Political blogs are all about ‘freedom of speech’, except when they are not

There seems to be some confusion about what is free speech and what is not free speech. It is a topic often debated. Today I am looking at why political blogs are examples of ‘freedom of speech’ in action but not necessarily in the way that some think they should be.

The argument gets complex once we start talking commenters and moderation. Some tiny blogs with limited readership take pride in what they consider freedom of speech. Due to the small number of comments on posts, Blog authors are reluctant to rein in their readership in any way, as they are in the start up phase and are desperately trying to grow their audience. In this phase they tolerate regular commenters who often dominate discussions and feel free to use offensive language and to make personal attacks on other commenters. On blogs like this, the ‘we promote free speech’ argument is really a smokescreen.

They call this tolerance of bad behaviour ‘free speech’, and indeed they are allowing their commenters to say whatever they like, unlike a Super Blog like Whaleoil where there is moderation. Does that mean that Whaleoil does not have freedom of speech? Well yes and no. Whaleoil is a Political blog that allows the blog authors to write about whatever they want. Like every political blog out there it allows the authors to express their personal opinions freely, so as a Political blog, Whaleoil certainly does have freedom of speech.

Does Whaleoil allow freedom of speech for its commenters? Well no, it doesn’t. Limits are imposed for a number of reasons including but not limited to…

Liability: Blogs can be held accountable for what their commenters say. A commenter breaking name suppression for example can lead to a prosecution against the blog owner. Breaking name suppression these days is a fine in excess of $100,000 so it is not an offence to be taken lightly.

Size: Once a blog gets to a certain size it can easily become a disjointed mess of unrelated and low value comments. Commenters may not stick to the topic being discussed, they may fill up the post with comments saying things like, ‘ I agree’, ‘ you are so right’, ‘ Great idea’ etc and this will put other readers off.




Commercial Value: Once a Political Blog is at a size where it is earning advertising dollars from Google it can still post anything it wants but it has to turn off the ads on any posts that break Google Ad conditions and forgo the ad revenue. Once a Blog reaches this size, freedom of speech is still not limited but if you want the advertising money to keep coming in each month you have to make a choice on whether or not a post is worth losing the revenue over.

Professionalism: As Whaleoil grew it changed. At a certain point it needed to become more mainstream and professional in order to continue to grow its audience.


A friendly environment: Commenters only represent a small fraction of a blog’s actual readership. Some people think that the number of comments is an accurate assessment of the popularity of a blog but they are only the tip of the iceberg. The best way to encourage a diverse range of comments from different people (not the same regular ) is to create a safe environment for comments. Once good moderation is in place, people who have been readers for years will finally venture forth to comment, safe in the knowledge that they will not be abused or ridiculed.


Yesterday I was amused to see a small Blog reacting after a few days of comments spiralling out of control. While still reluctant to use the dirty word ‘moderation’ or the even dirtier word ‘ ban,’ the blog owner has nevertheless started down that path. The phrase ‘time out’ has been mentioned as well as strong words such as ‘stringent’, and ‘ will not be tolerated’. Good behaviour has always been requested on the blog but has rarely been enforced.

Lately the Blog has become a toxic place and the Blog owner is now faced with only two options. One, to enforce expectations, or two, to allow hostilities to continue. He has learned the hard way that with rights come responsibilities. He was proud of his record of providing an un-moderated political forum and was all for ‘ freedom of speech,’ until he experienced a week or more of chaos. Even his regular commenters are asking him to start moderating. Of course when the moderation is applied to his regulars they may not be so keen but that is just human nature. You can never please everybody all of the time, but you certainly can make your Political blog an enjoyable and safe place to debate topics in a polite environment.

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