Comments to articles on Russia in The Guardian overflow with racism and hate speech – letter to the editor



Below is a letter sent by a reader of The Guardian regarding the policy of moderating (or more accurately, not moderating) the comment threads under articles about Russia.

“…My specific objection on this occasion was to the failure to remove instances of racism, hate speech and no doubt criminal threats of violence from the comments thread attached to the piece Despair in Luhansk as residents count the dead  by Shaun Walker.

My general point is that threads underneath articles about Russia and its neighbours are not in the least bit moderated according to the standards which the Guardian itself proclaims. In its list of ‘Community Standards and Participation Guidelines’. Numbers 1, 3, 4 and 5 on that list are blatantly, repeatedly and aggressively flouted on every single comments thread relating to Russia’s relations with its neighbours. In the last 12 months this means chiefly Ukraine, but this would apply to every single story with a comments thread concerned with Estonia and Latvia to appear in the Guardian over the last five years. This is true even if the story has nothing to do with Russian-speaking minorities or disagreements with Moscow. I believe that this is chiefly the result of systematic and paid work of people directly employed by the government of Russia. Not that everybody on those comments threads expressing pro-Russian views is that, not at all, but at the root of it is an aggressive, government-funded negative PR machine which is only concerned to attack Ukraine, the Baltics, Georgia, Moldova, etc.

Among those points on the ‘Community Standards and Participation Guidelines’ list I can see that 3 and 4 are more debatable, in this case, than 1 and 5. We could argue about what is ‘extremely’ offensive and what is just ordinarily offensive, for instance. But it does seem to me in the case of these is that the main issue is that not many Ukranians, Estonians, Latvians, etc. read the Guardian, and therefore it is OK to be offensive about them in a way that it would not be if people were attacking some other ethnic group.

The most serious problems are with no. 1 and no. 5. No. 1 reads ‘personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), persistent trolling and mindless abuse will not be tolerated’. These things are tolerated by the Guardian on a daily basis. Anyone who speaks out against pro-Moscow (I surmise paid) commenters is immediately abused. The most serious breaches are of no. 5: ‘We will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia or other forms of hate-speech, or contributions that could be interpreted as such. We recognise the difference between criticising a particular government, organisation, community or belief and attacking people on the basis of their race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age’. Ukraine and Ukranians have in recent times been subjected to racist abuse on comments threads like this one on the basis of their supposed Nazism: this is racism in that it takes a characteristic supposedly attributable to one or another Ukranian and applies it to a whole group: you point out some black people in prison and say ‘blacks are all criminals’; you get the point.

The Guardian needs to be much harder on this. I wonder if you could tell me what course of action the newspaper proposes. I have no idea whether there are Ofcom regulations that apply to a situation like this but I could probably find out. Unfortunately I do not have the time to monitor every comments thread relating to Russia’s western neighbours, but if you look at a few quite at random I think you will see that I am right.

Anyway, looking forward to your response.


Jason Finch”

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