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posted by janrinok on Wednesday July 13 2022, @06:32AM   Printer-friendly

After experiencing extensive spamming, ad-hominem attacks, and trolling it became necessary to protect the site by preventing all Anonymous Coward (AC) comments by anyone who was not logged in. This was a reluctant measure but it proved to be 99.9% effective. It was however, far from ideal. It partially isolated many of the responsible ACs who contribute regularly to the site and provide a valuable input to many of our discussions. They are still able to use journals for posting as the editors of SoylentNews have no control over the content of journals or the comments made in them.

I sought an alternative solution and provided access to some of the stories on the front page and marked them as AC Friendly. I had hoped by demonstrating to those abusing the site that there was a simple solution that they would perhaps cease, or at least return to previously manageable levels. Unfortunately this was not to be. The abuse restarted almost immediately and has continued in every AC Friendly story that has been published. It has clearly demonstrated that this isn't a case of the abusers defending free speech or any other laudable and justifiable aim but simply an attempt to prevent the majority of the community from holding any form of discussion at all. I am not continuing the AC Friendly stories on the main page with the sole exception of this Meta story.

I next tried to switch the attempts to include our AC community around by providing stories from the front page initially to my own journal, but subsequently to the journal of a new account named 'AC Friendly'. This was rather labour intensive and was not something that I could continue to do in the long term. These efforts have been ignored and do not seem to be of any interest to the AC community. Likewise I will not continue this effort unless there is evidence that it is wanted.

There are many perfectly understandable reasons for wishing to post comments as an Anonymous Coward. This was recognised when the original Slashdot code was written and provision was made for such individuals in the software. It is a straightforward matter to log in to the site and then automatically post as AC from then on. This both protects the site itself and those using it. If your justification is that you do not trust the staff then I must question why you would want to remain on the site.

Free speech is an essential part of our ethos but it is necessary to realise that free speech and anonymity are not necessarily related. We want people to be able to express their views without fear of harassment, abuse, or unfair moderation. Only by doing so can we truly claim to have free speech. It means that even those with whom we strongly disagree have the right to express their opinions. Subsequent attempts to argue against those views should not involve any form of harassment of the individual making them. Any attempt to prevent someone from expressing their views is directly counter to the very concept of 'free speech'.

Likewise, anonymity is something to be valued. Attempts to unmask either named or anonymous accounts is unacceptable to this site's administration and will not be tolerated. Those who publish information that appears credible to us must be deterred from continuing by whatever means are necessary. We cannot verify every claim made regarding the personal information of a community member and we must therefore assume that it is has some basis in truth and is an attempt at doxing. It does not matter where the information stated in the claim originates or whether it has been stated on this site or elsewhere previously. If it has the potential to unmask a community member it will be treated as doxing. The site will do all it can to protect community members. We are also fortunate that in the 8 years we have been operating we have only had one account that felt it was an acceptable thing to do. That account has been closed.

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the toxic environment that has developed on the site has cost us numerous valued community members - both staff and regular contributors of submissions and comments. It cannot be allowed to continue. There is also no doubt that there is a straightforward and simple solution, and that is to prevent AC participation without the creation of an account. The software was designed to do this and it is wasted effort trying to find alternatives when it is unnecessary to do so.

There has been quite a bit of discussion over the last week or so. We have had a former community member (who was also once a member of staff) return to the site with his own story. Initially he chose to remain anonymous but subsequently decided to continue his comments under his username. I encourage you all to read the link given and the subsequent comments given in reply. I am very grateful that has taken the effort to explain why he has did what he has done and I welcome him back to our community if he choses to stay. As part of my reply to him I made the following statement:

It is vitally important that everyone is able to express their own point of view without harassment or intimidation or even unfair moderation. We do not all agree with each other. That is the same in any community. But by full, frank and honest discussion we can at least understand each others point of view and possibly identify potential solutions. The freedom of expression is still essential on the site - but it can only exist if we can ensure that it can be conducted in a suitable environment.

I stand by that statement. Since that comment was published I have received other views and experiences of the toxicity of our site from a significant number of individuals, including regular community members and both current and former staff. Quite simply, if we do not change then in all likelihood we will not survive much longer. It is not too late to make the necessary changes but time is running out.

I promised you that no changes would be made to how the site operates without first giving you all the chance to express your own opinions. But you have to decide now which path you want the site to follow. This cannot be a simple vote - as an extreme example we have no way of verifying that AC comments are not the result of a single person, or if some sock-puppets are still active on the site. Everyone has the right to be heard. However, let me point out a few rules:

  • Any attempt to disrupt this Meta by spamming, ad-hominem attacks or trolling abuse will count as someone expressing an opinion that we should insist on accounts for all those wishing to post as AC. If anyone thinks that by abusing the site they will be helping their case they are mistaken. However, such actions will clearly show to the community that those who have been making the most noise about being prevented from expressing themselves are not actually fighting for free speech, but rather they are determined to prevent you from exercising your right to it.
  • It will be pointless to keep repeating the same views as an AC. We cannot separate them. You want to be anonymous, you choose to have the account ID #1, and this, unfortunately, is a direct consequence to that decision.
  • All views will be collated and then a decision will be made based upon them by the staff. This will include the SN Board who may accept that decision, but who have the right to choose the path that the site eventually takes. It may not be the decision that any of us want.

This is an important issue. It cannot be a simple vote but I encourage as many people as possible to express their opinions. It might be the last chance for you to do so. The Meta will stay active for several days to at least mid-week - but if it is abused excessively then it will be taken down and we will be forced to make a decision base on whatever views we already have or can get from elsewhere. I will endeavour to move the Meta in the story queue so that it remains on the front page. Many of our community log on at different times of the day or only on specific days. I would like to give everyone a chance to see the Meta story and to make their views known.

This is your opportunity - please do not waste it.

[Ed's Comment: See bold text - warning 2022-07-10 12:36 UTC]

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by NotSanguine on Sunday July 10 2022, @06:59PM

    Easily; the personally identifiable information in the account which is linked to the logged-in imitation-AC posts.
    And if you really think jailing dissenters is exclusive to the Russians, you are far too naive to survive what is coming. Deep economy crashes do spark witch hunts, if only for the mundane reason of divvying up the witches' worldly goods.

    This being (primarily) a science/tech site, perhaps a technical solution to your concerns would be appropriate. (sorry, this isn't a car analogy) In fact, several comments have already addressed this:

    1. Create a throwaway email address (Protonmail, spamdecoy, etc.), presumably through TOR and/or a VPN;
    2. Register an account using that throwaway email address, and confirm the address (again via TOR and/or a VPN);
    3. Connect to SN via TOR and/or a VPN;

    Now, no one can track you even if you're logged in.

    Estimated time (in actual work) to effect a solution like that, 10-15 minutes (perhaps less).

    Please note that I'm not telling you (or anyone else) what to do. Rather, I'm addressing the specific concern you mentioned with a potential solution.

    Make of that what you will.

    No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical. --Niels Bohr
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