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.

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Groklaw and Censorship?

I think I may be on to something here.  I’ve come across an increasingly controversial example similar to what I’ve been posting about in this category.  I’ve posted about censorship in Linux forums and open source supportive websites, systematic categorization of Linux, as well as infiltrating open source and Linux with political and social views.  I’m an avid open source enthusiast…but I’m beginning to become ashamed of being associated with the groups I posted about.  I recently read a webpage that chronicles the traded messages of a person that posted comments on Groklaw.net and who believes that they were censored from public view.

Some of you may be familiar with Groklaw…and some of you might not.  For those of you that aren’t, Groklaw is a site started up to chronicle SCO vs. TheWorld but it has morphed into a little bit more by adding MS into the mix along with some other companies.  The site has some great information for those seeking it and it is powered by Geeklog which makes the format nice on the eyes, easy to navigate, and open source powered.

While Groklaw isn’t a direct open source project…according to the Second article on their Mission Statement, open source principles are applied.  This makes a powerful ally to FOSS, Linux, and the OSI. Or does it?  Is Groklaw actually speaking out the corners of its proverbial mouth?  At least this one user thinks so.

Al Petrofsky is the owner/operator of scofacts.org which is a site dedicated to the systematic documentation of all information on the SCO case.  I had a chance to trade a few emails with Mr. Petrofsky in order to get his take on why he feels his comments at Groklaw were censored from public view.  He believes that the main argument that Groklaw had against his comments was over copyright issues of recordings (audio/visual) that he posted.  He also argues that these copyright issues were bogus because he provides written authorization and release notices for each of his sources.  As Mr. Petrofsky found, his posts were made viewable to only himself and erased from public view as opposed to outright deletion.  It also seems that Mr. Petrofsky wasn’t the only one that reported this phenomenon either.  Al attempted to contact both Pamela Jones and Mathfox, two POC’s for groklaw.  He did receive responses that you can view in his email traffic with PJ at Groklaw, which he vouches for; “The six emails on that page were really sent or received by me, and the eight groklaw pages were really retrieved from groklaw. (I think the fact that I’m publishing that page at a website registered to me already constitutes a representation, no less official than this one, that the evidence there is not manufactured.)”

Mr. Petrofsky isn’t irritated about the fact that a site admin or owner had a problem with his post.  What gets his proverbial goat is that he discovered Groklaw was making comments (of which their comments page states, “Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments”) posted by users visible only to the users themselves.  Everyone else at the site isn’t able to see the posts.

Is this a case of deception versus rejection?  Would an outright rejection or deletion of the comment be a better way to go?  It seems that this would be a valid avenue to go even if you were unsure about the content of the comment.  If you delete the comment in question, then inform the submitting party that their comment was deleted for X reason, the person could provide validity, reasons, license, and sources for their comment(s).

Would a ‘self-moderated comment’ style of submission OR outright deletion of the comments in question be a better avenue instead of deception?  It is my opinion that it would. Mr. Petrofsky shares this opinion, “I have no problem with a newspaper editor or blog writer accepting submissions from letter writers or web visitors and choosing to publish some and discard others”…”However, groklaw has attempted to prevent that last part [rejecting submissions/content] from happening by deceiving the one person who would normally notice a stupid post-rejection decision and might tell other people about it. I find that outrageous, especially from a site that states its goal is “devotion to the truth.”

Besides Al Petrofsky, there are at least 2 other verified groklaw members who have experienced the same “post is invisible to all but me” phenomenon (note: Geeklog also has a setting for this in its latest version) I have also contacted a group of about 5 others that have first hand knowledge and experience with both Mr. Petrofsky’s situation as well as others in which these cases apply.  The question that begs to be asked is, what is going on at Groklaw?  Wouldn’t outright deletion be a better avenue to go?  While I have not officially contacted Pamela Jones from Groklaw, rest assured that it will be done within the next few days. (Editors note: Still no word back from PJ as of 8 Feb 05).

Interestingly enough, if you go over to Groklaw’s search page and enter al_petrofsky (Mr. Petrofsky’s username) and you won’t find him. I believe that Mr. Petrofsky’s account has been deleted but I have not officially confirmed this information.  A quick look to his userID at groklaw (1098 ) redirects us back to the front page so it seems as though the account has been deleted. Both uid 1099 and 1097 are valid…but 1098 is gone.  Whether this was Mr. Petrofsky’s doing or from Groklaw action has yet to be seen.

To show what Mr. Petrofsky “perceived as” deception and misdirection, look at the following saved threads from Groklaw (saved threads that had comments viewable only to Mr. Petrofsky…taken from groklaw immediately when he noticed his posts weren’t visible) mirrored at scofacts.org:

It is apparent that something happened with Mr. Petrofsky’s posts.  There are far too many plagiarized comments visible from “anonymous” immediately following his posts that received responses on them.  One is curious as to why comments were received on those plagiarized posts and not on Mr. Petrofsky’s.  As he stated earlier, the debate isn’t about the deletion of the aforementioned posts, but rather, the way in which Mr. Petrofsky’s posts were addressed.  Making the posts visible to only himself and site administrators/moderators can be seen as a direct form of deception.  While not outside of the limitations of a site administrator or moderator’s power, it does bring up a question of morals.  Is it ok to deceive your supporters and readers/site visitors?  I say no.  In my opinion, any form of deception discredits your reputation to yourself and your site visitors.

Some may ask, why I posted this at all. Good question.  I think it is because I’ve started documenting in the category “GreatDivide” examples of definite or possible injustice and outright nastiness that happens to people/groups/individuals that are active in or supportive of free and open source software (FOSS).  It’s also a platform for injustices that are done with intent to harm FOSS.  I found it fitting that I post this article in that category and on this blog.  Even though Groklaw is not an open source project, it does support open source…refer back to #2 on the mission statement and you can see why this was posted here.  While not all of you may agree with what is claimed above, rest assured that there will be future developments and clarifications on the way.

Currently, I am contacting PJ of groklaw.net to verify her side in things (one has to be fair). More to come on this.

Groklaw Not Cached on Google?

While doing the research for an article, I discovered an oddity. There are no cached pages of groklaw.net at google. I tried to go back and see if some comments on groklaw?were in cache but it (the google cache) contains no data even though 286 sources link directly to groklaw.net. That would give groklaw serious google crawler activity one would assume…afterall, this site has only 4 links back to it and it has been cached. One has to wonder why groklaw isn’t being cached? Perhaps it is a geeklog websystem CMS (Content Management System)? Perhaps it is…but if so, it isn’t being used at geeklog.net. The question once again is…why is groklaw not cached? Perhaps some could point to a blocking technology (like a robots.txt or crawler controller) that could be limiting the crawler from accessing pages at groklaw. Once again, evidence points that is itsn’t. I did a search for “site:groklaw.net microsoft” and came up with 36 hits…so somehow google is crawling groklaw without caching it. Odd behavior to say the least. Has anyone else ever found this activity with other sites? I’m attempting to contact google about this oddity currently…I’ll let everyone know what develops. Hopefully, the conspiracy theorists will stay quiet :)

UPDATE: This has been explained in further detail and has been explained by those commenting as well within the abilities of a standard robots.txt file. So, it looks like I just underestimated the ability to NOT have your site indexed or cached. Thanks goes out to Rob and asdf.