You might remember that I told Political Betting's Mike Smithson the other day that I had no intention of trying to walk a tightrope - I was simply going to carry on acting the way I had on PB since 2008. He could either ban me or not ban me, but there was no middle option of expecting me to be deferential to him and dance to his every whim. Well, it seems that he and his team of moderators (led, grotesquely, by a long-term Tory poster who achieved notoriety a while back for reasons I'll gloss over for now) are determined to find a middle option if it kills them. In broad terms, it consists of this -
1) Randomly delete a large percentage, but not all, of the posts from ideologically undesirable posters such as myself.
2) Introduce a rule that all discussion of moderation is forbidden (although of course this is implemented on a highly selective basis), so that if anyone queries why on earth a totally innocuous post was deleted, this in itself is grounds for deletion, and indeed for an outright ban. This neatly ensures that the vast majority of posters and lurkers are blissfully unaware of the widespread deletion of perfectly legitimate contributions by certain posters.
3) Constantly drop hints about a large number of 'technical problems' on the site, ensuring that to the very limited extent that knowledge about the deletion of posts does leak through the Great Firewall, it can be conveniently blamed on gremlins.
I've had no fewer than fifteen or so comments deleted over the last 48 hours. I went on PB today to ask for help with the Twitter and Blogger problems I mentioned in the previous post - it was an absolutely genuine query, because it's a large, active forum, and I've had help with internet-related questions there before (albeit a couple of years ago). All I got for my trouble was a snide remark about "name-dropping". That, apparently, was perfectly acceptable, but my own response in kind (pointing out that PB is full of name-droppers and thanking him for his "help") was not. Nor was an appeal to the moderator to release the post. Nor was my question as to whether other posters had seen an unusual number of comments eaten by gremlins recently. Nor was "testing, testing". I tried a silly (but firmly on-topic) post about Francois Hollande and that got through, but my next comment along the lines of "phew, got there at last" did not. Can you see the Tory moderators' train of thought here? But doubtless this pattern can still be innocently explained away by "technical problems".
After the first of my two bannings a few weeks ago, I was initially prepared to give Smithson the benefit of the doubt on his claim that a technical fault was to blame, as implausible as that seemed. While I was unable to post, I had to put up, without any right to reply, with cretinous comments from posters like JackW : "Kelly claims he has been banned and Mike says he hasn't. Let's see now, who to believe..." Well, frankly he should have believed me, because Smithson's credibility with these excuses is now wearing very, very thin. It always seemed an incredible coincidence that an "accidental" banning would occur just a matter of seconds after Smithson spotted and responded to my series of criticisms of him for banning Stuart Dickson earlier in the day, especially given that I'd never had any problems posting before. I'm now 99% certain that Smithson wanted me out of the way for a while, but didn't want to be seen to have banned two SNP posters in one day, so fell back on the all-purpose "technical problems" excuse.
I was contacted this morning by another regular left-wing PB poster who has seen umpteen posts of his deleted, with increasingly ludicrous 'technical' explanations being given whenever he questions what is going on by email (questioning it on PB itself is, of course, Not Allowed). So what's happening to me is not an isolated case. The strategy from Mike or his Tory moderators (it's unclear where the bulk of the blame lies) is plain - make the posting experience for the undesirables so intolerable that we'll either be driven away, or rendered meek and pliant. But do so in such a way that the vast majority of readers will have no idea of just how much work goes into making Britain's leading "non-aligned" political forum look so astonishingly unpolluted by trenchant left-wing or nationalist views.
I said earlier in the week that I had no intention of giving Smithson the satisfaction of driving me away, unless he had the guts to actually ban me and try to justify that. But there comes a point where so many posts are being deleted without justification that the situation is indistinguishable from a ban. The time has at last come, therefore, to move on. I may well run a PB-watch feature on this blog, though - now that we've more or less established that Tom Harris is posting there under the moniker "Devo Max", some of his praise for Cameron and the Tories will still make for fascinating reading.