How we deal with moderation on Right to Know

There have recently been a few articles published in The Guardian about a request on Right to Know that we were asked to moderate. As one of the volunteers who spends the most time looking after Right to Know, I wanted to explain what happened in this case and explain how we moderate requests on Right to Know generally.

How this specific request was handled

In October 2019, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) reached out to us requesting the removal of a number of requests. You can find our full email chain with the APSC here.

The first thing we asked the APSC was to tell us what they were specifically concerned about. We then worked through each concern with the APSC.

Instead of just removing the requests (as they asked us to do), we agreed to hide the names of 3 public servants and keep the requests on the site. We felt this was the right balance between someone’s name being associated with an allegation of illegal conduct, and transparency and requests remaining public on our site.

Once we had made the changes, we then annotated the requests and contacted the requestors so they knew what had happened and why.

Investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Guardian then reported a complaint had been made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman that the APSC had engaged in “legal misconduct”. The report went on to say that the APSC had been cleared of misconduct.

We provided the below statement to The Guardian as soon as we were aware of the story:

Right to Know was not contacted at any point during the investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into allegations the APSC intimidated us.

When the APSC made us aware of potentially defamatory content, we worked with the APSC and took steps to redact as little of the request as possible to keep the request public.

We feel that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the Ombudsman to get the full story without contacting us first. We would have appreciated being advised of the complaint and the outcome before learning about it through the media.

You can read the follow up story from The Guardian here.

Transparency and Moderation – Getting the balance right

We are obsessed with transparency, and with giving you tools that you can use to effect change in our democracy. Moderation is not something we take lightly, however there are some things you can do to help us.

The Simple Stuff

We ask people who make requests to keep them focused. This means:

  1. No arguments about your case
  2. No statements that could defame or insult others

If you follow these rules, it’s likely you’ll never come into contact with moderation on Right to Know.

There are a few things that we will remove as soon as we are made aware of them:

The software we use to run Right to Know also attempts to automatically hide telephone numbers and email addresses, however it’s not 100% perfect so we may hide these manually.

More Complex Moderation

We sometimes receive requests from government authorities (like the APSC and the Australian Taxation Office) who are concerned about a request. They may ask us to remove a request saying that it’s defamatory or there are other safety or “public interest” concerns.

We have a published Takedown Policy, however each request is different and we review each request on it’s merits.

The first thing we ask any authority who wants us to take moderation action is to put in writing exactly what they want removed and why they want it removed. We may follow up with the authority if we have further questions or to get a better picture of what’s going on.

As the email contact happens via our contact email address, it’s not automatically put on Right to Know. We can provide you with a copy if the authority agrees, otherwise you can request the email trail via Freedom of Information (using Right to Know for full transparency if you want!).

Once we the information from the authority, we review the request, any other relevant information, and our policies. Our goal is to keep as much of a request as possible online. Once we’ve worked out what we can do, we then let the authority know. In some cases, we will refuse to take action on a request (if it doesn’t meet our guidelines).

If we make any changes to a request, the last step (and most important) is putting a note on the request to indicate what we changed and why. We will also reach out to the requestor privately to let them know so they can ask us any questions.

More Information or questions?

We have quite a bit of useful information in our help pages, and you can always reach out to us via email if you have any questions. Our team are here to help with anything FOI related.

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