers and politicians is fine. Criticism of all Jews in Israel, or all Jews, or all Muslims in Palestine or all Muslims is not acceptable. (added at 6:52 PM EST; Criticism of religions' behaviors, policy, extremes, is touchy and must be done without vitriol or hate, but it is allowed and has been allowed often on this site.)
It is expected that we will lose some readers and some writers with this policy. But we also believe that this policy will build on the civility and integrity of the site. Those who want to raise complaints will be able to do so, but will be required to do it with language that is precise, clear and aimed at shining light on truth, not indulging anger or hate.
This new policy is added to a previous policy of rejecting articles that dwell on the history of the middle east. WE've found that articles dwelling on the history of the middle east, of the attack on the US Ship by Israel, these cover old ground and serve no useful value except to enable the writer or commenter to emote and express complaints, criticism, hatred of Israel. We're not interested in any of those. As said above, articles or comments which criticize current actions, policies or behaviors are acceptable.
Our site has a history of being very open to this kind of discussion. Any attempt to accuse it of bias or censorship can easily be refuted by a simple search on the tags for Israel, Palestine, Middle east. This new policy will enable us to continue keeping the discussion open, while minimizing the worst abuses of the forum we provide.
Comments and suggestions are welcome.
added after comments started:
Wikipedia defines censorship :
Censorship is defined as the removal and/or withholding of information from the public by a controlling group or body.
There's none of that here-- just the challenge to use other words.
The truth is that if the words were used with integrity and good intentions, there wouldn't be a problem But they are not. They are abused as thinly veiled ways for anti-semites to spew their hate. This is abusive and painful to many and there is no reason why it should be tolerated. In a totally controlled media situation, like most mainstream media sites operate, it is possible to pay someone to screen every comment before it is posted. There, that kind of use of the words can be filtered out. But we don't have those resources here, so we made a choice, to protect our readers, our community from such abuse. The decision was made after more than a year of deliberation and attempts at other approaches.
added at 5:15 EST:
There are hip hoppers who use the N word. That doesn't make it right. Most African Americans find it offensive. Most Americans find it offensive. And if people abuse the words, then it hurts innocent people. And I don't see you complaining about that word, which, at one time, say 50 or 100 years ago, was socially acceptable.
Anyway, I got tired of dealing with all the hate that came with the words. By the way, it's already working. Some people using other words, are showing their true antisemitic nature. Others will be able to talk about any issue. And very likely, by having to use other words, they'll have to think about the issues in different, less reflex-driven ways.
One reader suggests I was silenced by zionists. That's just total BS. When someone uses the C word, I know it is hurting the sensibilities of many female readers. If someone uses the "n" word I know it is hurting the sensibilities of our Black readers (I'd say African American, but we have readers of color in Africa and all over the world.) And when people abuse the words Zionist or Islamicist, I know it is hurting some Islamic or Jewish readers, not just Islamicists and Zionists.
A Technology Solution? As retired English teacher Christie
suggests, there may be a software-based solution which enables the whole community to act as moderators/censors. DIGG.com's commenting system allows users to "bury" comments that are trollish or offensive. One might argue that that is a much more arbitrary form of censorship, since the commenter doesn't even know that his or her posting will be hidden. At least the current rules allow a writer to say whatever, so long as the "words" are not used. Would a comment "burying" system be a better way to deal with this?
Big, high budget sites, like the wallstreet journal, moderate every comment, so they don't appear without being screened. I don't see us having the resources for that any time soon. So other solutions to dealing with the hateful use of these terms-- by far, the most commonly abused, are invited. Just saying don't censor does not address the problem. And asking a limited number of volunteer editors to do it is not really viable.
added at 6:20 PM
I've been called an antisemite enough times, but a zionist just as many. Trying to allow both sides a voice is no picnic. I've found that those who embrace the word don't use it when they post articles. I've gotten along just fine with people who are advocates for the palestinian cause. Our most frequent contributor who travels regularly to Palestine and writes as an advocate for the Palestinians is fine with the ban of the words-- because she knows they are abused and used for hate and she can communicate her message just fine without them.
You want to talk about censorship. How many "liberal" sites won't allow articles that argue the point of view of Israeli's who feel they are defending themselves and their right to exist?
I won't list all the ones that only cover the anti-Israel, anti-zionist side. THe bigger ones tend to be pro-Israel and block criticism of Israel or advocacy for Palestinians, even banning strong voices.
I'm not going to judge any of them. They have the right to do things the way they choose.
So, I ask you, which sites allow voices from both sides? I'd like to know, so I can discuss with them how they do it. I think, while you suggest we're censoring, that we're actually the most open on this issue of all the major progressive sites.
All this discussion, for the most part has been healthy.