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



2014/09/14 • Politics

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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  • Kezzo

    It is good to show just how raciist the russian Govt. is, Through its network of paid internet hackers and goons…

    • LorCanada

      Quite right. See also this from the ‘Examiner’ site:

      It should be noted that Russia’s information war is waged not only through its mainstream media. Years ago,Kremlin recognized the power of social media and decided to exploit it. Government-funded campaigns include expatriate Russian bloggers in Germany, India, and Thailand. American conservative bloggers were also paid to write pro-Yanukovych stories, denouncing the Ukrainian revolution and spreading falsehoods about “fascists and Nazis” allegedly controlling the new government of Ukraine.

      Elaborate troll farms employ hundreds of paid trolls, hired to spread deceptive imagery and deliberately false information. They are also tasked with attacking activists, flooding comment sections of news articles to promote Kremlin’s worldview and praise Russia’s political leadership. Russia’s mainstream media reporting often uses social media postings as its primary sources.

      Since Russia’s information war against Ukraine is multifaceted, it’s important to recognize and address all of its manifestations, including not only the mainstream media, but also bloggers and trolls. Together, they work to infect public opinion, spreading hatred and war-mongering.

  • Rods

    In my experience trolling is a two edged sword, many people who were neutral over Ukraine before are now anti-Russian and pro-Ukraine due to the hi-jacking of the comments sections on news websites by paid Russian agents trying to subvert our free press. The general public is getting more and more resentful over this. A few make a reasonable effort with their trolling, although most of them are pretty dire with their poor English, use of incorrect punctuation, their crude often racist and vulgar messages and many when involved in conversation, then often resort to threats, swear words, when confronted with well reasoned knowledgeable answers, especially if it includes links that dispels their point of view. There are also other defining characteristics that single them out as trolls immediately, which I will leave you work out, where I don’t want to help them improve their crude efforts.

    So, my advice is to keep calm, don’t bite to provocations, and don’t take it personally, always take the moral high ground and give well reasoned answers, ideally with links supporting your point of view. This way you will keep readers of your comments on your side and show the trolls up for what they are. On some website where I have done this and been attacked very viciously by the troll, I have got some of the highest positive ratings from other readers, that I have ever had in a news site’s comments section, so it does work. This way, every time they spew their crude propaganda, we get a few more readers and more of the general public of that country recruited and backing the Ukrainian cause.

    Glory to Ukraine.

    • LorCanada

      Rods — Well said, thanks.

  • Eurogambit

    It looked fair to me, there seems to be a well organised of troll patrols operating in the UK, they seem to be Ukrainian, Polish and others that support NATO. They only seem interested in closing down anyone that does not follow their propaganda line, anyone that does not support their own propaganda and racism is labelled a ” Russian spy and troll “, people in England are not stupid, when we see well organised Ukrainian troll patrols we naturally turn against them.
    Ukraine can not be allowed control the media, it is already controlled.

    • Conan Edogawa SCL

      It’s RuSSia, not Ukraine, who have oligarchs controlling media outlets in UK.


      • Dean Venture

        If there’s an ad hominem or ad hitlerum, nine times out of ten it’s from the Russian side. What these boards need to do is block any tor exit node or public proxies. These make it trivial for Russian trolls to avoid revealing the fact that they have a Russian IP address, which would be easy to block if the user started to abuse the comment section. Tor is considerate enough to provide a frequently updated list of computers acting as their exit nodes –

    • LorCanada

      Perhaps you have not heard of Putin’s $300 million program to flood the internet, news sources, and beyond with Russia’s “disinformation” propaganda? He even gives special awards to his hackers who excel. Do a google search for more info, “Putin $300 million”.