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Fixing the Have Your Say fault

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Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 16:08 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009

The BBC's Have Your Say messageboards are unfortunately not quite living up to their name at the moment, for which I'd like to apologise.

A technical fault has meant that the boards have been down since Wednesday evening and despite the best efforts of our software engineers it's likely that the problem isn't going to be fixed for a few more days.

It's doubly unfortunate that we've been hit with the problem in the middle of the outbreak of swine flu - between Monday and Wednesday this week Have Your Say had around 500,000 hits and provided our audience with a valuable insight into the experiences of people around the world and what they were thinking about the story.

We're working hard to fix the fault, as we recognise that for many Have Your Say is an extremely important platform that allows them to voice their views and opinions on the most important issues of the day. And for the BBC it is a highly valued way to listen to what matters to our audience and to find out what they are thinking about key stories, which we then feed into our journalism.

As a result, while we continue to investigate the issues, we will still offer an opportunity for you to Have Your Say on one or two of the big stories of the day. You'll be able to email in your views and experiences on those subjects and the HYS moderators will publish a selection of them. We'll be able to publish far fewer comments that we usually do and it will take longer for us to do that. But we hope that it will provide you with a least a flavour of what everyone is thinking and we will publish as many comments as we possibly can. So please bear with us and please continue to contribute your views.

We'll provide an update on the issue early next week.

UPDATE, 10:40, Wednesday, 6 May: I want to give you an update on the current problems with Have Your Say. We have been using the existing software since October 2005 and in that time it has hosted more than 6,000 debates - which has meant the publication, without fear or favour, of about six million comments across a wide range of topics and political perspectives.

But like all systems it's not infallible. The engineers are still working on the problems - it is proving very tough to isolate the cause of the outage, but we expect to have much clearer info about the situation soon, and I will obviously update you on that as soon as I can.

I'd also like to thank you for the comments about the functionality Have Your Say offers and the moderation processes we use - they have been extremely interesting to read and reflect much of what HYS users have already told us directly about the system.

Matthew Eltringham is the assistant editor of Interactivity

Comments

Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    HYS going down for a few days is probably the best thing that could have happened in the over-hyped climate of swine flu reporting. Perhaps some people will take the 'enforced' spare time to get a sense of proportion.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Have your engineers considered the possibility that an overdose of bile had clogged up the system?

  • Comment number 5.

    Matthew:

    I am hopeful, that the engineers (will be able to restore) HAVE YOUR SAY service....

    I am also, sending my wishes for a speedy recovery!

    -Dennis Junior-

  • Comment number 6.



    Matthew:

    I am here to accept your apologise, but; This is a technical problem that will be work on.....

    Thanks to you and the BBC for the informative information...

    -Dennis Junior-

  • Comment number 7.

    Ref Spiderjon #2, its a shame therefore that the BBC 'journalists' can't 'go down' as well.

  • Comment number 8.

    Has HYS caught a cold ???

  • Comment number 9.

    '...for the BBC it is a highly valued way to listen to what matters to our audience and to find out what they are thinking about key stories, which we then feed into our journalism.

    ...we will still offer an opportunity for you to Have Your Say on one or two of the big stories of the day. You'll be able to email in your views and experiences on those subjects and the HYS moderators will publish a selection of them.... But we hope that it will provide you with a least a flavour of what everyone is thinking...


    Bless. I'll have to add 'a flavour of what everyone is thinking' to 'enhancing the narrative', 'interpreting events' and other gems.

    4. At 10:11pm on 01 May 2009, dotconnect wrote:

    That'll be it.

    Also worth checking the one way/non return valves.

    Feel the love. Only.

  • Comment number 10.

    Only a change of its management will permit WHYS to validly reflect audience opinion.

    It is an interesting vehicle, especially for bringing in southern African participation. However its mission is corrupted in everything concerning Israel.

    Thus, a large segment of World opinion is excluded and has been turned off by this bias.

    This concern should transcend any technical problems.

  • Comment number 11.

    I suspect your engineers are looking at an acute case of Q's disease.

    This little known illness was originally discovered by Doctor Whys who is not believed to be related to Doctor Who. In moderation, it causes immediate rejection of any input belonging to another person. At its severest, symptoms are known to produce total paralysis of movement for anything up to twenty four hours a day when faced with foreign input.

    Treatment is best applied through psychoanalysis but the prognosis is generally poor.

  • Comment number 12.

    I expect that your moderator filters have become clogged to the point they won't pass anything.

    Have you thought of running without?

    I don't think it would cause damage, and you could always sift reactively.

  • Comment number 13.

    Whatever will Tory Central Office do to pass the time now?

    By the way, have you tried reversing the polarity of the trilenium crystals in the core?

  • Comment number 14.

    ...all together now..................................................''Can you fix it...??''

  • Comment number 15.

    who do you think you're kidding?
    you must have the software etc backed up
    and comissioning a new server wouldn't take more than 1/2 a day at most
    so, what's the real reason it's offline?
    too many anti government posts?

  • Comment number 16.

    ...or too many cynical, paranoid ones?

  • Comment number 17.

    I wonder if this sudden fault with HYS has anything to do with the forthcoming election season?

    It'd be a shame if HYS members who prove thorns in the side of certain political ideologies and organisations were to have thier accounts "lost" wouldn't it?

    I wouldn't put anything past labour or the BEEB

  • Comment number 18.

    While you are fixing it why don't you sort out some kind of 'search' facility? HYS really does need one.

  • Comment number 19.

    Given that almost every time I check in on HYS, it seems dominated by page after page of right-wing views (what I would term 'reactionary, swivel-eyed, ill-informed spite', but what the posters themselves would no doubt term 'common sense') and given that the publication of these views has certainly dominated throughout previous election cycles - it seems somewhat paranoid to suddenly start speculating about the BEEB's commitment to airing right wing views, don't you think?

    But hey, perhaps you're right, it's all a conspiracy and the BBC engineers are in on it too. Quick, someone call Mike Rudin! (Then again, a 2,864-post blog is probably not what your engineers need right now... )

  • Comment number 20.

    you write: "A technical fault has meant that the boards have been down.."

    that much we can see for ourselves, it would have been appreciated if you could have shed some light on the nature of the fault(s).

    this sort of blog entry highlights all that's wrong with the media really -- copious amounts of mealy-mouthedness but no real information.

    sad.

  • Comment number 21.

    I think there should be a radical change of design for HYS. One thing that strikes me is, that you are unable to comment on what someone else has written. That way there could be a debate, and where better. Please do so.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think the problem is that you are trying to find un-biased moderators and this is proving to be nigh impossible.

  • Comment number 23.

    Does the BBC out-source HYS to Pakistan or Iraq,I ask this as it seems to me the moderators dont like to print anything that criticises Muslims,it is ok to criticise Christians,on this they have no problems printing the vilest of comments.

  • Comment number 24.

    Swine flu is just another smoke screen to keep our eyes and minds away from more sharp practices by HMG, so i am glad that HYS is down, and we can all look for more cracks appearing in the old "New Labour" edifice!

  • Comment number 25.

    I've seen plenty of vile comments on HYS made about "these Muslims". Plenty.

  • Comment number 26.

    Whilst your engineers are on the job perhaps they could install a few more moderators, so reply queues don't become as stagnant as they have recently.

  • Comment number 27.

    I see #1 has been moderated out, but #2 hits the nail firmly on the head.

    "HYS going down for a few days is probably the best thing that could have happened in the over-hyped climate of swine flu reporting."

    This is yet another media panic, to keep the public in a state of hysteria (no, hysteria, not lysteria - remember that one?) and to stop them from thinking about the damage those merchant bankers have done to the economy.

    Just a thought, but maybe some public-spirited techie has pulled the plug on HYS?

  • Comment number 28.

    Am i missing something here? BBC right wing conspiracies? Bias to certain religious views? Why is that some people are too cynical? The BBC editor gave us this post to inform us that HYS has some technical difficulties, thats all. Can you not trust that the moderators are neutral? They can't control the fact that perhaps in one topic most comments are centred towards the right, or left. I mean do you want them to ensure that there is an equal amount of each political persuasion. Please, have some common sense.

  • Comment number 29.

    A little more fuel for the "conspiracy" bonfire.

    How long does it take to write, test and install an "alternative" email based HYS system when the notion that "engineers are working on the problem" indicates that they may solve the problem "at any moment". Given that computer failures do not "take a system down" for more than a day or so I think we should be told exactly what has gone wrong. It is probably nothing more than a manager giving all moderation staff leave at the same time or trying to cope with an outbreak of swine flu in his/her office but it would be nice if the BBC told us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (for a change maybe).

  • Comment number 30.

    #28. "Can you not trust that the moderators are neutral?"

    No. Because they're not - read the definition of unacceptable posts. Some viewpoints are automatically moderated out.

    Now, this may well be the right thing to do, but let's have no nonsense about neutrality. When one can't mention S*d's Law (homophobic), M*rphy's Law (racist) or c*ck-up (obscene), no one can deny that there's censorship going on.

  • Comment number 31.

    #30

    When has the BBC ever claimed that S*d's Law can't be used because it's homophobic, or M*rphy's Law can't be used because it's racist?

    Or is that your own interpretation of why those phrases have been censored (if indeed they have been) or the poster's comments removed?

    I would be interested to know the original context.

  • Comment number 32.

    There is a very obvious fault in the system.

    If your comment is moderator queued when the relevant discussion is closed then all outstanding non-rejected items should have their status changed to "Unpublished". Now check your comment list and see how many "old" items are still marked as "moderator queued", or, in other words, in "no man's land". Obviously the software is not very clever.

    Personally I'd like to see the BBC return to the threaded discussion boards with or without heavy moderation. At least they worked and didn't contain so many banal items at the expense of things people really would like to discuss.

  • Comment number 33.

    Biggest problem with HYS is the lack of a ficility to 'recommend against' and entry, that would provide a much more balanced view.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.

    Posts 28 & 30 "Can you not trust that the moderators are neutral?

    Having never had problems with HYS I can't really say, but there is no doubt in my mind that the moderation system leaves much to be desired. It is by its very nature subjective so a measure of apparent 'unfairness' will always cause grief to someone.

    And there is a difference. Some newspapers will cheerfully censor columns,
    subject matter, even individual posters in exchange for a handout of tidbits from government and other powerful organisations ... or even the threat of withdrawal of such a privilege. But I am confident the BBC is above that and not just on moral grounds. Why? Because the BBC is sought out as the preferred source for such information whereas the newspaper has a need to be able to cry 'exclusive'.

    I would advise all posters to relate their experiences with the moderators directly to that part of the media they contributed to. Don't be fooled by the odd crude anti-government comment or the hysterical anti-Arab or anti-Jewish diatribe; these are often plants to give an impression of even handedness. It's the informed, intelligent comment that has to match the politics, particularly of newspapers.



  • Comment number 36.

    I work in IT and I find this downtime extremely hard to believe, somehow. Will the technical details of the fault itself be made available? There shouldn't be any issue in immediately restoring from a backup (which I assume you actually have...) and HYS would have been down for at most a few hours; at this rate it's looking more like a week.

    I go with those who says there's more to this than meets the eye.

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 38.

    #35 is fair comment, but there is some flawed logic.

    To check out the "neutrality and objectivity" of the BBC moderators (and editors who can pressure for comment removal) who directly or indirectly pays the wages and controls the selection of the staff concerned? Try posting a rejected or removed BBC comment on a site (as an example see Channel Four) and see if it is removed (in most cases it will not be). Okay we can all put up with occasional lapses from high standards and are intelligent enough to recognise when that happens, but the persistent removal of posts that do not break rules should not be allowed or tolerated. There is no excuse for subjectivity other than censorship including the delicate matter of what items are listed for discussion in the first place.

    We are all "editors" and "moderators" in the great scheme of things and we are entitled to expect professionalism from those who get paid for doing the job.

  • Comment number 39.

    In the meantime you could direct visitors to the BBC World Have Your Say blogs at http://worldhaveyoursay.wordpress.com/, couldn't you?

    Personally I'm not sure why you need a separate radio have your say and the website have your say. Wouldn't it make sense to merge HYS with WHYS and also deliver it on television as well perhaps once a month or so?

  • Comment number 40.

    The list of 'Topical posts on this blog' is v. interesting. Recent subjects missing from list are particularly interesting. Why was real name and e-mail address asked for and published when site first went down?
    Who do you think you are kidding?

  • Comment number 41.

    P.S. to No.40 and points therein.


    Explanation please.

  • Comment number 42.

    Why don't you just replace HYS with a tried and tested forum?

    Oh and stop the 'selective moderation' of posts that don't break house rules yet don't happen to match the moderator's (or the BBC's) favoured views.

  • Comment number 43.

    18. L A Odicean wrote:

    While you are fixing it why don't you sort out some kind of 'search' facility? HYS really does need one.

    HYS used to have a search facility a year or two back. If you could recall the topic title fairly precisely, you could find it again when it was off the page. For some reason the search was done away with.

    HYS also has a peculiar habit of shutting topics down abruptly after a day or so when they are popular and attracting many comments. There can only be one reason for this - disagreement with the political direction the comments are taking, especially as indicated by numerous recommendations of right-wing comments.

    Most irritating is the tactic of letting hundreds of comments back up in the "Moderation Queue" while publishing a thrifty handful. This effectively shuts down the debate. Is HYS there to facilitate public debate or thwart it? If the latter, why bother?

    HYS has also become more and more stingy over the past year with the number of topics open for debate at any one time. The International version and the UK version of HYS now have a total of four or five topics on the page. There used to be between fifteen and twenty.

    Those who have followed HYS from the beginning will know that a number of improvements were made over the years, for example the "Comments Recommended" facility was introduced at a later stage and vastly improved the openness of HYS with the ability of registered members of the public to express their opinions by recommending comments even when their own comments were not published.

    Now this open trend appears to be going into reverse. Dotconnect and others can scoff at conspiracy theories, but HYS definitely has recently shut down debate to a large extent.

    On the plus side, the BBC blogs are moderated in a fairly open fashion. That said, there will always be a left-wing bias to these BBC forums. It can't be otherwise since this is the BBC we are talking about.

    Those who are frustrated by the length of time the "technical" problems are taking to resolve should note that BBC blogs like this one and World Have Your Say were recently almost inaccessible to comments for months on end. I didn't buy the excuse then that it was a "technical" problem. The obvious explanation was that enabling people to have their say wasn't high on the list of BBC priorities at the time. I think we should give the BBC a bit of time to resolve this glitch before assuming that the same thing is happening now.

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 46.

    #31. There's a simple test, dotconnect.

    Next time you post to HYS, try including a reference to S*d's Law and see what happens. I was gobsmacked to have the post, a perfectly innocent comment about cricket, rejected,.

  • Comment number 47.

    Why do we mistrust explanations for convenient occurances?
    Perhaps its because politicians and large organisations, such as the BBC, have been caught many times telling lies. If we accept the things we are told at face value, it makes us feel naive.

  • Comment number 48.

    #46 - will try it, but still there's no way you can be sure that your post wasn't removed (a) mistakenly, (b) because it was considered off-topic, (c) some other reason for which it broke the guidelines and which you're unaware. I don't mean to doubt your sincerity, but the point is, claiming that "one can't mention s*d's law" may not be an entirely fair representation of the BBC.

    It's quite possible that the word s*d (or for that matter, c*ck) was automatically flagged up by the system, and the post was then not reinstated, whether through backlog or whatever - that's certainly a common slip-up with automated moderation settings in forum software and may well be the same on messageboards.

  • Comment number 49.

    I have never had a problem with the HYS moderators, presumably because I always keep my comments civil, with minimal frothing at the mouth.

    Perhaps some people who have issues should take a look at the way they conduct their views?

  • Comment number 50.

    #46 I have had a comment referred for inclusion of "offensive slang". On formal protest that the word is defined in the OED without reference to being either "offensive" or "slang" the post was restored.

    #47 Excellent post. And just in case people do not believe this kind of action I made a formal complaint to the BBC following unexplained withdrawal of comments and biased activity by a BBC contributor to these blogs. The original explanation for removal was "technical problems" (the withdrawn comments reappeared) which I refused to accept. The complaint has been referred on and is still being dealt with.

    I am sick and tired of the BBC believing the general public are a stupid bunch of idiots, a view I assume they believe because of how easily we cough up our license fees.

  • Comment number 51.

    Note that comments #45 and #48 have been "referred to the moderators" at
    10:54 and at 11:46 on 3 May, respectively.

    Let us follow their fate and inquire whether weekend moderation is accomplished by the same personnel as daily moderation.

    The key to clean up is responsibility and avoidance of annonymity.

  • Comment number 52.

    50. At 12:14pm on 03 May 2009, fillandfrowpist wrote:
    I am sick and tired of the BBC believing the general public are a stupid bunch of idiots, a view I assume they believe because of how easily we cough up our license fees.
    ----

    Ever consider the possibility that "the general public are" indeed "a stupid bunch of idiots"?

    You don't have to take any pleasure in that fact to recognise that it might be true.

  • Comment number 53.

    Re. my post that's been "referred to the moderators" - two points.

    (a) I'm actually less interested in whether or not it ultimately gets removed than I am in the fact that someone here decided to refer it. Is it possible that some of those here who complain the loudest about the lack of free speech on HYS only value it up to the point at which it accords with their own right-wing views?

    (b) I don't envy the moderators having to moderate this thread!

  • Comment number 54.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 55.

    43. At 09:31am on 03 May 2009, TrueToo wrote:
    "..
    Those who have followed HYS from the beginning will know that a number of improvements were made over the years, for example the "Comments Recommended" facility was introduced at a later stage and vastly improved the openness of HYS with the ability of registered members of the public to express their opinions by recommending comments even when their own comments were not published."

    The "recommendation" is, indeed, a useful facility for the organized clique to exploit, with the connivance of the WHYS management. A particular number of posters, the number scarcely varying, will "recommend" a post- one that is invariably very pro-Israel. These two characteristics: the constant number and the pro-Israel issue, identify the block.

    Naturally, one who "knows WHYS pretty well" will be well aware of and in favor of this ploy.

    Again, such practices are so entrenched in WHYS that only a change in management or a dissolution of the program can remedy the situation, before the rest of the BBC is tarnished by it.

  • Comment number 56.

    In reply to No. 50 Fillandfrowpist who wrote:
    [i]"I am sick and tired of the BBC believing the general public are a stupid bunch of idiots, a view I assume they believe because of how easily we cough up our license fees"[/i]

    When you look at the majority of contributions to HYS, it's not surprising that the BBC might believe that the general public are stupid. However most output is pretty much dumbed-down simply because of the BBC's policy of making it 'accessable'. Personally, I am appalled by that policy for a number of reasons, but unfortunately they are quite right: if you want to increase 'audience share' (or whatever it's called) you have to dumb it down. It's even apparent on some of the programming on the oasis of sanity that is BBC4, although whether or not those programmes were originally made for BBC4, I must confess I don't know.

  • Comment number 57.

    BBC - Speciality - Broadcasting.

    Your lack of software skills is not a good advert for your ability to lead the world in Broadcasting.



  • Comment number 58.

    So in conclusion:

    Ability of BBC software engineers to maintain HYS messageboard = FAIL

    Ability of commenters to maintain a sense of proportion = EPIC FAIL

  • Comment number 59.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 60.

    Thanks to Matthew Eltringham for the update, although I was amused at his comment " .. for the BBC it is a highly valued way to listen to what matters to our audience and to find out what they are thinking about key stories, which we then feed into our journalism ".

    Feed into your journalism! Surely the opposite. I have yet to see ANY BBC News programme, either online or elsewhere, refer specifically to the depth and strength of comment on HYS. Perhaps Matthew could provide some examples, or is it, as I suspect, that we are simply blowing into the wind.

  • Comment number 61.

    To No 60 the-designer

    I suppose we should be grateful that we're merely 'blowing in the wind' - not 'swinging in the wind', as we might well be if we openly expressed our thoughts in certain totalitarian states.

  • Comment number 62.

    @52
    "Ever consider the possibility that "the general public are" indeed "a stupid bunch of idiots"?"

    No, I do not regard anyone as being a "bunch" of anything - every person is an individual. Unlike those who work for the public service and have been "cloned for management" I am still able to think for myself and I will fight to a very bitter end to retain the right to be regarded and respected as an individual. I regard the current dumbing down (which is what treating people as anything other than individuals is) as the most despicable act of betrayal any human being can do to another person.

  • Comment number 63.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 64.

    Your lack of software skills is not a good advert for your ability to lead the world in Broadcasting.


    --------

    Err, actually programming and broadcasting have nothing to dow ith one another. I would hate to think that as a professional programmer, my clear lack of broadcasting talent would somehow tarnish my day to day work.




    --------

    62. At 6:04pm on 03 May 2009, fillandfrowpist wrote:

    @52
    "Ever consider the possibility that "the general public are" indeed "a stupid bunch of idiots"?"

    No, I do not regard anyone as being a "bunch" of anything - every person is an individual. Unlike those who work for the public service and have been "cloned for management"

    --------

    Everyone is an individual except...

    Sound like a racist claiming, we are all equal except...

    In my opinion we are all idiots about most things in this world, only a small percentage are qualified to give views on HYS or any other forum on a particular topic yet so many uninformed people go ahead anyway. That is a clear sign of an idiot.

  • Comment number 65.

    62. At 6:04pm on 03 May 2009, fillandfrowpist wrote:
    "No, I do not regard anyone as being a "bunch" of anything - every person is an individual."

    Hmm, yes. It's just a shame the average HYS commenter doesn't appear to share that view when it comes to Muslims, blacks, gays, politicians, etc.

    The fact that such posts tend to shoot up the "most recommended" list is what leads me to question if perhaps large swathes of the general public - possibly even the majority - might actually be comprised of ignorant and bigoted 'individuals'?

    It is, after all, only a less-publicised version of political correctness that prevents us from daring to suggest such a thing.

    Or does the charge of political correctness magically transform itself into "common decency" when the majority (rather than the minority) is concerned?

  • Comment number 66.

    HYS has become totally Removed from it's own guidelines by Moderators to Political preference by Censors, most of whom censor stuff they are not knowledgeable about. Result is "Loss of Credibility".
    Other source of contention is many are forced to endure this censorship while others are allowed to flood the HYS site with repetitive propaganda to shut-out constructive dialogue especially on matters pertinent to mid-east.
    All boils down to What is Objective of HYS:- If Constructive dialogue, then changes need to be made. If propaganda, then status-quo will suffice.

  • Comment number 67.

    @65


    "(Your) average HYS commenter... etc". Excuse me but just what is an average human being - the legendary Joe Public on the Clapham Omnibus? An average is a statistical mean not a human being with a personality and a soul!

    If you have a bee in your bonnet about bigoted people then direct it at them not at just anybody who happens to fit your definition of a "bunch" of whatever it is that you are angry about. You are a pretty sad individual if you do not see a lot of very respectable and honest people on this planet most of whom are pretty decent and respectful of others. Bigotry does not end with Muslims, Blacks, Gays, politicians etc, although it often starts from individuals within those groups.

  • Comment number 68.

    #64

    If you are trying to make sensible comments quote the whole of my sentences and I will respond accordingly. Otherwise don't bother.

  • Comment number 69.

    @67

    When a system includes a facility to reflect popularity - as HYS does - it becomes perfectly possible to gauge a general impression of popular opinion, at least insofar as the system reflects it.

    Does the system reflect it? Well HYS is aimed at a fairly mainstream user base. It's not an editors blog, it's not a specialist comment area, it's not the forum of a high-brow (or low-brow) newspaper. Rather it's the principle messageboard on the website of the country's largest and most popular news organisation, serving (I should think) several million a day. In other words, it's likely to be fairly representative. Not completely of course (it will always attract certain 'types' - those with an internet connection and the time to contribute, for a start), but it's probably safe to say it's more representative than just about any other internet-based opinion platform currently out there.

    Where do I get the word 'average' from? Contrary to what you might think, not from some desire to treat everyone as faceless idiots lacking individual personality or circumstance. Rather from a recognition of the types of comment and opinion that are deemed 'popular' and are prevalent on this opinion platform.

    You say I'm a sad individual if I "don't see a lot of very respectable and honest people on this planet". The truth, which surely can't have escaped your attention, is that people can be both respectable/honest AND ignorant. People can also be those things AND prone to spitefulness, mean-spiritedness, ungenerous and more. There's nothing sad about recognising that, or of showing intolerance towards intolerance itself.

    You say "Bigotry does not end with Muslims, blacks, gays, politicians etc, although it often starts with individuals from those groups" - I would suggest that we all suffer the results of bigotry and ignorance to some degree - but as a non-Muslim, non-black, etc, I can at least acknowledge that those minority groups suffer a greater share of it, at least if platforms like HYS are anything to go by.

  • Comment number 70.

    60. the_designer wrote:

    I have yet to see ANY BBC News programme, either online or elsewhere, refer specifically to the depth and strength of comment on HYS. Perhaps Matthew could provide some examples, or is it, as I suspect, that we are simply blowing into the wind.

    Precisely. The BBC carries on in its own fashion no matter what happens on its public forums. Peter Horrocks discussed this very issue in reaction to an outpouring of anger against Islam on HYS after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Those comments criticizing Islam in unambiguous terms shot to the top of the "Recommended Comments" list. He made the startling admission on this very blog that the BBC was considering disabling the Recommended Comments facility in the light of the unprecedented public response. (The leeway given by the moderators to allow that response was most strange; usually such comments would be rejected or backed up in the "Moderation Queue," never to see the light of day.)

    Peter Horrocks' response is here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2008/01/value_of_citizen_journalism.html

    After considering it carefully I concluded that it falls into line with the general attitude at the BBC. The last thing the BBC will do is take public opinion into account in its editorial decisions, especially since so much of that opinion differs sharply from that of the BBC's stance on any number of issues.


    53. At 1:21pm on 03 May 2009, dotconnect wrote:

    Re. my post that's been "referred to the moderators" - two points.

    I'm actually less interested in whether or not it ultimately gets removed than I am in the fact that someone here decided to refer it.


    And you know that how? It's highly likely that the moderators themselves also refer posts while considering whether they should be removed.

    For the record, and to put your insinuations to rest, I don't refer comments since I believe in free speech - even that of Xie Ming, though I sometimes think there should be a limit.


    55. Xie_Ming/coololdiconoclast,

    You prove that you don't know what you are talking about by claiming people can recommend comments on WHYS. They can't. There is no such facility on World Have Your Say.

  • Comment number 71.

    I note there have been several references to the 'recommended list'. I have to say I can't see any useful purpose served by this facility as the 'most recommended' usually feature in the initial response to the subject; that is posts 1 to 25, after which the replies generally repeat one another.

    Now, if the moderators, in their neutral capacity, were to give credit to a well argued point, that would add value to the facility. After all, if the posts are all pre-moderated that means they have to be read and understood.

  • Comment number 72.

    @TrueToo (#70) - there was no such insinuation, I assure you. Not quite sure why 'coololdiconoclast' queried my reported post and suggested we should follow its fate.... :-/

  • Comment number 73.

    there also seems to be a fualt which stops teh bbc reporting any corruption by female Labour peers. Particularly when they are ethnic monorities too.

  • Comment number 74.

    71. impassive wrote:

    Yes, what usually happens is that a few of the early comments that strike a chord get onto the first page of the "Readers' Recommended" comments where they attract more recommendations because of their visibility. As the debate moves on, later comments which are perhaps better argued tend not to make it onto that first page. Still, recommended comments are a fairly good indication of the strength of feeling and the nature of public opinion on any given topic.

    Recommending comments also allows people to express their opinions when they have been denied by moderators who publish very few comments and allow the vast majority to stew in the "Moderation Queue" and simply be deleted without ever being published at the end of the "debate." (This is shabby treatment of people who have taken the trouble to comment. Moderators also hinder the debate when they suddenly publish a huge batch of backed up comments having let the debate stagnate for days. Few people will have the time or inclination to go back and sift through those comments and most of them will therefore attract zero recommendations.)

    Only those who have registered with the BBC and supplied their personal info are allowed to recommend comments and these recommendations should therefore be taken seriously since they don't come from anonymous sources. (Conspiracy theorists should note that people are only allowed to recommend each comment once.)

    72. dotconnect,

    Go back and read your 53 and you will see the insinuation. We see this kind of thing popping up with monotonous regularity on HYS: A topic that attracts comments with majority recommendations from the right of the political spectrum is immediately labelled as suspect by the left. It's as if the left simply cannot concede that so many people can hold contrary opinions to their own without the debate somehow having been fiddled with and distorted.

  • Comment number 75.

    From the bulk of the foregoing comments, it should be clear that HYS and WHYS share common problems.

    If it is genuinely desired to tabulate "public opinion", then the format is grossly unsuitable.

    If it is desired to channel and filter what is purported to be "public opinion", then the present system seems well designed for that purpose.
    By imagining how a Communist cell might operate in management with certain collaborators in the "public", one can see how susceptible the present system is that sort of manipulation.

    A possible course of corrective action would be to dissolve both HYS and WHYS and to establish a "Letters" function. Meaningful letters could be featured.

    For those who think tabulation of response is meaningful, then the response to selected letters could be tabulated. Real print journalists are well-acquainted with the ethics of such editorial journalism and the management could be selected from those with such editorial page experience.

  • Comment number 76.

    In my humble oppionion for what its worth,The bbc should install coloums of comments to differant afairs of the day in say four to five sections,IE two sections to the brain of britains you know them that think they are better than anyone else on certain subjects?Three coloums to the general joe who are quite content to quietly disscuss the political arena, and two coloums two the old codgers like my good self to pass on imformation to the likes of h harmen and gorden what they can do with there policies etc in this way amoderator can be alloted to each group an moniter as the comments come in rejecting the ones that are an infringment on common decencey .Ps please put a spelling checker on my computer as i do make a few mistakes ,Good morning all,

  • Comment number 77.

    @69

    You do not have to have mechanisms for "popularity" in order to measure the success or failure of designs, schemes to brainwash, schemes to confound or confuse, schemes to suggest you are right and others wrong, or even to justify your own bigotry, open mindedness, faith, hope, or charity.

    All you need to make you what you are is within. Popularity tests are the poor person's gauge of his own weaknesses. You expose personal flaws by suggesting that popularity is a valid measure of anything other than elitism, the ego massage, the need to be one of a crowd - call it what you will. "Better a book be read by one poor modest soul than by a multitude of scavengers".

  • Comment number 78.

    @70

    I agree wholeheartedly with your critique on the BBC and its exposed bias on many subjects. There are many things we disagree about but we both wish for freedom of speech for only through that can we ever engage in discussion to study and understand those differences.

    It has become apparent that the ruling generation simply do not know what they are doing in trying to make "accountability" appear like a measuring cylinder of public feelings. It isn't and never can be. We are all accountable in our hearts, souls and consciences - the only places where it truly matters to both ourselves and others.

  • Comment number 79.

    #74 truetoo

    I agree with a lot of that, but would point out that the last paragraph works equally well if you transpose 'left' and 'right', or if you replace 'left' and 'right' by 'Israeli' and 'Arab' or vice versa.

    However, "Conspiracy theorists should note that people are only allowed to recommend each comment once" is, alas, untrue. Certainly, one identity has just one recommendation, but there is no mechanism to avoid multiple identities linked to one e-mail address.

    To get one's comment in the Most Recommended slot, post early and vote often. Given three or four colleagues, it's easy to build up thirty or forty votes.

    Once it's there it'll probably stay there. The Right (particularly in the USA) and the Left have both cottoned on to this. There's a tendency for both sides in a debate to recognise and decry it when it comes from the Other Lot, but to see it as democratic enthusiasm when it comes from the Good Guys.

    As to censorship, this seems to be based on the most cursory inspection of the *words*, not the meaning. The most vile racism and religious thuggery can be slipped past the moderators, with a little care...

  • Comment number 80.

    "The BBC's Have Your Say messageboards are unfortunately not quite living up to their name at the moment, for which I'd like to apologise."

    They've never lived up to their name due to the levels of censorship employed by the BBC thought pol... sorry - moderators. I've lost count of the posts I've had rejected that don't break any "house rules" they do however directly disagree with the BBC's world view.

    I have three suggestions that I think would make HYS much better.

    1. Moderation should be turned off and a system of peer moderation installed so that other users can flag messages as offensive etc.

    2. The ability to create threads so we can reply to comments and have a proper debate. You can do this on free open source software - why the BBC with all its resources can't do this is beyond me. I suspect it's because the BBC is having trouble embracing the new paradigm of users creating content - it prefers to maintain its old broadcasting model were we have to passively listen to the BBC's news agenda. Nation shall speak unto nation maybe but the BBC has no interest in taxpayer speaking unto taxpayer.

    3. HYS should also be rolled out to every single news story - why shouldn't license fee payers be able to comment on each and every story? Especially when the actual contents of BBC news stories are often far from objective.

    It's about time the BBC recognised the value of freedom of speech and made HYS do what it says on the tin.

  • Comment number 81.

    #80 englandrise

    Can't say I like your politics very much ;) but you're dead right about HYS.

    If the Bristol Evening Post can meet at least two of your points, then so can the BBC.

  • Comment number 82.

    "3. HYS should also be rolled out to every single news story - why shouldn't license fee payers be able to comment on each and every story? Especially when the actual contents of BBC news stories are often far from objective."

    Please god no! The last thing I want is to scroll down and have every single news story followed by 1000's of complaints which include excruciatingly painful contrived spellings of "New Labour".

    If the BBC are censoring, they're doing a very poor job of it as the majority of comments are complaining about censorship!

  • Comment number 83.

    82. TimDave

    No one would be forcing you to read the comments but we should have the right to comment. To stop massive page loads comments could be linked out to a specific comments page for each story. Or there should perhaps be a global preference to show or hide comments.

    Freedom of speech above all as far as I'm concerned.

  • Comment number 84.

    Hi there just to let you know that your nightmare still lives. Perhaps when you fix the damn thing perhaps you can overcome the issue of posts that are not moderated until the issue is closed or held back so that readers can't comment. I have a sneaky feeling that there is not a lot wrong with the site except the fact that the BBC has reocgnised that the post Gilligan PC reforms era may be about to come to an end and its having a rethink on its policy. Come on confess to daddy!!!

  • Comment number 85.

    #74, TrueToo wrote:
    "Go back and read your 53 and you will see the insinuation."

    Perspective please. There was no insinuation at you or any one person in particular. So your post #70 (..."to put your insinuations to rest, I don't refer comments...") was unnecessarily defensive. Someone here decided to refer my post, be that a poster or a mod. I don't claim to know (hence my words, "is it possible...") but, given the post's harmless content - which I accept only I currently know, and which will be clear to you if it's reinstated - it's quite reasonable for me to wonder if such an irony has taken place.

    #74, TrueToo wrote:
    ... We see this kind of thing popping up with monotonous regularity on HYS: A topic that attracts comments with majority recommendations from the right of the political spectrum is immediately labelled as suspect by the left. It's as if the left simply cannot concede that so many people can hold contrary opinions to their own without the debate somehow having been fiddled with and distorted."

    But that's not "this kind of thing". I'm quite happy to accept that HYS comments with majority recommendations from the right of the political spectrum are entirely legitimate representations of public opinion, or at least they reflect the view of a majority of Britons, which is conservative, much as the most popular newspaper the Sun, followed by the Mail, captures the public mood. Now I don't like that, I think much (but not all) of it is ill-informed and ungenerous and plays to the more primitive of human instincts. But I don't ever doubt the representativeness of HYS or claim that it must have been fiddled with. Regretfully.

    Pigsty Hill is spot on about your last paragraph, though I would say there are far more accusations about pro-Palestinian fiddling than about pro-Israel fiddling on the BBC comment boards. Additionally, I've come across far more instances of people being accused of working for the BBC or being Labour stooges for failing to join in with the overwhelming sneers and spite than I do of "the left" accusing people of not being who they say they are. For instance, try entering a calm comment in a Nick Robinson blog that doesn't accord with the houding anti-government bearpit atmosphere, and you will be accused immediately by more than one poster of being a civil servant, a BBC stooge, etc. It seems to me the right has rather a bigger problem on this than the left, though it's quite possible that's due to the fact that the right tends to dominate on BBC comment boards and indeed public opinion generally.

    #81, Pigsty Hill wrote:
    "If the Bristol Evening Post can meet at least two of your points, then so can the BBC."

    Ah, suddenly your username makes sense!

  • Comment number 86.

    Now lets think about this, Gordon is in it up to his neck and the HYS has a major problem, coincidence??

  • Comment number 87.

    I am quite enjoying this. It's far above the usual level of debate on the HYS boards.

    I agree that the moderators seem to be generally interested in the words rather that the meaning of a message (although I'm sure we've all had one or two that seem to have been rejected for no reason whatever. By mistake?). I disagree that there is no politically organised spamming - I think there clearly is. I'd also like to see a 'Disagree' button.

    And I would love to know the real reason why the 'problem' hasn't been fixed.

  • Comment number 88.

    Given the biased nature of most of this country's media at the moment (where a good 80% of the most popular outlets take the 'Rupert Murdoch' Thatcherite, right-wing editorial position) I severely doubt that a well-reasoned and balanced debate is even possible in this country at the moment, on any topic. More seriously, at present I believe this extreme bias is in danger of threatening the way that our democracy itself functions, in that political parties tend to 'pander' to prevailing public opinion, which is itself massively influenced by the contents of the popular media rather than taking a more considered or long-term approach.

    The level of vitriol on many HYS debates, against groups and cultures which mere statistical analysis would suggest are only known to the commenters through grossly exaggerated press caricatures and stereotypes passed down through generations, is as sociologically intriguing as it is frightening. Nationals of other countries frequently comment on the base tone of Britain's media and by extension the level and tone of political debate. I wonder if an opinion poll in another country with a more moderate media would reveal the same depth of hatred toward Muslims, immigrants, gay people, fat people, women and the various other scapegoats so beloved of our press.

    The depressing thing about many of these extreme right-wing views is that those espousing them no doubt not only believe they're being terribly clever and reasoned in their approach but also that they're some sort of put-upon 'minority' fighting like martyrs against an unfeeling State, when in reality the Establishment has always gravitated toward their viewpoint and generally speaking still does.

    And then you have something like the HYS Recommendation system, where those same narrow views are reinforced and gain credence through weight of the number of apparent 'supporters' (even when, as is the case with the BNP, it is well-known that members of groups espousing many of these viewpoints have been specifically instructed to visit message boards such as HYS and the Daily Mail - which allow recommendations - in order to skew the balance of opinion.

  • Comment number 89.

    #82 TimDave
    "If the BBC are censoring, they're doing a very poor job of it as the majority of comments are complaining about censorship!"

    Yes indeed, but this isn't HYS, it's a blog. The HYS moderators are probably sunning themselves in Cancun as we speak ;)

    #85 dotconnect

    Curses - sussed...

  • Comment number 90.

    quite a good reflection of whats going on now days Now that i have caught the attention of one or two, This is turning into a debate that even the likes of me a compleat nutter can partake or are you all goinmg two shy away like some of the labour party deflectors,Did you find out about that chaming person whos indian nabours hadn't see in resedents for a number of years yet was claiming allowences for a place of resedency {moderation here]or have i got away with it?still can't find a spell checker on my tool bars?

  • Comment number 91.

    88. richie79

    Yet another one-sided post, this time from what pleases itself to be called the "Left" today. Notice what's missing in the list of right-wing targets? Not a word about the working class!

    Of course the BNP organises itself to use the recommendation system to push its obnoxious views. If the "Left" doesn't do the same (which I don't believe), then why not?

  • Comment number 92.

    86. TalkativeChap

    And when in the last six months has Gordon *not* been in it up to his neck? More silly paranoia, I'm afraid...

  • Comment number 93.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 94.

    I don't subscribe to a conspiracy theory to remove HYS from the web - the most likely scenario is someone applying a software upgrade without adequate testing. It then became difficult to back out and damaged the HYS databases in the process. Alternatively there were hardware failures and the data was not backed up. Either way it sounds like operational incompetence. If it's a choice between a c0ckup or conspiracy theory, it's invariably the former.

    My view on HYS is that I don't detect particular bias - the left have as much to complain about moderation bias as the right. Indeed the latter seem to benefit disproportionately from the bizarre "most recommended" system.

    What I find frustrating is the apparently random moderation system:

    1) the moderators select a few posts from the initial set. These then get a head start in the recommended system irrespective of their merit compared to later posts.

    2) later losts can then wait hours before being posted and then get lost in the many pages

    3) the moderators then take another pause and then those on the most recent page start to get recommended whilst those between the first and last page don't

    4) at various points they post a few of the most recent whilst keeping large numbers in "awaiting moderation" state - effectivly rejecting them.

    The result is that the earliest and most recent posts keep getting recommended (until the most recent get superceded by another set of most recent).

    These practises (hardly a policy) undermine the rcommendation system and do not give the impression of a balanced debate.

    On some subjects, the most obvious being on subjects involving climate change (indeed anything scientific as the swine flu debates also show), the moderators appear to want to give equal weight to sceptic opinion and so convey the impression that the scientific opinion is balanced when in fact it definitely is not. They continually allow discredited and flawed arguments from the sceptics without posting the rebuttals from some of us who do know what we're talking about. This perpetuates a "cult of the amateur" whereby the opinions of someone with no qualifications or experience in a topic are given equal weight to those who do. Moreover those who do hold contrary views then complain that they are entitled to hold such views (which is true) and be taken as seriously as the mainstream view (which is not true).

    The house rule system is highly flawed. The mods reject posts that don't obviously break them and post ones that obviously do (the one against impersonation does not appear to be enforced at all). Perhaps there should be a reason stated for why posts are rejected and why complaints are rejected.

    There's also no clear benefit in being a member: given the way moderators manage the backlog, then it's better to post a comment without being signed in than be restricted to two posts an hour by being signed in. Reactively moderated forums are so rare, that having an account purely for them is wasted.

    Bottom line is that whilst HYS is a useful way of getting some views from the public, it is not a reliable way of achieving a sensible debate based on facts, nor is it a reliable way of gauging public opinion on a subject. It's a self selecting group contributing (and voting) with a flawed system of selecting which opinion to post and having them recommended.

  • Comment number 95.

    Can we be sure that whoever controls the HYS moderators reads these posts? In particular, reasoned criticism of the moderation process like that in #94 needs to be taken on board.

    One might ask how many of the deficiencies in the system are down to incompetence, and how many to deliberate policy.

  • Comment number 96.

    I could have rewrote your software from scratch in my spare time before now, also, what #80 said.

  • Comment number 97.

    1. Most of us may be unrealistic and naïve concerning HYS and WHYS and this particular thread.

    2. If you read the rules carefully, you will see that those who wrote the rules may publish only what they please and may release your personal data to whomever they wish.

    3. Specifics of the actions of WHYS management have been suppressed
    on this thread. However, almost any action is within the rules of 2 above.

    4. The bloc "recommendations" on HYS are evidence of the abuse of a systemic weakness. Perhaps a more responsible level of management may ask why it is continued.

    5. The question about continuing WHYS and or HYS and the form and management that any such continuation should have are matters that should be addressed by a higher level of BBC management. If this is not done, the inevitable exposure will redact to the detriment of the BBC.

  • Comment number 98.

    I fear when the service is back up and running we will discover that the BBC had no back up copy; I have an RSS feed on my Firefox toolbar and the other day after Channel4's News Forum closed for good I clicked on Open 'Have Your Say: David Reilly' and for a brief second my log on page read number of comments: 0. I was gutted at the prospect that all my previous posts over the last 5 or so years have now, like their counterparts on the Channel4 forums now become retrievable forever. Fingers crossed the techies employed to resolve this fault were not the same ones contracted for one of the many failed government IT projects. I will be annoyed if someone deleted the wrong bit of code when tasked to upgrade or give HYS a spring upgrade or makeover. If it aint broke don't try to fix it, in future. Just fit a RED DISAGREE BUTTON next to the green recommend button. There could be a conspiracy theory hung on the fact that the top two internet debating forums have closed down simultaneously when we are plotting the spread of a global pandemic or the canceling of the June elections.

  • Comment number 99.

    I too am going to take this opportunity to vent my spleen on the shortcomings of the HYS system.

    1) There's no search
    2) Newly published comments go onto page 1, and you can't read them in chronological order because if you start from the end (if you can even find the end) the new comments coming in at the top keep pushing things back further and further.
    3) The loooong delays in when in pre-moderated mode make it impossible to have a discussion. You make a post and then 6 hours later you see that some comments made later have already been published whilst yours is still in moderation. Even worse is, as has happened to me on numerous occasions, a pre-modded discussion gets flipped over to reactively moderated just minutes after you've posted, and then it sits unmoderated forever.
    4) Longer comments should be allowed, have an expansion area if you want to limit post size.
    5) Replies to existing posts should be somehow linked to the post to which they are replying

    I'm sure there are others I've forgotten as it's been a while since I even bothered posting there since the frustrations of the existing system keep me away.

  • Comment number 100.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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