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The Photo News Censorship & Moderation: Part 3

The Photo News

The Photo News Censorship & Moderation: Part 3

In our Part One & Part Two installments, we identified the techniques that are employed by The Photo News to censor and moderate their article comments, and how moderation is performed.

We also provided a host of techniques to circumvent their use of IP Blocking as the primary technique of censoring posts, though not an exclusive one. Through research, we’ve determined that they also will block known repeat e-mails associated with comments that do not meet their moderation guidelines. Before we get much further on, let’s recap our recommendations on how to responsibly interact with the Photo News comments and the trolls who continue to populate them.

Recommendations

The Photo NewsThe following are a basic list of recommendations for posting on or interacting with comments on The Photo News in the absence of more fairly applied standards and guidelines.

  1. Privacy. Use an IP-blocking service to hide your own IP address (anonymous services, anonymous proxies) for all interactions on The Photo News. Using this means that you’ll rarely have the same address twice, making censorship that much more difficult.
  2. Anonymity. Since The Photo News doesn’t care about people posting as “Guest” and will not change their settings, there’s no reason for anyone to divulge their true identity.
  3. Frequency. Post at odd times, and post often. Also, make sure to copy the postings that you’ve made to check if they’ve been removed. We’ve witnessed a pattern that removes specific posts (we’ll discuss momentarily) and encourages a bullying, lowest-common-denominator behavior.
  4. Don’t follow the moderation rules. Again, this is a guideline, but following those rules is meaningless since they are not enforced evenly across all posts. Why follow the rules when the anonymous trolls aren’t made to adhere either.
  5. Be a troll. In essence, the behavior on The Photo News that isn’t subjected to censorship is arrogant, nasty, or accusatory without substance. So troll the trolls, you may as well have fun and turn the commenting into a total crap-show.
  6. Capture your posts. This will come in handy to reproduce them when they’re deleted, and then return them once again. You may need to do this several times until the moderator is tired of deleting the same repeat post. If you are using Windows 7/8, there is the “Snipping Tool” which will capture a screen area of your choosing. On Mac OS X, “Grab.app” in the Utilities folder will allow you to capture any screen, desktop, window, or selection but will save it as a TIFF file (copying it to the Preview.app will allow you more compressed formats).
  7. Advertise that your posts have been captured. Doing so tends to quash any censoring and it also has the effect of shutting down any bad behavior. It gives people a warning that you’re watching. And you have the evidence that you may have been harassed or threatened. If so, we recommend that you contact an attorney for legal advice, or serve The Photo News with a subpoena to turn over the IP addresses of the offending poster (provided they’re brazen enough to not use an anonymous proxy, most trolls aren’t that bright).
  8. Disqus. Until The Photo News mandates Disqus authentication, avoid using an authenticated account since that can be blocked as well. While we hoped our posts would serve as a polite reminder to The Photo News that they should address their policies, not much has changed.

While this is not a comprehensive list, it will contribute to safer browsing when confronted with the poor behavior on The Photo News, or more precisely, the behavior they permit. We do not endorse or condone the use of these techniques for any illegal behaviors and take no responsibility for the application of the recommendations outlined in this article. This is provided for informational purposes only.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to the apparent “Moderation Policy” or the “documented patterns” we’ve observed on The Photo News.

Moderation

When you see an article on The Photo News, there is usually a picture assigned to it like the example we’ve used. It’s a set of guidelines for responsible commenting. And it’s too bad The Photo News has chosen to ignore their fair and even application.

The Photo NewsHere are some of the patterns we noted:

  • The more intelligently stated a point, the more likely it will be removed. We’ve watched as several posts that provided intelligent and factual information were quickly removed from the site. In order for these to remain in place, the poster needed to repeat-post the information.
  • Once a commenter posts that they’ve seen their posts removed without reason and has stated that they’ve captured the data, the removals appear to stop in most cases. This explains our advice on “Capture your posts” above, since you may need it.
  • Sexually explicit or offensive comments can remain in place for days over posted complaints, or until a phone call or email is sent to editor.pn@strausnews.com. We witnessed several very offensive slurs be permitted, depending entirely on their target.
  • Comments critical of Town of Monroe government are highly likely to be targeted for censorship. Comments supporting Town of Monroe government, whether or not they contain factual information, are not likely to be touched, regardless of offensive content.
  • Comments that use “United Monroe” or “UM” in a positive light are several times more likely to have been removed or censored than ones that are critical of that organization. In fact, the more critical the post of United Monroe/UM, the more likely it will be preserved even if it contains false information, slander, or outright gossip.

In fact, we found that The Photo News would usually post an article ascribed to United Monroe, or its leadership, so that it could create trolling traffic in the comments. That point became clear reviewing posts dating back over six (6) months.

During the days since the Bob Quinn article on The Monroe Theater opening, posts that were pro-theater in tone were more likely to remain than ones that provided financial information on the costs of the expenditures and questioned their rationale. When comments were diverted to non-germane topics, such as school board budgets or direct personal attacks, The Photo News appeared to show a hands-off policy by letting continued trolling occur.

Apparently, it’s about quantity versus quality, and about agreement and harmonious assent with Town Government, even when those who side with current leaders become part of the poor behavior.

Questions & Concerns

The Photo NewsWhich makes us wonder a few questions:

  • Was Straus promised first-crack at press-releases from Monroe in exchange for favorable treatment?
  • Is Straus moderation being handled by someone associated with town government or friendly to the current Town Board?
  • Is there a financial motivation?
  • Or is this simply censorship and Straus editorial policy?

We invite Straus News to respond to their moderation policy and the associated ethics to clear up some of the findings we noted in our background review of the paper’s clear preferential treatment of Monroe’s current leadership. We also invite them to address why their editor, Bob Quinn, chose the opportunity of a mass letter-writing campaign to challenge the fairness of their coverage by posting his disagreement and the statement that “they listen”.

We listen too. So do the people of Monroe. So do your advertisers. Feel free to comment.

Just note that we use Disqus also. We lock it down for authentication. And we promise to be impartial in our moderation. Be ready to do the same.

Responsible replies invited and encouraged.

Managing Editor