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Home Editorials A Further Note on Civility and the Moderation of Comments on EJIL: Talk!

A Further Note on Civility and the Moderation of Comments on EJIL: Talk!

Published on November 17, 2016        Author: 

In a recent Editorial EJIL reconfirmed its commitment to a robust policy of freedom of speech and academic freedom. A few weeks ago I also noted that:

We welcome robust and critical analysis and comment — including the slaughtering of Holy Cows. We welcome both the harsh and the whimsical. But it has always been the policy of EJIL that we endeavor to maintain a tone that does not offend good taste and that in interpersonal exchanges — in our debates in EJIL and in comments on EJIL Talk — disagreements are expressed in a non disagreeable manner.

One’s commitment to the freedom of speech and academic freedom is tested when confronted with speech with which one strongly disagrees and might even consider offensive. The ability to respond, contest and debate, on equal footing and in the same forum, is often time the best form of dealing with these issues — which is the default policy of EJIL in all its outlets — the Journal itself with its policy of EJIL Debates, EJIL Talk! and EJIL Live.

There are limits to all freedoms, especially when they conflict with other equally fundamental values such as dignity or reputation – though where exactly these limits lie is an issue itself hotly contested. Our tendency is to err on the side of academic freedom and freedom of expression. In the libel suit against EJIL we vigorously defended a contested book review, but as we stated there, had we considered that the contested book review had crossed the line into defamatory territory we would have withdrawn the book review. The French judiciary confirmed our assessment that the line had not been crossed, offensive and painful as the author of the book in question found the review.

Censoring the substance and material content of a position is thus something that should be done with great caution and only in extremis, no matter how offending one finds the contested opinion.

EJIL: Talk draws another line, that of civility of discourse, particularly pertinent, given the nature of the forum – unedited, non-refereed, comments – and the habits and customs of unbridled talkbacks rife on the net. We would feel such is inappropriate on the blog of a scholarly journal as we understand ourselves.

The comments in response to the recent post on the future of the SOGI mandate give rise to these issues. To judge from some emails I received, some of our readers considered that the substantive content of some of the views expressed were unacceptable for publication. I do not think that they reached that level. I have placed this type of question on the agenda of the next meeting of the full Editorial Board so that it can be addressed with the necessary deliberation and gravitas.

But on one element in that exchange it is our duty to take a position right now. We are aware that in the passion of a debate on strongly held beliefs, the line might be crossed inadvertently. Be that as it may, the ad personam characterization of Mr Vitit Muntarbhorn  as a “a political ideologue [rather] than a serious human rights lawyer,” crosses, in all the circumstances of the case, the limits of civil discourse to which EJIL aspires. Not surprisingly other similar personal characterizations followed.

In writing to me some readers used very similar characterization of the authors of these comments –  but such views would be equally unacceptable for publication in EJIL Talk!

I have therefore decided, in consultation with the Editors of the Blog, in light of the unfortunate turn in the tone of discussion in the comment thread to the post on the SOGI mandate, to close the thread for further comment. The editors of the blog do not wish to engage in substantive censorship, but incivility will not be tolerated and infringing comments will be moderated as appropriate under the circumstances.

I repeat yet again: We welcome robust and critical analysis and comment — including the slaughtering of Holy Cows. We welcome both the harsh and the whimsical. But it has always been the policy of EJIL that we endeavour to maintain a tone that does not offend good taste and that especially in interpersonal exchanges disagreements be expressed in a non-disagreeable manner. Critical in content, civil in expression.

I have asked the Editors of the EJIL Talk! to be vigilant in ensuring the continued civil tone of the blog. We expect contributors to the blog to respect its sensibilities.

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Filed under: Editorials, EJIL, EJIL: Debate!