Monday, September 15, 2008

Online comments are now fair game too

gag In what is sure to raise a storm of controversy, Margot Blight, a lawyer for the Canadian Human Rights Commission said today in her final submissions at a hate speech hearing, that anyone who runs an online message board or who allows comments to be posted to their blog could be charged under federal human rights law if visitors to their site post hateful comments.

I am no fan of the CHRC and hate speech laws concern me as they are prone to abuse and tend to undermine two basic premises of the Rule of Law; 1) the shift from the objective (what was expressed) to the subjective (how was it received and/or perceived), and 2) the loss of predictability (laws and the consequences of breaking them should be predictable).

But having said that, I am not uncomfortable with bloggers, in particular, taking control of the comments posted to their blogsites. A couple of months ago, we began moderating all comments on this site.  The primary reason was to cut back on those who use comments as an opportunity to fund raise or drive people to questionable websites.  We also became concerned with the growing problem all bloggers face of links to maleware sites being posted in comments (hence we will no longer allow any comment to be posted that includes a website address).  We also found that there are a few trolls out there who just love to be abusive and bullying on the web and we decided that we had no responsibility to give them a platform.  Hence, we drew up a comments policy for the blog that states, among other things, that we reserve the right to moderate all comments and either approve them or not approve them for any reason without explanation. This is not censorship since we defend your right to fully express your opinion on your own website or blog.

Make no mistake, I detest the idea that bloggers might have to moderate the comments on their website in order to avoid getting into trouble with human rights commissions.  The problem is, the unpredictability and subjectivity of these hate speech laws make it difficult to know just what hate speech is.


Tim said...

In addition to all those things, I also think that the majority of comments are of little value to readers. Maybe in the early days of blogging some really substantial points might have been raised by commenters, but I see that less and less, although some blogs do still provoke intelligent comments. I primarily go to blogs to read the opinions of the writers and don't pay much attention to the comments anymore.

The whole internet is one big newspaper and thanks to Blogger and others, everyone can have their own editorial page and filibuster to their hearts content -- and find out for themselves what it's like to moderate comments. I think all serious commenters have their own blogs now and post their comments as reactions to other blog postings. Similar to the way newspaper columnists will comment on news articles.

Laurel said...

Glenn, what can we, as concerned Canadian citizens, do about this????

Glenn Penner said...

Address your concerns regarding how Section 13 of Canada's Human Rights Act is being enforced by the human rights commissions to your Member of Parliament (or during this election campaign) to the candidates running for election in your riding.