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The Photo News Anonymity & Censorship: A How-To Series

Photo News Anonymity

The Photo News Anonymity & Censorship: A How-To Series.

In today’s edition of The Photo News of Monroe, Editor Bob Quinn provided his own commentary based on those who presented feedback. (Please see our recent piece on “The Photo News & Comment Censoring“). While Mr. Quinn disagreed with the statements, he provided no justification for condoning the lack of moderation that continues on the Photo News commentary section. These comments are the result of a rather small group of individuals who have been given carte blanche to anonymously make ad hominem attacks on those who present civil commentary.

As testament to that fact, the list of people who have been censored based on their IP address continues to grow, so we ask the question:

  • Should journalistic integrity reward bad behavior by permitting specific anonymity and censoring others who largely play by the rules and ascribe their identities?

Our view is that this is simply irresponsible journalism, and lazy comment moderation. Since The Photo News has made clear that they will continue to condone attacks, name-calling, and vitriolic comments by citizens of the town, we believe another approach is needed. While we have tried to appeal to the better judgment of these individuals by setting an example, that is sometimes not enough.

As a public service, and to promote a free and fair press, we begin today a series on “How to get around the Photo News censoring process”. We provide this as information for public consumption only in order to balance the influence of journalism and to help balance the very toxic environment the Photo News blogs have become.

We do not endorse the use of this information for any illegal purpose, and take no further responsibility for actions taken by anyone who might use the advice contained within. All of the information in this piece can be found through research on the Internet.

So you’ve been censored by The Photo News.

So you’ve been blocked or censored by The Photo News. Perhaps it’s because you made a reasonable comment and one of those annoying “Anonymous” guest postings reported your actions. Maybe someone placed a call to the editor and had you blocked. What does it all mean and what can you do?

error-blacklistedIP Blocking 101:

The method used by The Photo News (TPN) is blocking of your IP. It’s basically effective since the Disqus comment contains the IP address of the sender. It works if the poster uses an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or home network (Frontier, Cablevision, Verizon), and it’s ‘basically’ effective. At least until you can persuade your ISP to reassign your iP address. It’s worth asking.

Eventually, though, TPN would block the new address. Also, anyone who gets your old address would be blocked when they are assigned your old address and try to post. Here are a few options to start you off.

Use your tablet/Smartphone and data plan: 
IP Blocking doesn’t work on portable or “network” devices. For example, they cannot completely block the networks of Verizon Wireless or AT&T or other wireless carriers if you have a data plan. So you still have the option of posting your comment if you have a device (Smartphone, iPhone, tablet, iPad) that permits you to roam on-the-go. Since those network addresses are temporary and recycled constantly while you are connected to the carrier’s network. The process is too difficult and is like playing Whack-a-Mole to lock a user out (they’d likely need to lock everyone using their network, and they’d lose “eyes” viewing their site. That defeats on-line ad revenue. It’s generally not a good idea for them to do it for the sake of anonymity for a privileged few.

Public Wi-Fi: Optimum has countless open WiFi spots for its customers. Locking those open ports down would be difficult as they’re very dynamic and assigned as someone accesses the network. Most other public WiFi networks use the same principle. If you’re close to a public WiFi spot, can access it (or switch your device to the public network from your ISP). You’re back in action.

Virtual Private Network (VPN): Most companies provide a remote VPN access to external websites. If you are doing this, TPN will not likely close out an entire company’s IP gateway to address one person. Company VPN accounts should be used with much greater caution and need to comply with your company’s Acceptable Use Policies (AUP). These usually include any disparaging comments, hate speech, or anything which would reflect negatively on your employer if information were to be released. While not intended for total anonymity, it is highly effective.

IP Blocking 102: Public & Private Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

CensorsingPublic and free/open VPNs are available for any sort of Web surfing and their purpose is anonymity and to keep your location private. Googling the term “free VPN”, “anonymous VPN” or “anonymous proxy” will yield pages of sites that provide such access. These are not to be used for “secure” messaging, and please bear in mind that laws including the Patriot Act and NSA activities can still monitor those communications. However, they would have very little interest in a local news blog talking about politicians. 

Back to the original point. These will bypass the address you are assigned by your ISP, routing your traffic and Web request through a secondary source. The recipient end sees the VPN address, not your personal IP. It’s not perfect, but it is useful for circumventing IP blocking. This page isn’t intended to provide all methods or show all examples of how to use an anonymous VPN, so you’ll need to do some research and reading on your own to understand how the VPN or proxy works.

Each site has a slightly different way of presenting the information, so look carefully and make selections that don’t immediately suggest you’re trying to subvert an obvious IP block. This page does not represent an endorsement of any anonymous proxy, so find and select whatever works best for you, your browser, and your system. But in our next issue, we might provide a more complete list of possible proxies that can be used. However, it’s much better if you select your own given that tipping your hand as to which service you might use gives the blog a chance to further implement censorship, especially when your own actions represent legal and free speech that is being suppressed.

Please also keep in mind that this provides a single path, which is trackable back to the anonymous proxy.

Alternatively, you can choose to purchase Proxy Services at ranges of differently monthly and annual pricing. These will be slightly more effective in address blocking than free services, but hardly worth purchasing if posting on TPN is your only objective. Those services have other benefits in keeping your identity more guarded and may be worthwhile to investigate if you are concerned about security and vulnerabilities in your browser.

Some closing comments…

Photo News Anonymity CensorshipThis represents a partial list of methods that you can use to circumvent the very crude method of censorship that The Photo News has implemented against many of its own readers. We know that several people have attempted to appeal to a sense of fairness and offered guidance on how to make the commenting environment at TPN more civil and not disparaging. These are not our ideas, but these are actually in keeping with the guidance provided by the publication that it has elected to only selectively enforce.

The efforts of those who have attempted to restore civility have been either ignored or rebuffed. None of the information posted is done with a malicious intent, and any actions are still the responsibility of those who have chosen to take them. With that stated, we believe that it’s time that the same rules be enforced universally, not just selectively.

We would rather that The Photo News support Disqus Authentication, which is a matter of two specific settings in the control panel of the tool. Doing so would demonstrate that Quinn and his publication are truly “listening” and intend to promote a fair, balanced, and civil medium. Until that happens, however, it would be unfair to ask any Monroe citizen to openly subject themselves to the lack of anonymity that others enjoy and abuse. We have no choice but to recommend that you review the measures above and begin to use The Photo News in the same manner which a few bad actors have chosen to set as an example, and that the publication appears to condone.

And to think…two simple settings could have avoided all of this. Unfortunate.

Managing Editor