Disagreements + Groklaw = Deletion?

Open source software. When one builds their site upon open source and with supportive intentions toward open source, they are declaring that this site will have its innards laid bare and have an open policy toward all walks of life, all opinions for good or bad. For instance, if anyone wants any content from this website, they are able to take it at their leisure provided they give credit where credit is due. These aren’t at all a very hard concepts to grasp and use. Or are they?

In our last article on Groklaw.net, we went over one person’s experience as a groklaw user and content provider of that site. Of the points discussed, no one could argue that Mr. Petrofsky was unreasonable at any time, nor could one argue that he was at all unprofessional in his requests and his behavior. By examining the evidence presented in that article, one can infer that he was indeed deceived. Today, we’ll look into more possible examples of deception and censorship from the site where “open source principles are applied.” We’ll be chatting with an ex-moderator from Groklaw named Brenda Banks aka br3n who was removed as a moderator after expressing her opinion about certain matters at groklaw. After having her moderator status stripped from her, she then asked to be removed from the userlist based on her own moral compass. Read on for more on br3n.

Q: Please give the readers some background on yourself (any you feel is necessary)

br3n: I am a grandmother of 5 grandchildren, married 35+ years, nontechie type.

Q: Where did you get your start with technology?

br3n: I bought a computer in 98 with win 95 on it and it had the win 98 upgrade. I had a commodore 64 and commodore 128 many years ago, but never did anything other than print a few things like cards and banners. I started with linux in november 2001.

Q: Do you use GPL software? If so, what do you use?

br3n: Yes. I use mandrake 10.2

Q: What does the GPL mean to you?

br3n: it means that I can try to fix and control my own software to suit myself. I am not allowing any information out without my knowledge.

Q: What was your specific role at groklaw and how did you get your start there?

br3n: I was moderator. I gave PJ news links and helped with quote data base. I was so frightened when I first learned about the SCO vs IBM suit. I did constant news searches on SCO and found mettler’s site by a link from on slashdot. Mettler had a link to groklaw. I lurked for a while because I didnt feel I had anything to contribute to her [Pamela Jones from Groklaw aka PJ]. In fact then very few people posted at all. That was in either late May or early June. Then I got my nerve up to write her an email about one of her articles and we started corresponding. I would email news links to her with short summaries from the article that were the most important.

Q: What was the ultimate goal you hoped to achieve by being a contributor at groklaw?

br3n: I dont think I ever set out to do anything. I found something I could handle such as sending her the links for news articles and it helped her with her time since she was working. I also helped with the quote data base.

Q: How would you classify your time spent at groklaw? Fun? Informative? Horrible? Please explain.

br3n: I had a lot of fun but most from reading others comments.sometimes I feel sad that I was so blind to be willing to trust someone like that. I was horribly disappointed in the treatment dealt from PJ at groklaw for things that happened off site.

Q: When (if at all) did you notice things starting to go awry at groklaw?

br3n: My first alarms/questions arose when the announcement came out that PJ was working at OSRM, then came the 283 patent infringement possibilities announced around the same time. Then when jgabriel [another Groklaw user] had his account deleted there was no way to ignore things anymore. This was when I tested PJ by email asking about his deletion and posting mild criticism of her on yahoo [The Yahoo SCO finance boards]. She never answered the email about him and she then removed moderation powers from me without correspondance. I felt that was the answer I would have to accept and that she would keep ignoring what she doesnt want to answer. Deleting his [jgabriel’s] account and making all his posts anon, was just the most terrible/disrespectful thing I thought I had ever heard of.

Continued Interview with br3n:



Q: What specifically do you feel was the cause of these things?

br3n: For myself the OSRM issue (Groklaw editor joins OSRM) was a total turnaround from what I had understood her position to be before this point. She had blasted HP and Sun for their indemnity offers and then decides to go off with this one.

Q: What would it take for these problems to be resolved or have they been resolved?

br3n: Well, I have to answer that with a question: How do you trust someone when they have never admitted any wrong doing or admitted making any mistakes or even offering reasons for their mistaken/wrong actions?

Q: Now that some time has passed since these incidents occurred and you have had time to reflect on them, has your opinion changed?

br3n: No,in fact I feel stronger than ever that leaving groklaw was a right decision.

Q: Take a look at this list of names: Harlan, JohnGabriel, mck9, Thad Beier, h@ns, mjpieters, warmcat, al_petrofsky, Wally Bass, Rushing, thebean, walterbyrd, R. Wheelwright, JimK, talks_to_birds, harlanc, Maat, SCO_DNR. All of these members were at one time locked out and/or deleted due to reasons unknown and unsaid. Do you recognize any of these names (EDITOR’S NOTE: They’ve all been removed/deleted/censored at one time from groklaw since Nov 2004)?

br3n: harlan= I heard about him missing from other boards but don’t remember from groklaw. He was a big contributor but I have no personal knowledge of him. Harlanc is same person I believe.

john gabriel = was a more familiar name to me. I was watching closely when he was deleted. He had nothing on groklaw [in form of content] that would provide a reason for deletion. I was watching that closely. He had posted criticism on the yahoo SCOX board and I believe this is why he was deleted.

mck9= I don’t recognize this handle.

Thad Beier = is still a member isnt he?

h@ns = I thought he was still a member also.

mjpieters= nick is familiar but no details.

warmcat = Was deleted around the same time as al petrofsky because of the same tape of the court hearing that al was deleted for.

al_petrofsky = Was deleted due to the posting of the url to a tape of a hearing in court regarding SCO. He had written permission from the court to make it publically available and was deleted from groklaw without warning. Al Petrofsky [being censored/deleted/deceived] was not for good reason in my opinion. He had permission from the court for the recording and he believed he was in the right. I also think he was in the right.
Wally Bass = I recognize the nick and I believe he was deleted because he had a different opinion of the facts.
Rushing= I belive he was also named heimdal…

thebean = dont remember the nick

walterbyrd = still has an account i think

R. Wheelwright = dont recall the nick

mikey = had written an application for downloading groklaw content for use when he was traveling. He called it glsucks since it “sucked” down groklaw content onto his computer. Let’s just say that groklaw/PJ’s reaction to that leave little suspicion on why he lost his account.

JimK = dont recall the nick

talks_to_birds = is same as infosecgroupie on yahoo scox board also Maat = I don’t have any recollection of any problems from groklaw with this nick but after the fact heard of some.

tomas had had his account locked and his gpg key removed and all but his first name altered under the account info. No way for anyone to even email him. His account was reinstated if he gave permission for the alteration (something in his signature about his comments being creative common license or something) to stay, but am not sure that he ever gave that and think he is locked out of his account now…but I’m not 100% sure.

Q: Can you think of any names I’ve left out of my list?

br3n: How about colonel_zen (colzen), nono, spanishinquisition, and flimbag? I’m sure there are others.

Some of you may say…ok, so they got their account deleted. Big deal right? Register a new screen name or new nick! I’m sure that this thought has crossed the mind of many of these ex-members of groklaw. You may also say…”just get on with your life and forget about it!” But what is one really saying when they ‘get on with their life’? They’re saying that what happened really didn’t matter. Censorship coming from an open source supportive site…just doesn’t matter. I for one, being a strong supporter of both open source and the GPL, would not let this one lay down if it had happened to me. Hence, you have the groklaw category in this blog.

Moderator no more, grandmother still…br3n tells an interesting story. At the core, it’s an open source story that many of us have experienced. It’s a story of how one person begins to make a difference and becomes a part of something bigger than themselves. They learn from it. They become better people by learning. Soon, the movement gains momentum. It develops its own conciousness in a way due to the vast number of people that it attracts. When someone doesn’t agree with the direction its going or what is being said, they are silenced.

It does seem odd that so many people have found themselves ostracized from a site dedicated to support open source. In the early days of the GPL and open source, supporters were open and welcomed constructive criticism. Nowadays, mob rule has begun to take a foot hold. If one’s opinion does not follow that of the general sentiment of persons that post/chat at a certain site…they find themselves censored or silenced at said site. Groklaw is not the only practitioner of this form of censorship…there are many other sites across the web that find time to block comments that aren’t vulgar, but rather, do not agree with what site visitors and supports would agree with.

It is clear from the examples contained in this category; GreatDivide and Groklaw, that censorship and deception have become the ways of the web. People can post anonymously on the web and not have to worry about repercussions of what they say…afterall, they’re not face to face with that person so what do they care?

I often think of this anonymity and have found that the best way to relate to it is through an illustration. Imagine for a minute that you are driving in your car. You accidentally cut off the driver in front of you when you make a turn and he/she lays on the horn. They drive right up to your rear bumper and tailgate you for the next few miles and then you turn off at your turn and never see that person again.

Now imagine that you are standing in line at the bank. You accidentally reach across a persons face standing in line behind you. Does this mean that the person is now going to stand a few inches behind you, tailgating you for the rest of the time spent in the line? Not likely. This is because it is personal…and confrontation is something most people shy away from. The web has become the vehicle on the information superhighway and it has brought all the anonymity of driving a car along with it.

Have we found the answer? Is it this unwillingness to deal with people that is the causal factor for many deleted accounts at groklaw? Or is it mob rule that has taken hold…a “it’s my way or the highway” mentality? We may never know. When asked to comment on this article, no response was illicited from groklaw.net NOR Pamela Jones. Perhaps I’ll need to work on my google rank before I’m deemed worthy enough to respond to.

“It is in the nature of tyranny to deride the will of the people as the voice of the mob, and to denounce the cry for freedom as the roar of anarchy.” William Safire

Author: devnet

devnet has been a project manager for a Fortune 500 company, a Unix and Linux administrator, a Technical Writer, a System Analyst, and a Systems Engineer during his 20+ years working with Technology.

16 thoughts on “Disagreements + Groklaw = Deletion?”

  1. Welcome to 1984. This type of censorship online is not new, but has been going on for 20+ years IN MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. Undoubtably, someone who’s been online longer than I could recall instances that predate my experiences.

    In those earlier days, before the internet, the primary mode of online communication was via local BBSes (Bulletin Board Services), and via FidoNet, an international network of private computers which allowed for passing of mail packets throughout the world. FidoNet was the home of numerous discussion areas, called echoes, and each echo was home to one or more discussion boards, usually with a common theme.

    My first experiences with this form of censorship were with BBSes and echoes run by two general groups: white supremacists and a certain subset of Fundamentalist Christians. Any variance from the established “party line” in either invariably resulted in deletion of one’s account. As a non-Christian and a civil libertarian, my privileges in such arenas were generally short-lived.

    It’s a shame that a website which supposedly supports and espouses the open source model feels obliged to resort to the same tactics traditionally used by racial and religious bigots and extremists.

    I don’t visit the Groklaw site, and certainly have no intention of beginning, based upon what I’ve read here, out of deference to my blood pressure.

    Permission is granted to freely disseminate these comments. I’d be interested in seeing if PJ has enough conviction in her motives and beliefs to respond, or if she’s as cowardly about defending her actions as I’ve found these other groups to be over the years.

  2. Gary,

    I remember the BBSes! I used a U of Iowa one called isca…I was in college in 1994 and that was one of the more popular ones. I also did quite a bit of hanging in efnet on IRC….generally on channel #. Anyways, as stated in my articles, while I’ve never personally experienced groklawian censorship…I’ve heard of all to many people being censored/deceived/deleted there. While both you and I know this isn’t a new concept, it does help to put things into perspective through looking at various examples. That’s what I hope will happen with this area of the blog…attention be drawn to various examples and perspectives allowing readers to consider the information and come to their own conclusion. Of course, I toss in my two cents with it.

    I do really wish that PJ would give a ‘no comment’ or response…but it doesn’t seem to happen.

  3. i doubt PJ will respond except throw out a few witty words in a few days in a cutting and humorous way.
    irc is about all i know about communicating online and email lists.
    using web sites is a whole different world for me and adjustment and understanding hasnt been easy.politeness has always been a key thing for me and i have a hard time with rudeness.

  4. Your first paragraph is either incredibly naive or deliberately provocative. I suggest you try running a real open source project to understand the mechanics and the issues. I certainly don’t agree with everything PJ says and does, but I do support her right to run her own blog the way she wants to; she isn’t always right but that’s impossible. She has the right to be a normal flawed person like the rest of us and to ignore that which she has no time for. Groklaw did not shut down in deference to a minority who feel hard done by, and from all appearances the majority agree with PJ.

    In the real OSS world, people are not polite, are opinionated, and always have the option to fork a project if they seriously disagree with the aims of the founder. In the real OSS world, sitting around and bitching to anyone who’ll listen gets you sympathy but not a whole lot of constructive action. If you think PJ is mean you’ve obviously never read the OpenBSD or LKML mailing-lists. It might surprise you to know that they also blacklist people. And OSS continues to thrive and there are always willing contributors. And this is one of my contributions 🙂

  5. Ahh yes…but OpenBSD and LKML mailing lists aren’t thrust into the public eye as a pillar of Open Source and the epitomy of Linux vs. IP now are they? I’m not saying PJ is mean…heck, she could have been having a really bad week or few weeks when all of this happened. But, since she is in the public eye and under a microscope with her site winning all of its awards and being quoted in every article out there…I’d expect her to admit any wrong doing or mistakes.

    I made a mistake here and immediately posted acknowledgement and corrections. It’s not about whether or not it is my blog or whether or not I have the right to do so. It’s about being honest with readers. Without the readers, a blog might as well just be one of those silly bloop diaries.

  6. I currently live in a world of confusion and paranoia and hearing about this during my experimentation with free software and its community really casts a shadow on the whole thing for me. br3n, I’m really sorry you got burned like that. It isn’t right.

  7. I am the mck9 that br3n didn’t remember.

    I was by no means prominent, so I’m not surprised that br3n didn’t recognize my handle, but I was present at Groklaw almost from the beginning. I contributed some of the verbiage that still, so far as I know, adorns her site. I transcribed some of the ancient AT&T contracts from fuzzy PDF images. I wrote some software for PJ to use in cleaning up HTML from contributors.

    I felt like I belonged. My eventual disillusionment was painful.

    PJ did not, as you suggest, kick me out of Groklaw. I exiled myself shortly after she kicked John Gabriel out, because I was disgusted at her arbitrary and high-handed tactics, and at the echo chamber of censorship and groupthink that Groklaw had become. If I had not exiled myself, I would likely have been exiled involuntarily later, because I was not willing to subjugate myself to PJ’s opinions. I had already found myself accused of being a troll for not slavishly following the party line.

    PJ deleted my membership at my request, and stripped all attribution from my comments (as she had done to John Gabriel and others).

    I am not as bitter as br3n, nor do I regret my involvement, but I did not want to be associated with a site that would not accept John Gabriel (or any of several others) as a member.

  8. I’m the flimbag that br3n thinks you left off your list. I may or may not had posts/accounts deleted from Groklaw, but I never really cared enough to check. While I’ve always valued and enjoyed Groklaw, I never felt welcome there due to PJ’s language diktats, so even if I ever did create an account, I probably didn’t use it more than once or twice.

    I think br3n puts me in that list because I was an early and vocal critic — not so much of Groklaw per se, which I’ve always thought served an invaluable function and does a remarkable job of reporting, but of PJ’s personality traits and her policies, and of the peculiar mindset associated with many of her supporters. They always seemed to me to have a siege mentality and so anyone who disagreed with PJ — on almost any issue — and was prepared to say so in public was immediately attacked as either a troll or a paided SCO shill.

    My most unpleasant memory of the whole ‘Grokwars’ episode — which refers to the battle between PJs supporters and her critics on Yahoo’s SCOX message board — was the way that br3n herself was harrassed and abused online by pj’s followers, after she recanted the faith and turned heretic.

    Br3n suffered a personality assassination that was a thousand times worse than anything that Maureen O’Gara ever said about PJ. One word from PJ could have silenced the red dress fanboy brigade in an instant. Her failure to call her dogs to heel says more about the woman and her ethics than anything that I can say here.

  9. I look back on this article and still find it infuriating. I think groklaw is now an insignificant website and will continue to be so in the future. At the time of this writing though, it was the posterchild for Linux and Open Source and I didn’t really understand why. Especially when groklaw preached freedom of information/speech/choice yet didn’t give that same freedom to those commenting on it. I wouldn’t mind seeing if things had changed there now. Perhaps PJ has grown more in understanding and less in self righteous ego.

  10. Everything I’ve read in this article rings as the truth to me. After recently reading more postings on Groklaw, I posted a comment critical of the personal paranoia Jones displayed over personal attacks – likening her paranoid comments to those of Hugo Chavez when talking about US assassination plots against him. This post was deleted, so were 10 other posts that followed mine. Some were supportive of my position, others were neutral, and a few were from the PJ vangaurd. Any follow-up posts I made asking where the original posts were and why they were deleted were also removed.

    I’m used to be a believer in Groklaw, but now I’m a total skeptic.

  11. I’ve only seen what others have told me. Never being anything other than a lurking member (I don’t comment there at all). It’s interesting though…when you finally do have an opinion that differs from the mainsteam thought of the masses…you are ostracized quite a bit.

    One thing I promise here is to never censor a comment for anything other than swear words. I think if I have a blog that is public facing, I invite the good and bad comments…and since I ‘put myself out there’ I should be open to good and bad comments in doing so.

    I suggest that PJ do the same…and her license she used to have the comments under *said* she did the same, but actions speak louder than words.

  12. You can add me to the list. I was sandboxed because I said that IBM might buy SCO out of bankruptcy. The idea of IBM buying SCO is a hot button issue on Groklaw, and whoever was moderating didn’t understand that existing management and stockholders wouldn’t benefit, while it would tidy up the loose ends of the Unix IP story.

    Sandboxing is a feature of Geeklog (the system used to run Groklaw) that allows a moderator to flag comments so they are only visible to the IP address that posted them. I believe the justification is that it diverts trolls more effectively than blocking, because they won’t immediately try again from a different IP address. As far as I know Groklaw has never admitted that they engage in this practice.

    If you go to http://www.ip-wars.net and select grok* from the header, you’ll enter the strange world of grokwars. A few years ago the people booted from Groklaw looked for other places to post. However they were still venting about their treatment by PJ and were pursued by 2 or 3 very dedicated fanboy trolls (primary ids cdbaric and droneckx). This raised the noise level of the Yahoo SCOX board, and they were asked to take their grievances elsewhere. They chose an unused board with a similar symbol CKX. The flame war burned there for a while. During this J Causey set up ip-wars.net to discuss SCO and other IP issues like software patents, the DMCA, DRM and the like. The BGEs (as PJ’s defenders named them) went there, but the trolls followed intent on disrupting what they saw as an enemy site. They seemed convinced that some or all of the BGE’s were part of a Microsoft sponsored conspiracy against Groklaw, though a more unlikely group to conspire is hard to imagine.

    Ip-wars never really recovered from Grokwars, but in its archives you’ll find most of what you want to know. Most of the BGE’s have moved on and probably don’t want to restart Grokwars. PJ has faults – paranoia (aggravated by having a number of very real enemies) and an unwillingness to admit mistakes or apologize, but Groklaw is a tremendous resource, which I, for one, greatly appreciate and depend on, and she deserves a great deal of credit for it.


    jonathan_sizz seems to be banned

    harlan is Harlan Wilkerson a very knowledgeable old Unix hand

    The largest group of BGEs is at the SCOX board at investor village

  13. Sandboxed, Deleted. I remember finding groklaw within a short timespan on SCO’s opening salvo of suits. Quickly I learned there was this blind venom to playing nice. If you posted a opinion outside the Stallman edict, you were bashed, boxed then deleted. This didn’t sit well with me and soon I made a account and started calling these basement dwellers on there behavior. Question Stallman, the FSF or IBM and you are a instant pariah.
    But as I have also seen that the MAJORITY of of people who displayed fair balanced posts no longer post at Groklaw. In fact most of the posts there are by the same 25 people. Groklaw is irrelevant. There closed viewpoint has made them this way.

  14. I too was sandboxed. How I found out about the censorship policy:

    I had noticed a comment with several replies about censorship of other posts; curious, I then spent five or ten minutes looking around on the web to see if other people had reported the same thing. When I returned back to Groklaw, I reloaded the page on the off chance there would be additional replies. The comment was gone, as well as all the replies to it.

    This immediately set off warning bells for me. I posted a comment near the same location asking what had happened to the comment and replies, and if anyone thought it was important. I then waited a day, and my post was still there, but there were no replies or comments on it. This seemed incredibly strange to me, so I tried from another IP address. Sure enough, my post was gone (sandboxed.)

    Since that time I have occasionally posted test edges of the moderation, and the results are pretty disturbing: even incidental mention of the deletion policy or deleted accounts has resulted in sandboxing. I think the scale of the deletion policy is vastly underestimated; it is, quite frankly, draconian.

    I still occasionally check Groklaw for updates and information now, but when discussing it with anyone else, I make it clear that the site does not allow balanced debate and is extremely heavily censored.

    In a lot of ways, this reminds me of Vernor Vinge's "A fire upon the deep". The Blight character in that book uses misinformation, censorship, and network control in a similar way, though with perhaps more malicious intent.

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