Hard News by Russell Brown


On Friday night, I closed a long, occasionally difficult but undoubtedly valuable discussion thread spawned by my post about incidents of sexual harassment at the Laneway festival. There were two main reasons for doing so.

The first was that the thread had become quite nasty and personalised. I asked everyone, including some people who are not regular contributors here, to pull back and was ignored. People screenshotting each other is not a discussion; or at least, not the kind of discussion I want to host. Some past threads may have run on in a similar state, but literally only because for years I didn't have the ability to close threads.

Moreover, some of what was happening seemed to be the exercising of old and not-so-old enmities from Twitter, which is unfair to people commenting here, especially those who aren't on Twitter themselves. (I've felt the need to talk directly to a couple of people in the past few months when they've discovered themselves being talked about elsewhere and were understandably upset.) The sometimes-difficult relationship between this place and Twitter was well and truly surfaced.

The other reason was me. Moderation, at least the way I've chosen to do it over the years, can be emotionally exhausting. I'd put a lot of time and thought into the thread – even deliberately removing myself for a while on the hunch that I'd had enough to say, especially to other dudes. Fretting about it literally had me lying awake on Thursday night. I'd tried not to look at any comments elsewhere, but it's hard to avoid seeing sneering comments about yourself on Twitter sometimes, and I did find that upsetting. The death of a friend and some emotionally challenging stuff with my sons were also part of the picture. It was a pretty hard week.

I thought the discussion had got to a decent place on Friday afternoon, but when it turned to shit in the evening, I just had nothing. I needed to be able to just spend some time with my family and not worry. I needed to sleep. I was worried about my blood pressure, but a bit too scared to take it. So my mental and physical health and my family life took priority. I'm not public property.

But part of the thread had gradually evolved into a discussion of why some women were no longer comfortable, or at least less comfortable, commenting here. I do care about that and I understand why some people were unhappy at the loss of that discussion. I suggested to Emma Hart that she could reboot things and moderate a new thread on the topic, but she responded: "Jesus no. Fuck no. The last two pages of that thread were insane." Which is pretty much the reason I won't be reopening the thread either.

But there's more than one way to do this, and perhaps a way that doesn't hang people out to dry is better anyway. I've already had a number of sympathetic messages about the thread, all but one from women,  and some of those have also contained some useful tips. I'd like to hear from more members of our reader community – and women in particular – about how they feel about discussions here and what they think could be improved. I don't think the answer is as simple as a formal code of conduct – anyone explicitly abusive or threatening is generally swiftly removed anyway and regular readers know how to use the "report post" button. It's a bit more nuanced than that.

But I would like to hear about it. You can email me by clicking the little icon below this post.

Anyway, I hope you all have a happy and fulfilling week. I felt a lot better after I took some action and went to find some people in real life on Sunday. You might enjoy the blog post I made of it.