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posted by NCommander on Monday December 05, @08:37AM   Printer-friendly
Hey folks,

Well, it's been a bit of time since the last time I posted, and well, I had to think a fair bit on the comments I received. It's become very clear that while I'm still willing to at least help in technical matters, the effort to reforge SN is much higher than I expected. In addition, given the, shall we say, lukewarm response I got to my posts and journal entries, well, I'm clearly not the right person for the job.

I think at this point, it's time to figure out who is going to lead SN going forward. After my de facto stepping down in 2020, the site has, for want of a better word, been a bit listless. At the moment, no one on staff really has the cycles to take that position on. A few people have expressed interest in the position, and I've talked with Matt, who is co-owner of the site about this. By and large, whoever fills the seat will have to figure out what, if anything, needs to change in regards to moderation policy, content, and more.

If you're interested in potentially fulfilling the role, drop me an email at michael -at- casadevall.pro, with the subject of "SN Project Leader", and include the following:

  • Who you are
  • What you want to do with the site
  • How you intend to do it
  • Why do you want to get involved

I'll leave this call for candidates open until December 14th, at which point Matt and I will go through, and figure out our short list, I'll talk to editors, and solicit more comments from the community. I'm hoping to announce a successor in early January, and formalize the transition sometime in February, which will be the site's 9th anniversary.

posted by NCommander on Monday November 21, @08:25AM   Printer-friendly
from the Let's-figure-this-out dept.

So, to say the last week has been a dumpster fire is drastically underselling what I've been through. This, combined with having to put things in place to migrate off Twitter, and otherwise deal with all the fallout of that hot mess has, to put it frankly, put free time at something of a premium, hence why this post took so long. For those who missed it, I did fairly long overhaul of our backend, upgrading boxes from Ubuntu 14.04, and rebuilding and replacing others.

At the moment, the site is mostly working, with two exceptions, site search is still down, and IRC is still down. Deucalion has taken up the task of rebuilding the IRCd on modern server software, so it's time to lay down the road going forward past this point.

Read past the fold for more information ...

State of the Backend

Right now, the backend is mostly built on an outdated version of mod_perl 2.2, and MySQL cluster, which is very much not a good place to be. Originally as envisioned, I planned this site to be able to be easily scalable, with a larger user base. That's why the infrastructure was designed to be as scalable as it was, with the downside of having a much higher overhead than a more traditional setup has. Furthermore, rehash (the code that powers this site) is, uh, to put it frankly, a beast to work on. It's a 90s era Perl code base and pretty much everything else that implies; if it wasn't for the fact that rehash is one of the main reasons to use SoylentNews, I'd argue it might be time to replace it.

Right now, I'm working on doing another round of server hardening. As it is at the moment, I've got rehash and Apache running in an AppArmor jail, and everything is pretty well sandboxed from everything else, but I still need to go through and adjust a lot of firewalls, and finish decommissioning out a bunch of the boxes. That said, the site is running faster than it has in a long while since a lot of small things got corrected as we went. Sometime this weekend, I'm going to finish adjusting the firewalls to lock it down further, and that should mostly get back to the point where I might have restful sleep again. That being said, there's still a fair bit more to do.

Moving ahead, we need to get off MySQL cluster, and either onto the current mod_perl, or, ideally, FastCGI, to end the Apache dependency entirely. Unfortunately, working on Rehash is quite difficult, and it requires a very specific setup to be viable. My current plan here is to basically get it working in Docker, so its easy to spin up and spin down instances, and return to a less cursed variant of MySQL. This is probably a few hours of work, but I'm hoping that overall it is going to be easy and straightforward to do since most of the backend is fairly well documented at this point. This also leaves me in a decent position to implement a couple of long overdue features, but modernization efforts come first. I'm hoping to livestream my efforts on this on the weeks to come, and I will make stream announcements as I go along.

Policy and Code Changes

My intent, based off the policy changes that were made to disallow ACs to post on stories is to sunlight the feature entirely, including in journals and more. The decision to have ACs on SoylentNews was made in 2014, when the Snowden leaks were only a few months old. Furthermore, we've seen from experience that the karma system doesn't go far enough at keeping bad actors from still getting a +2 status. By and large, the numbers underpinning the system need a rework. My general thought is to cap karma at either 10 or 15, and drastically decrease how far into the basement you can go, as well as uncapping posts in moderation to be able to go to -5.

As a rule, incredibly bad takes do get moderated out of existence, but because there's no real penalty for doing so, we get constant shitposts. Time to make this a bit harder to abuse. I've documented the antispam measures on the site before, but the site keeps track of IP addresses and subnets in the form of hashed /24, and /16s (/64 and /48 for IPv6), which has a karma number attached to them. If an IP range goes too far into the basement, it ends up posting at 0 or -1. By adjusting the caps, it should allow this threshold to be reached much more easily, and help bring the signal to noise ratio back to something more "positive".

Furthermore, I believe its generally in the site's interests to allow editors to delete comments. This functionality is actually built into rehash, but has been long disabled. At the time, I felt the community was best self-moderating, but I think on the whole, its better to treat this like a moderated subreddit, and have messages get a notice that they've in-fact been deleted ala reddit. This is a fairly large departure for the site as a whole, but I think one justified given the state of the Internet on 2022. I am open to discussions on all of this, but let me see what all your thoughts are like.

Final Notes

I do intend to keep livestreaming my progress with the site as we go along; and we raised another ~500 dollars towards Trevor Project during the last livestream. I've left that stream unlisted until I've had a chance to finish implementing all the hardening measures I've discussed, but I'm hoping at the end of it, I'll have a pretty good documentary on what it takes to modernize an aging website. As usual, if you want to support me directly: Ko-fi is available for one time donations, or Patreon for a recurring donation.

~ NCommander


[ If you are an AC and wish to make a constructive comment, please see my journal. janrinok ]

posted by NCommander on Sunday November 13, @04:44AM   Printer-friendly
from the that-was-a-lot-of-work dept.

Alright, I've literally been at it for seven hours. Here's what done, here's what needs to done, and if you find something broken, let me know.

  • Upgraded all machines to Ubuntu 22.04 (from 14.04 in most cases)
  • Successfully brought database cluster back up to full service
  • Rebuild web frontend to modern nginx/Ubuntu from very old Gentoo

Here's what's going to happen sometime tonight or tomorrow

  • Outbound SMTP service will be fixed
  • Start fully decommissioning the first set of servers ...

There's likely a lot of things still broken. if you find something broken, leave it in the comments. I'll get to it in the next day. At least we're not on 8 year old software anymore. Current plan after taking care of the above, going to find a good host (probably Fastmail) for editor emails, I do have the backups of everyone inbox should they want it. This has been, very much an exercise in pain. If you want to support me directly: Patreon for recurring, or Ko-fi for one time.

I'll be back in a few hours to work on this more. We raised another $560 USD for charity, and I hope folks had a great time. The next parts I need to just do, so the next stream will likely involve dealing with getting rehash to run in Docker.

~ NCommander

Update - 2022/11/12: DNS resolved, and at least site outbound email should work now

Update - 2022/11/13: Site outbound email is actually working now

posted by NCommander on Saturday November 12, @08:43AM   Printer-friendly
from the its-in-flames dept.

So, quick update here. The site was down for most of the night because the database cluster shot itself in the head. I had restarted a machine to install updates, and this caused the backend cluster to entire to entirely loose its mind. Unfortunately, I didn't have a manual dump of the database made, just a VM snapshot, since, well, I wasn't tinkering with it directly. I've mostly been trying to patch things to the point that I can sleep, and leaving things down like IRC and email which need to be seriously overhauled before they can go back up.

As far as damages go, it looks like we lost 10 or so days of messages, which uh, sucks for multiple reasons. We're currently on ##soylentnews on Libera.Chat while I pull bits of the site out of the flames, but I'm at the point that if I don't sleep, I will make things worse. Corruption in the production database is very much not what I wanted, and we're very much in limp mode for the moment. I'm going to let staff handle IRC and comments while I sleep, and then I'll post another update when I'm awake.

See you in a few hours

~ NCommander

posted by NCommander on Friday November 11, @12:25PM   Printer-friendly

It's been a long while since I wrote one of these, and well, to say things are depressing is very much an understatement. It's been over eight years since we first went online, and the world has literally changed several times over. Presidential elections, a global pandemic, war in Europe, and well, we've been here through it all. It's a testament to our staying power that SN has remained online through it all, as a volunteer and community driven project.

That's not to say it's all been good news though ...

About two years ago, I de-facto resigned from the project after internal conflicts, and SoylentNews has slowly been rotting to death. To say the state of the backend is bad is very much an understatement. I found the SN emails were on spam blocklists, and well, I won't even talk about the state of the software ATM. It's holding together mostly out of the sheer amount of overengineering, and good intentions. The last major overhaul was I did when the site was migrated to rehash 7 years ago ... yeah it's been awhile ...

At this point, I think we need to talk about where we're going, because its either going to be long slow painful death, an execution, or an attempted comeback tour. This is your host NCommander, and today, we're going to look towards the future ...

What Happened to NCommander

I guess I should start with what happened to me, since I was head of the project, and I essentially disappeared. For those who knew me, I went through some serious life problems from 2016-2019; I was still active on Soylent's IRC, but I was very much one degree removed from the project. I did write things up like talking about my time as a ICANN fellow, and screwing around with Windows 1.0 SDK, but it was very much a hands off thing. Even at that point, the backend was very much starting to show its age in the years since it first went online. However, there were a few things in the background that was threatening to brew over.

When we launched in 2014, SoylentNews was promised as a baston of free speech, and essentially a testament of the Internet of the early 90s. It was the Slashdot we all remembered, freed from corporate interests that had forced the beta interface. I actually spent a bunch of time documenting what I remember of the SoylentNews launch on my own wiki here, but if you want to remember what lead to the foundation of this site, gaze upon the eye of the beta interface and despair. The end result of this was the SoylentNews Manifesto, essentially our touchstone document of our core values and such. I was 26 when I wrote that document. The Snowden leaks had just happened, and well, the biggest threat on the horizon was the idea of mass censorship. I had, somewhat naively, had assumed that, given a choice, people won't willingly listen to misinformation. Then I saw the Trump presidency first hand, combined with active efforts to lie and distort the truth about a global pandemic, and leading up to the Capitol Riots on January 6th, 2021. From today, it's been eight years since I put pen to paper, and I've had a long time to think about those words.

By and large, while I don't disagree with the principles of what SN was founded on, I've been forced to admit that this has had a lot of undesirable consequences. As the Trump presidency continued, the signal to noise ratio began to drop on the site like a stone. I remember that, at times, this site sometimes felt like reading /b/ more than anything else, and was having serious concerns with the state of the community by 2017-2018. However, there were two major factors that stopped me for doing anything: first, I felt bound my own words, and second, there were members of the staff who preferred to keep things as is.

By and large, volunteer projects depend on the organization have a core set of ethics. While SoylentNews is, simply put, a success story in volunteer collaboration, I'm the one who set the direction in which staff followed. This was true when I took ownership of the project from John, and when we were all at mrcoolbp having a BBQ celebrating our road to incorporation. Even though I haven't been active on SN in years at this point, you can still see the impressions in the clay that have lasted over the better part of a decade. However, this has never been a one man show. Several members of the staff, primarily those who helped maintain the backend, felt that the status quo was better. I could have forced the issue, but I would have likely ended up alienated both staff and the community over it. As such, I just began to silently slide into the background from 2017 onward.

As I continued to move forward in my life well, I began to have the benefit of hindsight. Towards late 2015, and early 2016, I got picked up by Mixer (then called Beam), and created the Faster-Than-Light streaming protocol, redefining the standard of what was possible for video streaming. I then found my way working with whistleblowers, and doing a stint of policy work with ICANN. It's given me the benefit of hindsight, and a lot of wisdom that 2014 didn't me did have. I also struggled with constant health issues. In 2019, I made the decision to try and cross the United States by bike (which I documented on my second channel, Restless Yankee. I started that trip in March of 2020; no points guessing how that ended :)

It's hard to summarize my feelings about the site at that time. By and large, I felt like SN had been a well intended, although ultimately misguided effort to make the world better, and the state of the comments section reinforced that. However, that changed in 2020, with the pandemic. Medical misinformation was rampant on SN, and there were several large fights about this in staff-only IRC channel. I was essentially outnumbered; there were too many people who wanted the toxic waste dump. So I resigned. Or well, intended to. I wrote a fairly lengthily resignation letter, and staged it for release on SoylentNews, and looked at disentangling myself from the PBC that owns the site. For various reasons, I never put it public, although it was briefly leaked.

In the end, the result was the same. I left SoylentNews, and focused on my own YouTube channel, and started building my own community built around the lessons learned from the SN era of my life. By and large, I've succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

But while I was off doing this, things were changing here.

What Happened In the Interim

Well, as it turns out, I left some very large shoes to fill, and my frustrations about the site didn't fall on deaf ears. I won't go through the full details; for one, I wasn't here, but problems relating to spam, misinformation, and more continued to grow. As before, the people who actually understood how the very legacy Slashdot.org derived codebase worked in were in favor of letting the site continue as is, while those, like janrinok, were beginning to reach a breaking point. I'll skip ahead to the punchline, the staff ended anonymous posting on the main page, which was a major departure from our initial promises

To say there was backlash is very much an understatement. When the dust settled, there were a small number of staff, mostly editors, left, who continued valiantly on for the next two years as the site slowly began to fall apart without maintenance. It's a testament to how much effort was put in both by the original Slashdot crew, and those of us who worked on rehash that it basically stayed up despite no one watching it, but it's starting to reach a breaking point. I took a look at the state of things earlier today. It's *bad*. To put it bluntly, SN's backend was always maintained on what could be described as "best effort", and there were some deferred maintenance issues piling up when I stepped away.

It's now two years later ...

Fortunately, simply because when we launched SN, we were forced on an obsolete stack, I did an obscene amount of machine hardening; the entire thing is running in an AppArmored bubble, and I left a stupid amount of notes on how it all worked. Add to that Slashdot was very the tech site of the 1990s and 2000s, and you have a pretty tough nut to crack. The pile of Perl running this site is old enough to drink. However, we've piled up a large amount of technical debt. By and large, this is not a sustainable situation, but at least for the time being its livable if someone put in the necessary TLC to make it keep going.

So the question is, what comes next?

By and large, SoylentNews has been drifting without a direction for years at this point. I couldn't force a direction without alienating staff, and I didn't have the energy to maintain SN indefinitely without hope things would get better. However, by sheer dint of staying up (probably of spite), you have one of the last time capsules to an Internet that has mostly disappeared. One without JavaScript, and a tribute to everything awesome about the 90s and 2000s. Watching SN die out of apathy hurt would hurt too much. This is where we get back to "now". Although I had departed staff, I did occasionally check in on things. I did see the problems with trolls, and I had at least read through parts of the comments when anonymous posting finally got turned off. I actually did feel like SN had a chance of turning itself around. What I didn't know is how bad things had been internally.

Since moving off from SN, I've been working to actively preserve pieces of history; for example, through a community effort taking place mostly on my Discord, we've seen AIX for Itanium get archived, and even restored to the point we have a working copy of GCC. This was one of the centerpieces of the SCO v. IBM lawsuites of the early 90s, and was a huge focus point for Groklaw. The legendary Project Monterey; preserved for future generations, and I was there when it happened. We've also worked to save versions of Banyan VINES, and I'm even hosting a "Slow Computing Speedrun" as we speak, which, among other things, has someone with a genuine PDP-10 being livestreamed at this moment! You could say it's been an interesting time ...

Recently, I was talking about SoylentNews, and what I could remember relating it being forked from Slashdot, which I was urged to write in a public channel. The discussion basically boiled down to "how often do you get to siphon a large amount of the Slashdot old guard". This lead to a bunch of volunteers to write an entire page relating to this sites history; and as many notable things as I could remember over the last eight years. The full log has been saved here, but I'll give you some samples:

On Slashdot Beta

  • N: So, some context, Slashdot was formed in the very early 90s by CmdrTaco, and CowboyNeal, pretty much the first tech news of the early Internet
  • N: was in the days of the dotcom boom, and it got handed over probably a dozen times; it was an Internet landmark, like SourceForge, or Tucows was
  • N: Eventually Slashdot got acquired by DICE Enterainment, after a very long period of changing hands
  • N: Like all the original editors were gone
  • BCD: I wanna say it was right-leaning? Hated microsoft and loved open-source
  • N: DICE had made a lot of unpopular changes, but the straw that broke the camels back was "Beta"
  • N: Like it was this horrid whitespace meme; it turned a very information dense site into a wordpress block...It was like if every page of the print New York Times was double spaced.

On soylentnews.org being held hostage

  • N: John [the original founder] had actually blackmailed us. And sold the soylentnews.org domain without giving it to staff
  • N: Matt Angel bought it for 3k (https://soylentnews.org/article.pl?sid=14/03/10/1129232/)
  • N: Right, [I] forced him out, and then he sold the domain
  • N: fucking hell this is a story
  • N: Anyway, Matt basically was our venture captilist, and I was the CTO
  • N: And I basically said "we're going to incorporate this, and we're going to do it right"
  • N: and we did
  • N: Fitting, that we got our incorporation papers back on July 4th

On upgrading the code to mod_perl 2

  • N: This is not something you do lightly. Like, this is a fucking effort
  • N: This was the itch I couldn't let stand
  • N: I said at the beginning "we're going to do that"
  • N: and that was the last major thing I did in that code base

After finishing that interview, I ended up taking a much closer look at the state of the site, and found myself immensely depressed. This is how it ends? With a wimper? Nah. I've made an entire career out of doing the fucking impossible. This site is proof of it. So, here I am again, preparing to step once again into the breach ...

The Road To Dawn

Just because of how much time I spent on it, I refuse to let SoylentNews die a slow painful death, but I also don't want to be in the position where I'm going to have to maintain it as a one man show indefinitely. 8 years ago, we built this community ex nilihio in a week. I can find the time to at least get us back to serviceable. Right now, I'm probably looking at many hours of work ahead of me, but there's a silver lining. I do a lot of charity livestreaming on cursed and vintage technology.

So, why not livestream it? The honest truth is a lot of people like to watch me suffer excessively, and this is going to be a test of patience beyond anything else. It will also (hopefully) bring a lot of fresh eyes looking towards SoylentNews, and perhaps teach some people on what it takes to keep a 30 year old codebase going. It's literally an artifact of a bygone era, one that is, rather depressingly, disappearing before our eyes. However, there's a bigger thing I need to look at.

February will mark our ninth anniversary, and frankly, I think we can make it to a decade with just a bit of effort. At which point, I'm going to need to decide what we're going to do. I don't want to see a long slow painful death. If anything, I rather do an orderly shutdown, archive everything for posterity, and leave soylentnews.org as a marker that says we were here, and let me stress this point, if nothing changes. If we can find new staff, and folks who are willing to maintain the site, then SoylentNews will go on, for as long as there are people there are to tend for it. If not, then it will be left as a testament of what is actually possible when people get together.

Assuming the community is willing to go along with this plan, I'll likely host a stream this weekend doing a fairly through inspection of the site infrastructure, and fixing any critical issues I can find live. I'll put a stream announcement up on SoylentNews, on my personal Twitter, and on Mastodon (@ncommander@restless.systems), as well as on my YouTube channel.

At least some of these streams will be fundraising for charity. Currently, I've fundraising for The Trevor Project, while in the past, I've fundraised for both National Network of Abortion Funds, and Planned Parenthood of America. I'm pretty sure the comments section might have thing to say, and frankly? I don't really care. If you don't like it, you can put in the effort yourself to save this place.

I think, at this point, this NCommander novel has reached its final form, so I will drop a link to my Ko-fi, and Patreon for one time and recurring support for me directly.

Until next time, this is NCommander, signing off, wishing you all a pleasant day ...

[This has been recovered from the WayBack machine from a link (https://web.archive.org/web/20221111011540/https://soylentnews.org/meta/article.pl?sid=22%2F11%2F10%2F1428220) very kindly provided by an Anonymous Coward. I cannot reproduce the original comments - there is no mechanism in the software to do such a thing - nor should it ever have been necessary. If you want to copy the comments that you made and resubmit them you can, of course, do so but they are unlikely to appear in the same order as they were made in the original posts. JR]

posted by janrinok on Tuesday July 26, @02:45PM   Printer-friendly

The proposal to enforce AC posting for logged in members only on the main page was promulgated to all staff and members of the board 7 days ago. Thank you to all those who contributed to the earlier discussions and clearly expressed their own views, suggestions and potential enhancements. All are being studied for implementation, if feasible, when staffing and resources permit.

There has been unanimous agreement from all responses received in favour of the proposed restriction. However, it was also apparent that there was a wish that this will be only until other alternative methods of restricting spamming, abuse and other disruptions to discussions can be identified and implemented. This is unlikely to be achievable in the short to medium term; other sites are struggling unsuccessfully with the same problem. The long-term aim remains to include AC posting in all discussions if at all possible

Therefore, beginning immediately, all AC posting on the main site will be limited to registered members who have logged in to their account. We regret that this leaves a number of AC community members unable to contribute as they once did, but anonymity remains a personal choice.

This will not affect discussions in journals which will have no limits and will be open to all.

If there is a demand for it, I will look at alternative methods of publishing a small number of stories each day into a journal.

On a more positive note, there is evidence that because of the recent restrictions on AC posting a significant number of existing accounts have returned and are commenting in the discussions. The quality of discussions (i.e. signal-to-noise ratio) is significantly better than it was several weeks ago. Although we have lost overall numbers of comments, the value of many of those lost comments appears to have been quite low. There has also been a noticeable improvement in moderations being awarded with more positive moderations being given when compared to negative ones. It is too early yet to draw any firm conclusions from other site statistics.

janrinok

posted by janrinok on Wednesday July 13, @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]

posted by janrinok on Sunday July 03, @03:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the lets-see-what-happens-here dept.

I realise that this has been an unpleasant time for many of our anonymous community members, but I can assure you that it has been necessary. I am not yet prepared to go into details but I can at least update you with our findings so far. But first we have to look at some historical data.

Anonymous Cowards (ACs) have always been - and will hopefully continue to be - welcome members of our community. There are many perfectly understandable reasons for wishing to post as AC and how you chose to live your own personal life is of no concern of this site. Equally, you are welcome to use VPNs and other security measures to protect your privacy. We take similar measures to protect all of your data so that you will not be compromised by us. These measures are effective and to the SN administration ACs appear as a single user with the user identity of #1.

We cannot treat some ACs differently from others. While we can manage to sort out your comments etc with the aid of the hashes that we produce, they change so frequently as to be useless for any purpose outside of this site. But the Administration is only concerned with what happens within this site and so this point is moot. We have no interest in the rest of the internet so IP addresses are also of no interest to us. How your comments get from wherever you are to us is irrelevant. The bottom line is that ACs can only be treated as a single account. That account is granted certain permissions or not granted those permissions and they apply to every AC interaction.

Most of our community, both logged in and AC, participate in the discussions in an reasonable manner and discuss the topic that has been outlined and any threads that resulting from it. It is true that, particularly at weekends, there is a slight increase in the number of ACs appearing but on their own they are little more than a minor irritant. There is, however, a 3rd group, consisting of ACs who sole purpose seems to be to derail any sensible discussion. Over recent years they have become more aggressive and often use personal attacks rather than challenging what is being said. Some are more obvious than others and I am sure that you can all think of examples of such people for yourself. A very small number have stated that it is their aim to prevent SoylentNews from continuing.

On 22 Jun of this year we received an implied threat (https://soylentnews.org/comments.pl?noupdate=1&sid=49894&page=1&cid=1254201) suggesting the the person making it had a target date of 6 July for some event or other. It is possible that this is related to another 'prophecy' in which this individual foretold that the site would soon be dead. We believe that we can identify the person making that threat with a reasonable degree of certainty. However, since that time the number of ad-hominem attacks has increased and we have also been subjected to increasing amounts of spam. In small amounts either or both of these things can be shrugged of, but when they come increasingly aggressive and frequent, they can make the entire experience of being in this community very unpleasant. I know that we have lost both staff and numerous community members because of this toxic atmosphere - and not, as some would have you believe, because we administer the site!

Almost all of this behaviour is conducted by a very small number of ACs and occasionally via sock-puppet accounts. As the levels of harassment increased over the last few weeks it was obvious to us that we could remove it by simply preventing AC access. This was not an easy decision to make but we knew that we could protect the majority of the site by this simple action. The result is, as you know, that we reluctantly removed anonymous access by ACs to the front page.

We are now actively looking for more permanent solutions and hopefully to exactly what we had before. I have experimented with providing stories on the front page which are AC friendly, and also in my journal. We are still looking for a better solution but unless we can separate individual ACs then I cannot see what else can be done. I would welcome your feedback and suggestions. The outcome of our decision is also our loss as you can see if you look at the numbers of comments that we are now getting compared to before the ban.

I have spent a lot of time analysing the posts, both current and historical, to try to identify the person or persons responsible for this unwanted content. I am not going to name specific individuals because I believe that you can each reach your own conclusions. By looking at both the spam and comment content, and their meta data, I have established the following.

The person spamming our site is one of our own Anonymous Cowards who is currently blocked because we have removed access for the AC account - and that block affects all ACs. He is also one of the people regularly carrying out ad hominem attacks against other community members. He will be reading everything that we post about this issue.

Unless the abuses cease everywhere on the site including in journals, ACs will remain outside of the main site except for specially released stories until we can devise a better system. For us to currently do anything different would be foolish and irresponsible in the extreme. As soon as the abuse ceases we can readmit all ACs to the main site again.

I know that this will be as much of a disappointment to you as it is to me, and you may also be thinking of leaving. I ask you not to go. Rather I would encourage you all to let the abusers know that they are not fighting for your freedom of speech ("freeze peach") but they are by their actions actively preventing your participation in our site. There is one particular post (https://soylentnews.org/comments.pl?noupdate=1&sid=50204&page=1&cid=1257692) which suggests that this is being done on behalf of all ACs and that you all stand as one behind this action. I don't believe that anybody has the right to claim that if you haven't actually agreed to it.

posted by janrinok on Wednesday May 18 2022, @05:30AM   Printer-friendly

The submissions queue is running very low. Please support the site and make submissions on the usual topics because, without them, we will have to reduce the number of stories that we can publish each day.

Thank you.

posted by martyb on Monday March 28 2022, @04:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the YOU-GUYS-ARE-GREAT! dept.

Thank you SO much! I had no idea that my work on SoylentNews had such a wide-ranging impact on so many people! Reading the comments to my resignation — This is Difficult in So Many Ways; I Must Resign from SoylentNews — brought me alternately to tears of joy and roars of laughter.

That said, the reality is that others have arguably played a larger role in making SoylentNews into the success that it is today. A few names that readily come to mind: NCommander (UID 2!), paulej72, TheMightyBuzzard, and LaminatorX (our first Editor-in-Chief). There are so many more!

As much as I appreciate the kind words, it would mean so much more to me to see these well-wishes turned into subscriptions to SoylentNews! This idea came to me when I received a gift subscription to the site. (Thanks drussell!) It costs roughly $7,000 per year to run this site — primarily web hosting fees. (Nobody has ever been paid anything for their work on this site!)

We have raised about $1,100 so far this year. Our goal for June 30th is only about $2,400 away (and for the year is only about $5,900 away). That is net to us after processing fees. It's a BIG stretch, but I have faith... let's see what this community can do!

[Update: Revised paulj72 to paulej72. - Fnord]

posted by martyb on Thursday March 24 2022, @04:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the leaving-a-very-big-pair-of-boots-to-fill dept.

Where to begin?

How about at the beginning? Would that be https://soylentnews.org/~martyb/journal/60? That was the first journal article I posted to SoylentNews. I am talking still earlier than that. That would be the day I created my account on the site — it was a few days before we went live. I have been active ever since. Well, up until about a couple weeks ago.

That was when I experienced a medical condition that has precluded my continued participation here.

Since that day, janrinok (our former Editor-in-Chief) has ably filled my shoes in my absence. That is until Fnord666 (our Alternate-Editor-in-Chief) could take the reins.

I ask you to extend to them the same kindness and support you have shown me. I've grown creatively and professionally in ways I had never even imagined! Thank You!

janrinok writes:

It is hard to explain just how much of a contribution Marty has made to this site - from its very early days before it even went public Marty was there providing whatever help he could. If there was a job to be done he was there offering to help. There was nothing that he was not prepared to tackle. If he didn't know how to do something he would go and find out and then return to do whatever needed to be done.

Fnord and I have processed far more more stories than either of us had ever expected to do (6570 and 6166 respectively) but we are a long way behind Marty's contribution of 11076 stories at the time of writing. If you conservatively estimate each story at 15 minutes (and I can assure you that many stories can take much longer than that!) the man-hours he has spent keeping the front page full is a huge amount of effort. That would be, and is, worthy of recognition in its own right - but he didn't stop there.

He has also served as our QA specialist and spent many more man-hours testing software and finding ways to bring it to it's knees, and then finding solutions to each of those problems. He ran our donations and looks after the funding 'Beg-o-Meter'. And he still found time to be the Editor-in-Chief for the site since 2018. There are so many jobs that he does - many of them having gone almost unnoticed - that we now find ourselves trying to work out who will pick up which extra tasks for the future.

I am also fortunate to have Marty as a friend. My own life has had a few ups and downs over the last 5 years or so and Marty has been there to provide sound advice, wise counsel, or just a listening ear. I hope I will be able to repay him in kind in the future.

In addition, he has other ways of helping his local community which have nothing to do with this site. He would not wish me to go into details but he takes his caring and helping attitude with him throughout his life.

It is not all bad news - Marty is stepping down from the role of Editor-in-Chief but he is not leaving the community. How much he is able to contribute in the future is still very much unknown but you may still see his name appear from time-to-time alongside a comment or on IRC. He has specifically asked me to pass on his best wishes for the future to the community and the site that we all support.

Marty leaves behind a legacy he can justifiably be proud of, and a very large pair of boots to be filled. We will do our best to maintain the standards he has set. Good luck and best wishes, Marty, and I hope that your recovery is swift and complete.

posted by martyb on Wednesday February 23 2022, @01:30AM   Printer-friendly

Yes, we are aware; comment counts do not appear to be updating when viewing the main page.

We apparently have a resource availability issue. As far as I can tell, the counts are being updated correctly. (Yay!)

The problem seems to exist in a layer in which I lack expertise. The assistance of site admins has been requested.

UPDATE 20:23 23-02-2022

The problem has now been resolved. Many thanks to mechanicjay for fixing it again. As of yet we do not know the cause of the local mysql query node failure on one of our servers. However, as some of you have already deduced, there are many background tasks that are managed by the scheduler including updating comment counts, issuing moderation points, updating the journal index on the front page etc. The scheduler couldn't access the database and therefore couldn't do any of the tasks that we expect it to do.

In addition to expressing our gratitude to mechanicjay I would also like to say thanks to all in our community for your patience and good-humour in this rather protracted fix.

posted by martyb on Saturday February 12 2022, @07:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the Were-Baaaack! dept.

Our servers are back up!

Earlier today (about 12 hours before this story), our site had a server crash. Early attempts to restart things (bouncing fluorine and hydrogen) were unsuccessful. (Thanks chromas and janrinok for your efforts!)

Fortunately, the system is usually lightly-loaded at this time, so relatively few people were affected.

Then mechanicjay came on the scene and was able to restart helium and neon. Then the rest of the servers for the site successfully came on-line.

Through it all, we retained access to IRC (thanks Deucalion!) and e-mail (thanks audioguy!).

There may be some lingering hiccups as slashd (which handles scheduled tasks -- think cron) plods through those tasks in due time.

We thank you for your patience during this time and send our thanks to all who notified us (politely!) about the outage on IRC and through e-mails.

Please join me in thanking all those who lent a hand through this period! You ROCK! =)

We return you to your regularly-scheduled stories.
--martyb

posted by martyb on Thursday February 03 2022, @02:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the actions-have-consequences dept.

DECISION – 'aristarchus':

Introduction:

Actions have consequences. This is not a matter of free speech or censorship.

Doxing "Doxing or doxxing is the act of publicly revealing previously private personal information about an individual or organization, usually via the internet." This is the definition upon which we are basing this decision. Legally, the term does not appear to be well-defined in the US but doxing is also covered by laws relating to harassment, threats, and abuse. Elsewhere in the world, the definitions are sometimes more clearly defined but might cover a broader interpretation than the US definitions. Which interpretation is applicable could depend on the location of the perpetrator.

Background:

We first noticed that something was amiss in late 2020. Submissions from 'aristarchus' would contain certain words, phrases and names which were apparently unconnected with the rest of the content. We were unable to understand their significance at that time, but they would be meaningful to the intended victim. (Story submissions by 'aristarchus' often contain additional material that he has inserted himself.) In almost all cases we removed them prior to posting the submission as a story because they had no bearing on the rest of the submission.

In late 2021 the doxing became more blatant both in comments that were made to stories and as well as on IRC. We also contacted the victim (by now it was obvious to us who it was) who responded and explained what had been published, where and when. We also discovered additional material that had not been seen by the victim. He had been suffering this abuse for a considerable time.

Please Note:

This investigation is not something that has been carried out purely on a whim by the admins on this site. During it we have consulted with and taken advice from a representative of the board of directors. (As an aside, SoylentNews PBC has never been 'run' by 'TheMightyBuzzard' or any of the current admin staff whose names you know well.) This is a serious matter and the investigation was conducted with utmost discretion by a very small team.

To ensure that 'aristarchus' is aware of this Decision he will receive an Admin-to-User message and an email to the address associated with his username drawing his attention to it.

Publishing Personal Information:

It is now apparent that 'aristarchus' has doxed at least one person in our community, and possibly others who may have left the site rather than suffer the harassment. This is not a single act, but has taken place repeatedly over a significant period of time.

'aristarchus' has published the victim's full name, where the victim lives, and the victim's employer. Presumably he believes this information to be accurate. We have seen additional comments that contain threats and state very personal information, such that posting them here would likely do further damage. We are trying to be discreet. If it were you, would you want us to air all the information that has been revealed? This action might also have placed other members of the victim's family at risk from abuse or embarrassment.

It is obvious that 'aristarchus' has conducted research away from this site. SoylentNews PBC does not hold such information nor has it been ever been declared in any comments.

We can only guess at the true reason behind these disclosures: at the very least it appears to be a smear campaign.

What We Have Done So Far:

  • The victim has a full copy of all the evidence that we have been able to trace to date. The evidence was all publicly accessible. We are not aware of a compromise of any other community members' information. We are not going to indicate where this information might be found.
  • We have made a separate backup of the database to ensure that evidence should not be lost.
  • We have removed personal information from database comments and IRC logs where possible.
  • It is entirely for the victim to decide whether to seek legal redress in this matter.

Options:

There are 2 options open to us.

(1) Permanent Ban

  • 'aristarchus' will face a full and permanent ban from this community.
  • His account(s) will be completely disabled.
  • Any further posting he may make to the site will be treated as Spam.

(2) Temporary Ban

  • 'aristarchus' will face a temporary ban of 3 months where his account(s) will be disabled. He will be able to restore his 'aristarchus' account when his ban ends. His conduct during this time will be taken into consideration before his account is reactivated.
  • During the ban 'aristarchus' may still post on the site as an 'Anonymous Coward', with all the limitations that are associated with that i.e. no journal, no ability to moderate, etc. Whether he wishes to make his identity known in his AC posts is entirely up to him.
  • During and subsequent to the ban he is to act as we would expect any other member of this community to act. He is not to disrupt other discussions nor is he to continue to complain about his treatment. The ban is entirely a consequence of his own actions. We will not discuss this matter publicly. If he has complaints he may contact us via email as usual.
  • He is to refrain immediately and completely from harassing other members of this community.
  • Any serious future abuses by 'aristarchus' can result in a permanent ban being imposed without further warning.

We acknowledge that 'aristarchus' regularly makes insightful and interesting observations and we recognize that he has many supporters on this site. That is why we have offered the option of a conditional Temporary ban.

Action/Conclusion:

'aristarchus' must now decide which ban he wishes to accept. This is not negotiable – there are no other options open to him. If he does not respond either by commenting here or by email within 48 hours of the release of this Decision then we will assume that he has chosen the Temporary Ban and he is bound by the conditions stated within it. He may elect to change to a Permanent ban at any time.

For legal reasons we do not intend to comment further. The community can now see why several of the site admins have been putting in long working days, sometimes in excess of 12 hours since just before Christmas. We are exhausted and need to have a period of normal activity so that we can recover. We urge the community to be circumspect and restrained in the discussions to this Decision – there is little to be gained from inflaming the current situation any further. We ask you not to speculate about the identity of the victim.

posted by martyb on Wednesday January 05 2022, @06:54PM   Printer-friendly
from the it's-nice-to-be-nice dept.
[UPDATE: 2022-01-05 20:48:08 UTC]
We are aware there are some issues (dead links) where indicated by links to "here" in the story. It seems to be a long-dormant bug in the code. Will address this issue when addressing any other issues raised here. In the meantime, try using the links that appear in the liked-to article, directly, at: ( https://soylentnews.org/faq.pl?op=moderation#spam . Yes, we are aware that those are not the best examples and we are aware that those examples may need to be updated to point to better ones. --martyb

I've been made aware of some discussions about the permitted use of the "Spam" moderation. This has spawned a great deal of discussion among Soylent staff.

What's The Point?
The whole purpose of comment moderation is for an (early) reader of a comment is to provide guidance to later readers. Like "breaking trail" for others when hiking through deep snow. The "Trail breaker" makes it eaier to navigate the path for those who follow. Before we dive into the Spam, it is important to note that it is encouraged to "upmod" more than one "downmods". I receive an e-mail each day that includes the number of each that were performed on the preceding day. I am happy to report that I generally see 2x to 4x more upmods than downmods! YAY!

Where to start?
Start at the at the top of the Left-Hand side of the Main page. There one can find a link to the FAQ. Click that link and scroll down to the link about our Moderation System. Click that link. Located there is a list of items including one on the Spam Mod.

There it states:

Spam Mod

The spam moderation (spam mod) is to be used only on comments that genuinely qualify as spam. Spam is unsolicited advertisement, undesired and offtopic filth, or possibly illegal in general. Spam can come in many forms, but it differs from a troll comment in that it will have absolutely no substance, is completely undesired, is detrimental to the site, or worse.

The spam mod is special in that is removes 10 Karma points from the user that posted the comment. This mod is meant to combat spam and not to be used to punish commenters (when in doubt, don't use this mod). Our goal is to put a spammer in Karma Hell and for them to not be able to get out of it easily. As we do not want this used against non-spamers, we monitor all spam mods to make sure moderators are not abusing the spam mod. If we find a moderator that unfairly applied the spam mod, we remove the mod giving the poster back the Karma points, and the modder is banned from modding for one month. Further bans to the same modder add increasing amounts of ban time. If you inadvertently applied a spam mod, mail the admin and we will remove the spam mod without banning you. Even though we have updated the interface to physically separate the spam mod from the other mods, unintentional modding may still be an unfortunate occurrence.

Examples

If you are unsure of whether a comment is spam or not, don't use the spam mod. Here are some examples of spam:

  • Proper spam. Anything whose primary purpose is advertisement (unless somehow relevant to the discussion/article).
  • HOSTS/GNAA/etc... type posts. Recurring, useless annoyances we're all familiar with.
  • Posts so offtopic and lacking value to even be a troll that they can't be called anything else. See here, here or here for example.
  • Repeating the same thing over and over. This includes blockquoting entire comments without adding anything substantial to them.

These examples cannot cover every type of Spam that you might encounter. Please exercise common sense. We expect all comments to be on-topic or following a clearly defined thread that has developed as part of the discussion. Raising personal complaints or starting completely new discussions unrelated to the main story are certainly off-topic and also possibly trolling. Remember: if in doubt do not use the Spam moderation.

"Sock Mods" and "Mod Bombs":
You may ask: "What's that?". Simply stated, when a logged-in-user, uses one (or more) account(s) to "updmod" other account(s) in unison. This is similar to using other account(s) to "Downmod" one (or more) account(s) in unison. Both practices are Forbidden. As always, when such activity is discovered, Admins notice and discuss it to confirm the observation with other admins. Actions taken can range from a ban on moderations (for increasing durations for repeat offenders) to an outright ban on use of the accounts(s). We have observed such activity happening recently and are preparing to take action. Similarly, when several accounts can be shown to have repeatedly cooperated to prevent someone from expressing their opinion or have given other accounts an unfair advantage then that can also be a form of 'bombing'. My advice is: stop right now. We do not like taking such actions, but it would be unfair to those who DO follow the rules for us to ignore such activities.

Summary:
(1) simply follow Wheaton's Law:

Don't Be a Dick

(2) "Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don't say it mean."