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[liberationtech] Rectifying Comment Censorship

Jonathan Wilkes jancsika at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 3 11:48:30 PDT 2013


Hello list,
     Here's are examples of two problems I've run into on the web:

1. For reasons pertaining to British law the Guardian deleted _all_ comments herehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/23/woolwich-attack-terrorism-blowback
and here
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/25/andrew-sullivan-distortion-terrorism-woolwich
2. I made a reply to the author, Glenn Greenwald, about the deletions under the comment section of another article.  (Yet another problem introduced by the censorship: I'm essentially forced to break commenting policy by making an off-topic in order to discuss the censorship.)  He replied, and I think there are some points that require clarification, but now that comment section is closed (which I believe happens automatically
after a certain time period) so the conversation is over.

#2 certainly has its benefits-- especially with controversial topics it keeps there from being a
vicious cycle of flame wars every time someone reposts or links to the article.  However, lots of comment sections have a regular community of posters, and for a specific topic there might be a consensus that for whatever reason a discussion should continue.  Most comment posting software doesn't give the community the power to make decisions like that.

#2 is tricky, but #1 is censorship pure and simple and ought to be rectified.  Some questions:

1) For #1, is there software that can mirror comment sections on an onion site?  I'm not sure how common full-on deletion is, but when it happens there should be a backup that the community can use so that history is rarely in danger of being wiped clean.  (Archive.org doesn't help here since comments are often fetched from a third-party and don't seem to get archived.)

2) For #2, what about leveraging time to associate a web-space handle with an onion-space handle?  If I'm mrfoo in web-space and I want to take control of mrfoo in onion-space, can't the onion-space service just ask me what time my next web-space post will appear, or tell me exactly when to make the next post?  Anyone who needs write access to the onion-space mirror would obviously already have an on-topic post in mind.  Then they only need to wait until the proper time to post it in web-space-- that will authenticate their identity and then they will get ongoing access to their onion-space handle to make consensus decisions, post, or whatever the onion-service software allows them to do.

At the very least if #1 is possible to solve then in the case of the 
Guardian deletion it would have given a commenting community read access
 to make their own judgment about the Guardian's actions and the British
 law that prompted it.  But if there were a way to do #2, that provides all kinds of paths for commenting communities in web-space to migrate to onion-space, temporarily or permanently, with write access.  (And while it'd be easiest from a dev standpoint to just to "start over in onion-space", that'd force the user to give up all the knowledge contained within the web-space comments-- and that's of course why everyone continues to use Facebook.)

While I haven't personally run into many instances of news sites or other organizations deleting all comments for a blog entry, I have run into what seem like endless cases of "soft" censorship where the community members internalize moderation policies which I'm convinced they'd never agree to if they had better control over their comments.  It seems like the best approach in all cases is to give people a workable option to have control if/when they need it.

Unfortunately my coding abilities in these areas are very limited.  I know enough to _hope_ that the extant tools can be used to address this issue, so I'm very interested in what the Privacy Jedi have to say on what has been or can actually be done. :)

Best,
Jonathan
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