It rapidly became clear that nothing like that would happen. Out there on the comments pages it's survival of the shoutiest, with access favouring those who've got the internet in front of them all day and nothing interesting to do. Shielded by anonymity, the need for civility and accuracy wither to nought.
Last year I pondered why news sites get this crap much more than Wikipedia.
Wikipedia's a reference tool, the Guardian is a news site. If you manage to skew the first wave of comments on a news article, you've effectively neutered the ability to debate. Who goes back to a four month old news article to start a discussion?
Most posts on this blog only get a couple of comments, if any. I've deleted very few, just the ones that were solely comprised of insults. I've let ones from climate deniers, Simple Minds fans, BNP supporters and people even further right stay up.
In May I did a post about BNP leaflets and the party's climate denial. Within 12 hours it had about 30 comments. About two-thirds were from BNP supporters, all bar one were anonymous, and none of them about the content of the post (that the source the BNP cited to prove there's no climate change actually shows the opposite).
It was during the period of the European elections when the BNP had clearly got their flunkies to trawl the internet and bombard the comments sections of anything that mentioned the party. The effect is rather like having them run into a meeting with airhorns. Nobody can be heard over the din, and by the time they leave everyone sensible's left the room. I've got another post about the BNP coming soon, and I'm half expecting the same flood of comments, so I thought I'd set out the rules in advance.
Free speech is one of those issues where I strongly agree with opposed sides. I think people have a right to be protected from hate speech, and it is blindingly obvious that extreme actions have their roots in seemingly innocuous incitement activities. We should not allow the fascists credibility and let them march the streets, creating an atmosphere of intimidation, normalising aggressive racism and bigotry. I applaud those who use force to confront and fight fascists.
Conversely, something in that feels a bit paternalistic, like we're saying we don't trust the public to be as smart as us in seeing through facist lies. If we don't trust the mass of people to discount stupid opinions then there is little point in any political activism as a decent future is impossible.
On a more philosophical level, where does the no-platform policy end? I agree with George Orwell when he said
If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
We can't have this apply to our controversial views but not those of others simply because we disagree with them. Or to put it another way, as Noam Chomsky said,
Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're really in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech.
However, Orwell qualified his point with stuff that makes obvious sense
If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilization means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way.
So which ones are activities that deserve to be stymied because they 'harm the community'? Fascist attacks on ethnic minorities? Advocating the deportation of our neighbours? Making stupid comments online that inhibit proper discussion?
Here on this blog, I don't have to find definite answers. It's not a freedom of speech issue. If I were the BBC then I would have a duty to be impartial, but really, this place is no more powerful or laudable than a blog anyone could set up in seconds. So if I delete comments it is not shutting down anyone's freedom of speech.
It's my blog, and if I deem comments to be discouraging to the kind of debate and atmosphere I want to see here, stuff full of insults and not even on topic, then I'm free to delete them. And if you don't like that you BNP scumfucks then go cry to your mums.