October 14, 2008

Toube or not Toube? That is the question

You might remember a few posts back, David Toube of Harry's Place bragging about his role in the dismissal of Soraya Tehrani, he claimed, for "racism" - read, criticising Israel. He even posted an email from the Comment is free editor, Matt Seaton, thanking him for his role in the business.

Here's Matt Seaton's obsequious email to Mr Toube:
Dear David

Thank you for drawing this to our attention.

On the main issue – of whether someone posting below the line in this manner should be allowed to post above the line – you are completely right. And our response is that we cannot have a comment contributor whose posting in threads has been subjected to moderation for antisemitism. We were not aware that this was an issue with Soraya Tehrani and we should have checked her commenting record much more carefully with the community management team, which is a separate department (physically, as well as administratively).

If we had been aware of Tehrankid77’s record of posting, we would never have accepted her as a contributor. We won’t be using her again.

Clearly, this raises an issue of vetting for us. While we like, on principle, to promote interesting posters to comment under a proper byline above the line (and there are many positive examples of this), we cannot afford to be naïve or careless about who this privilege is extended to. So, your complaint about this user has highlighted a weakness in our procedures and, in future, there will be closer coordination between the editorial and moderation team on the vetting of users’ posting records before accepting comment articles from them.

I hope this answers your points satisfactorily.

With best wishes,

Matt

(reproduced with Matt’s permission)

Well I wrote to complain about Toube's undue influence in this case, I'll post my emails into the comments so as not to clutter up the post (too late, I know), and here's what Matt Seaton wrote to me:
Dear Mark

The judgment about whether those comments were antisemitic was not mine, but our moderators', who had taken that judgment long prior to any complaint from David Toube or anyone else about Soraya Tehrani being a contributor. Given that fact, I had no choice but to act as I did. I would do the same if a different form of abuse report was involved (eg, anti-Islamic). The comments that were deleted were relatively borderline, I grant; and not evidence that Soraya is any sort of 'committed' antisemite; I don't know her personally, but I think this is very unlikely. However, their content cannot be dismissed so easily as merely shrill: there is a strong whiff of the 'world zionist conspiracy' trope, of undue Jewish political influence over the US, etc. Our moderation team receive training and education on such issues, because it is not unknown for 'committed' antisemites precisely to introduce in disguised form antisemitic tropes. I think it likely that Soraya has in part fallen foul of being insufficiently attuned to the historically-accreted subtleties of antisemitic discourse.

I take no self-righteous pleasure in any of this; whichever way you look at it, there is much to regret. But I would strongly maintain that there is no question of the Guardian bowing to 'organised bullying', as some are advertising it. We had made an inadvertent error in this case, and there was no course of action open to us but to admit that, terminate Soraya's contributor status and improve our editorial vetting procedures.

Yours sincerely,

Matt

PS I regard all of the above as personal correspondence between us on the subject, and I would not wish to be quoted in any forum without permission.
Note how Matt Seaton gives permission to Toube to post his email thanking him for helping him ditch Tehrani but he doesn't permit me to post his denial of the idea that Toube had anything to do with it.

The good news is that the Guardian seems to be finding Toube a bit of an embarrassment. Poor Mr Seaton should have read Harry's Place before he wrote to Toube instead of after. Hopefully he'll know next time.

UPDATE: Matt Seaton has correctly pointed out to me that I "should have noted that [he] did not at any stage say that that permission [to post his email to me] would have been refused if asked for." That's true, I did not ask for permission. He simply said I did not have permission. He also said that in this instance David Toube behaved more ethically than I did in that he did seek permission. That's the bit that hurt! Roll on the next Cif editor.

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