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posted by janrinok on Tuesday July 26, @02:45PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]

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 [Skip to comment(s)]

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 [Skip to comment(s)]
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.