In the Club, many accounts deal with geopolitical issues or foreign news, sometimes in a very expert way. We are aware that some content may be similar to professional propaganda and we try to verify their compliance with the charter with the same rigor as for all tickets, by mobilizing all the sources available to us. But verifying their content is often difficult, requiring in-depth knowledge of the subject matter and local political intricacies.

Thursday, February 17, the blog of “geopolitics expert” Samira Della was an illustration of the difficulties of our work, which aims to preserve a space for quality participatory and democratic debates, despite those who try to rot it.

We had already noted that the research activity of this “blogger” was not very visible online (no CV, symposium or affiliation to a university or think tank), which led us to doubt the reliability of his identity. But the legal framework relating to the confidentiality of the data of our subscribers did not allow us to go further in the investigation.

In the afternoon and evening of Thursday February 17, we received several alerts from specialized journalists on Hungarian news, including our collaborator Corentin Léotard (read his article here), regarding the post “WAN-IFRA reveals how private interests put pressure on the media” (in Hungary). We immediately unpublished it, considering that, without solid sources, several passages of this post resembled “offensive, defamatory remarks, infringing privacy, image rights, or the reputation and rights of others”. Especially since in case of deception on the identity and the quality of the author, the conditions were not met to consider that this information was reliable.

In February 2021, we had already unpublished two posts from this blog, having considered that they violated our Participation Charter. Immediately, his “author” was warned that we would have to suspend his participation rights, in the event of a repeat. It’s been done since that day, and for six months.

Following the message that we sent her, Thursday, February 17, to keep her informed of the depublication of her post, “Samira Dellaa” was then indignant at the ” methods ” of the Club, accusing him of protecting “organizations that manipulate information”while considering it as “the benchmark media for journalism”. She also assured that she had sources to support her point. We encouraged her to communicate them to journalists investigating the subject that prompted the publication of her text. No response since.

An open space, not chaotic

At the Mediapart Club, as in the rest of the newspaper (concerning comments), moderation is assured a posteriori publications. Concretely, this means that each person subscribing to Mediapart can create their blog and publish posts at their own pace without referring anyone, as long as they respect copyright, current legislation and the Mediapart Participation Charter. .

This charter, updated in July 2021, is the result of long collective work by Mediapart’s “Communities” division, initiated following numerous questions and requests from subscribers. It marks a desire for transparency on the rules of the game, accessible to all, and aims to preserve a respectful and inclusive framework. The charter notably prohibits abusive, racist, sexist and discriminatory remarks, but also incitement to hatred, advertising and the dissemination of false news.

The team of employees accompanied the publication of this new charter with a manifesto which, while anchoring Mediapart’s attachment to the principles of freedom of expression and pluralism, also recalls that the protection of this space, unique today in the French media landscape, is based on the individual responsibility of each of its participants.

Readers can report content (blog posts or comments) that they find problematic to the moderation team, via an “alert” button. This tool allows us to identify the texts whose compliance with the charter we will check as a priority. We unpublish them as soon as we notice that they do not respect the rules. Each unpublish is then reported to the contributors who originated the posts via the Club’s private messaging system.

Because to err is human and because we assume that most Club contributions are made in good faith, moderation of content does not automatically delete the accounts that are at the origin. When several contents contravening the charter are published by the same author or author, we send the interested party a warning message: in the event of repetition, the moderation team will temporarily suspend their participation rights (the to publish but also to comment on the posts and articles of the newspaper). Despite this sanction, the subscription to the newspaper remains valid, and the author or author of the posts can continue to consult the contents of the Club.

In addition to reacting to alerts, moderation involves rigorous, continuous and reactive monitoring. Check the content of a ticket, the fact checker in case of doubts about the reliability of the information reported therein, requires the time of journalistic work. Cross sources, exchange with the signatory of the ticket. This also involves reading all the content published by the blogs identified – when some have already published several hundred posts, sometimes of considerable length. The surveys already carried out by our fellow journalists, but also by Internet users, can then prove to be a valuable resource.

The framework set by the charter, and its limits

This work of moderation, if it can be based on solid principles and collective procedures, also has limits. Given the pace of publication, the size of our archives and the means at our disposal, it is difficult for us to claim exhaustive control. Because the Mediapart Club represents more than two thousand active blogs and more than two thousand posts are published there each month1 – and above all because moderation is also human, it implies prioritization in the control of published texts.

Furthermore, the framework set by the charter, while it prevents arbitrary moderation practices, does not cover all problematic situations. For example, if contributors are encouraged to create a blog in their name and to respect a principle of honesty as to their identity, nothing prohibits the use of pseudonyms. It is even a principle that we defend, and which allows many people to speak freely, without fear of being exposed to disrespectful or violent reactions.

In addition, the GDPR regulation prevents us from consulting and using the personal data of our subscribers. We must only communicate them to the police and the gendarmerie in the event of a judicial requisition. This “loophole” can in fact allow the irruption in the Club of anonymous people, only motivated by the dissemination of false information (sometimes for commercial purposes), the desire to harm the reputation of third parties, organizations, or newspaper picture. And for a long time, we can only deplore the political context of polarization, where our team is regularly the target of attacks and threats, but also the professionalization of far-right activists, who shamelessly use the dissemination of false information in order to capture anger and broaden their audience.

It also happens that blogs are created on the basis of fake identities. This is probably what happened with the account of “Samira Dellaa”. This person, presenting himself as “expert in international relations and distinguished researcher”, opened a blog in the Club in February 2019. As of February 18, 2021, she had published 137 posts there, dealing with various subjects, ranging from commentary on American, Chinese and Congolese news, to the analysis of the virtues of bitcoin . The heterogeneous, unstable and opaque nature of its editorial line had already caught our attention.

As a reminder, the objective of moderation at Mediapart remains the same: to keep the spirit of participation alive and to ensure that the Club remains a space for honest debate, open to different people, to plural opinions. We once again thank our subscribers for their trust and once again call on their vigilance.

1 Figures from June 2019.

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