Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Banned from Boing Boing?

This was posted here yesterday. I took it down after a few hours because I wasn’t sure the the proper intent was behind it and that it simply didn’t add fuel to the fire. After receiving a couple of e-mails about it from people who saw it (here or on feeds) and then saw it was gone, I’m going to put it back up with this note. It is important to note that I have been quite a fan of Boing Boing over time and have generally believed that they were doing all of the “right” things when it came to blogging and documenting the state of things on the net, especially the battles over copyright and the like. That is part of what has been this whole issue so much of a lightning rod for people, including me. We thought that Boing Boing was better than this sort of thing and feel a bit let down.

There has been an Internet “tempest in a teapot” during the last few days over at Boing Boing, the well known group blog that includes Cory Doctorow. (For those that don’t know it…) This has to do with San Francisco sex blogger and columnist Violet Blue noticing that all references to her have been removed from the blog. This is over 70 references according to her and go back several years in posts that mentioned her blogging or writing.

For the first day or so, Boing Boing ignored this, seemingly pretending nothing was happening. Any questions about it in comments on posts were quickly deleted (I had this done to me). Only after the Los Angeles Times and other high profile outlets started asking questions (Valleywag doesn’t count) did they make a post publicly mentioning it but they still refuse to say why they did it. That post has now, I believe, turned into the most commented post ever on Boing Boing. In the midst of all of this, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, the paid moderator for Boing Boing, and the commentors started going at it hammer and tongs with Teresa insulting people (later deleting or editing many of these) and deleting comments left and right when she didn’t like this.

I pointed out the following earlier:


and I now find myself (and my IP address even) banned from posting comments on the blog. No official explanation or notice was given, my ability to post comments now simply returns “An error occurred: Permission denied.” from the posting script and attempts to make a new account to post tells me that my IP address has been banned. Hmm… I would think a warning or even an e-mail would be in order?

I don’t blame the core Boing Boing writers for this sort of behavior but it does make me question the “moderation” of their paid moderating staff who attack the very community, with some rather unfriendly and confrontational language, after inviting that same community to comment on the post about the larger issue. Somehow, I doubt if I’ll be submitting too many more links to Boing Boing in the future. This is too bad as I was quite happy to see on of my posts on their front page a little over a week ago.

Update: I’ve had e-mail with Cory, who is on vacation and, I guess, staying away from the mess which is Boing Boing on this whole issue. He said that there is no reason why my IP address would be blocked and CC’d Teresa on his response. She has unblocked it (which she said was the fault of an assistant moderator who “is still a little shaky on IP addresses”). No word from her, in response to a direct question, about my seeming banning with no notice or explanation so I expect that I still won’t be participating on their site anymore. I’m still receiving an error message any time I attempt to leave a comment on any Boing Boing post.

I did appreciate the following comment posted by “Lizzle” near the end of the giant ass thread in respond to one of the true believers. She reiterates the issue that I touched above to how the “moderation” by Teresa, who is paid to moderate Boing Boing, affects the readers and, therefore, the overall community on the blog:

#1115 posted by Lizzle, July 2, 2008 4:38 PM @ #1084 - How would you know what’s “normal” for BB if this is the first thread you’ve ever posted on? Are you claiming to be a lurker for years and this is your first post? I didn’t want to post here yesterday when this all blew up, because it seems fairly clear that it’s all about something unpleasantly personal. It’s been bothering me all day, though, and some of the things said by mods and extreme BB enthusiasts in the comments thread in particular are really disquieting. Antinous, among others (is GregLondon a mod or just a TruFan? He seems very personally invested in the whole thing), have expressed the opinion that those who don’t comment here regularly can’t possibly be familiar with BB or have a sense of the ethical values that the site has espoused in the past. Teresa has just descended to ad hominem dismissal of people making comments as “nonsense”, “stupid” and “blockheads” - it’s a form of rhetoric she uses distressingly often when someone disagrees with the status quo, and in threads other than this one. I don’t comment here often; the moderation policy and the choice of someone with such an abrasive tone as chief moderator it has, in particular, made me feel uncomfortable. That said, I’ve been reading daily for long enough (I’d estimate six years or so - you’ve published some links I’ve sent in on occasion too) that the comment section still feels extremely new to me. (I also notice that among the mods, Takuan seems pretty much absent from this thread; and that among the contributors, Cory has also been very quiet.) All this - the general comments policy, the mistake (you can’t deny, given the number of people who have felt moved to post negatively here, that it *was* a mistake) that sparked this discussion off, the sense that those who don’t comment aren’t welcome - simply makes me feel more and more disengaged from a site that I used to read daily. It also feels disingenuous to represent BB as a simple personal blog; you’re the third most popular blog on the Internet, you attract some big-money advertising and you’re looked to as a good example of how to manage a certain kind of really important, *good*, liberal content. Readers do have a stake in BB outside the free milkshake analogy, given that (more) advertisers are (more) willing to pay you (more) if they see you have a large readership. (My own blog recently grew a Google PageRank point, and I’ve watched the queries from advertisers and revenues grow as a direct result.) Some people here have been very dismissive of the notion that breaking backward links is against the whole sense of a wonderful networked, searchable Internet world that readers here like to imagine we inhabit, but I find the breaking of those links to be a really uncomfortable precedent, especially here at BB. We all have a sense of what this site stands for. I think it’s absolutely delightful that BB has fans who are dedicated enough to post such impassioned defences of policy to those who have disagreed with what happened over the Violet Blue thing. I wish I could feel the same, but my own engagement with the site has been dribbling away in recent months, especially given some of the moderation decisions I’ve watched being taken. The Violet Blue disaster and the generalised snippiness about the value of discourse with people who aren’t regular commenters just alienates me a bit more (the mods’ opinion and attitude here is, for me, intimately associated with the opinion of those who write the blog and with my understanding of the blog as a whole - I can’t possibly be the only person who feels that way). I feel a bit like someone who is arranging to gradually see less and less of a friend she used to get on with but doesn’t really want to see much any more; it’s a shame. What happened to whuffie?

I must also add this limerick, found on metafilter, which seems to sum things up nicely:

A blogger named Violet Blue, considered by some taboo, last year or last night, was erased from the site… The official response was “Who?”

Update for 7/3: Teresa responded after two e-mails on the issue (the second one after 24 hours or so) and she cc’d the entire Boing Boing staff. In response to my stating that her lack of response after a day was just fodder for the blog, she stated “You’re now threatening me and Boing Boing because you didn’t get your answer instantly? That’ll play well.” My immediate reaction to this kind of thing is “And they pay you to actually moderate a public blog site?” Wow. I didn’t realize pointing out that this kind of thing is blog fodder was a “threat” (and not just to her but to ALL of Boing Boing!). I mean, seriously, when I’m bitching about being banned on Boing Boing, the fact that the moderator, after responding on one issue, then blows me off for a day is likely to wind up being mentioned here. It looked pretty willful to me since she responded within ten minutes on the other issue when Cory e-mailed her.