Another Comment is Free stalwart, Jay Reilly, has been banned this morning, apparently after calling Tony Blair "a c*nt". It's not elegant, it's not clever, and it's not what I would have said and of course it was going to be deleted. The thread in which Jay disgraced himself, in which Tony Blair sang the praises of Sierra Leone (and, by implication, his own interventionist foreign policy) went down particularly badly with the Cif posse. Well over half the 84 comments were deleted before it was shut down after little more than an hour. By the time I spotted it, it was already too late...
Matt Seaton, Cif's increasingly embattled editor, came on about half way through to wag his finger:
Good morning, campers.
I'm afraid it's not a very good morning here, though. Please do not use this thread simply to vent spleen and post abuse of Tony Blair. It's not funny or clever; it's just boring, as well as pointlessly vacuuming up our moderators' time and attention.
The topics of this thread are Sierra Leone, development and Africa. If people persist in using it to post abuse of Tony Blair, we will judge that as off-topic and, if that's all that's going on here, then we will close the thread peremptorily.
Jay now joins Woolly Minded Liberal, Khartoumi, Hank Scorpio and several other familiar pseudonyms on the increasingly long banned list. There seems to have been a change of policy recently: an increased willingness to ban, rather than simply delete, people who annoy the powers that be, a determination to wrest control of "the Cif community" from the fractious, sometimes witty, sometimes intemperate, but often incisive band of regular commenters who actually constitute the community and reassert central control. Matt Seaton seems to be taking advice from the Gordon Brown school of public relations. Cif as we've come to know it for the past few years seems, as a result, to be close to collapse. It will soon become indistinguishable from any other newspaper website.
Well, refugees are welcome to come and contribute here.
There follows a brilliant post on the "what do you want to talk about thread" from above-the-line writer Ally Fogg - one of the best - which says it all, really.
For a couple of years Cif has been clearly the best political comment site in the UK, if not the world.
Why? You think it is because of the authors? The Guardian columnists and Cif occasionals? Wrong.
Go to the Independent or the Times or further afield to Salon or Alternet or Huffington, and there are hundreds of writers who are easily a match for any of us here. In many cases they're actually the same people!
What has Cif had that the others haven't? I'll tell you what.
...and all the other passionate, intelligent, angry, interesting, bloody-minded, foul-mouthed, awkward buggers from across the political spectrum.
Every time the moderators ban an interesting poster from these pages, Cif is seriously diminished. Every time someone is banned, a bunch of others either leave in disgust or become considerably less frequent visitors - as the magic of Cif is further diminished (Kizbot is, by popular consent, the funniest, most insightful, most likeable poster Cif has ever had, but I wouldn't be surprised if she is serious about quitting. Nor would I blame her.)
So, Jay said something exceptionally offensive about Tony Blair, did he? Good. Just as well I didn't see the post while it was open, because I'm sure I'd have said something similar to the murdering, mendacious war criminal, and presumably I'd be out on my ear too. Whatever Jay said, I very much doubt it was as offensive as killing a million people on a tissue of lies.
But whatever. Delete the post. How long does it take the moderators to delete a post? A tenth of a second? With the likes of Jay and Woolly, even if the mods have to delete ten posts for every one left standing, that one post would still be adding considerable value to the thread and to this forum and would be worth the deletions.
What I find really disturbing is that it doesn't seem to be persistent breach of guidelines that gets people banned, it doesn't seem to be expressing vicious fascistic, racist, homophobic or misogynist attitudes that gets people banned. What DOES get people banned is persistently challenging the moderators' decisions. Nothing personal, coz I'm sure they're all lovely people in the pub, but at work they come over as a bunch of mini-Cartmans yelling "YOU WILL RESPECT MY AUTHORITAAAAAY"
I find it hard to believe that Jay has been banned for persistent foul language. I don't want to believe that he has been banned for expressing political views that don't fit the Guardian ideology. I strongly suspect he has actually been banned for being a pain in the arse to the moderators. Well sorry, that's worse than political censorship in my book, because it means we are all missing out on the very best of Cif because some moderator has got a hump on. Tough, mate. That's your job.
If the mods are too busy answering complaints about moderation from posters who've had their posts deleted, then maybe they should be instructed not to engage with posters beyond a stock reply. That would be annoying and unhelpful, but not half as annoying and unhelpful as banning people.
Sort it out, Matt, or Georgina, or Emily, or whoever supervises the mods. please. This is killing Cif.