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
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