Thursday, November 29, 2007

S.F. Chronicle admits to deceptive comment-deletion policy, offers bizarre excuse, then lies again

[UPDATE 1: S.F. Chronicle Webmaster speaks!]
(Sat. 12-01-07, 7:30pm)

[All updates can be found below at the end of this entry]

In response to the scandal caused by our earlier exposé at Investigate the Media, the Webmaster for the San Francisco Chronicle has given an interview to local news site SFist, admitting that the Chronicle's Web site, SFGate , did indeed have a policy of deleting certain users' comments in such a way that the commenters themselves did not know they had been deleted. The Webmaster, Eve Batey (whose official title is "Deputy Managing Editor for Online"), had this to say:
The software we use for article comments isn't an SFGate creation -- it's provided by an outside company with which SFGate has contracted. When we gave them our requirements for article comments, we made it very clear that we really, really needed a way to indicate that a comment had been deleted -- something as simple as having the text of the comment replaced by "This comment has been deleted due to violations of SFGate's Terms and Conditions" would have done the trick nicely.

However, this wasn't something the company was able to provide to us immediately. We at the Chronicle and the folks at SFGate weighed this problem, and decided not to let this keep us from moving forward on article comments. This nagged at me and at my colleagues, that deleted comments would just "be disappeared," but we felt such a sense of urgency to add article comments to the site that we pushed this worry away, and hoped that this transparent deletion function would be added soon.

Unfortunately, the commenting company hasn't been able to provide us with this tool yet, and suggested that we use their "block user" function as a stopgap measure. (This "block user" function is what you see your colleagues in the blogosphere calling us out about.) The "block user" function blocks all comments made by a user from view by anyone but themselves (upon login).

So, what we've been doing is deleting TOC-violating comments from folks who only occasionally violate our policy, but in cases where mass disappearances of comments would make the article comment conversation completely incomprehensible, we opted to use the "block user" function. This function has been used very, very sparingly (and only a few of us have access to this function), and only for those few folks who have repeatedly violated the TOC.

Clearly, however, even though this only has impact on a few users, it was the wrong thing to do -- and that, in our eagerness to have discussion and conversation on the site, we failed to take into consideration those users who would feel hurt and deceived by having their comments blocked from view.

I'm glad that this issue has been raised because I think that this will help make our commenting software providers understand the importance of having a function that makes it clear that comments have been deleted. We've stopped using the "block user" function as of today, even at the risk of having comments "disappear" and at having some article comment section conversations suffer as a result.
Just as we suspected, the commenting software for SFGate was supplied by a third-party vendor (perhaps Prospero or Topix, both of which are known to offer this feature). Notice the bizarre excuse she provides -- that no one could figure out a way to delete a comment and replace it with a notice that it had been deleted, except for using the unintentionally nefarious "block user" function. How could that possibly be? Indicating deleted comments with a standard notice (such as "This comment has been deleted") is commonplace on nearly every blog and commenting platform. So excuse me if I don't entirely believe this bizarre excuse.

Also note that Batey reveals a detail that we suspected was true, but which we had no proof of until now: that all crytpo-deleted comments were hidden automatically by the software, and only applied to "graylisted" users, those who were victims of what Batey called the "block user feature." Any comments that were individually deleted by human moderators simply disappeared entirely, with no evidence that they had ever been made. Which means that if any user sees a notice in an SFGate comments thread that says "This comment has been removed by SFGate," it means that someone out there is still graylisted and getting their comments deleted without their knowledge.

Though this may at first appear to be a double victory -- getting the Chronicle to admit to its deception, and then getting them to change the policy -- the celebrations may be premature. Because even two days after Batey announced that they were no longer graylisting anyone, notes that say "This comment has been removed by SFGate" are still cropping up in Chronicle threads.

To see whether or not Batey was telling the truth, I made an intentionally innocuous comment on this thread about an earthquake in the Caribbean. Sure enough: when I viewed the thread as "jimjams" the comment remained visible, yet when I viewed it simultaneously (on a different browser) as an anonymous unlogged-in user, the comment was gone, replaced by "This comment has been removed by SFGate." Here is a screenshot proving this: the top browser window is Safari, with me logged in as "jimjams," which shows the comment visible; and the bottom browser is Firefox, with me not logged in at all, which shows the comment as deleted -- at the same time (click image to see it full-size):



Notice that the time of the article (Nov 29 at 1:42pm, circled in blue) is a full two days after Batey claimed the Chronicle had stopped graylisting commenters. And that when I'm logged in as jimjams (circled in green) the comment is visible (circled in green); but when not logged in (circled in pink) the comment is shown as being deleted (circled in pink). Which proves that Batey was lying when she said that they had stopped using the "block user" feature as of November 27.

Now, since I only know how my own account functions, I can't say for sure if any other formerly graylisted commenters are still being blocked. Perhaps "jimjams" uniquely is being punished for raising this issue. So I invite any readers who think they were graylisted in the past to check again now, to see if you're still being crypto-deleted; post your findings in the comments section of this thread.

[UPDATE 1, Sat. 12-01-07, 7:30pm]: S.F. Chronicle Webmaster speaks!

Eve Batey, the Webmaster for the San Francisco Chronicle's site SFGate, has dropped in and made some illuminating comments on this thread. She pleads -- rather convincingly -- that the problem lies with the software company which supplies SFGate's commenting platform, and not with the SFGate editorial team, which had no intention of doing anything underhanded. She also states she unintentionally misspoke in the SFist interview when she claimed she was unblocking all formerly blocked users, unaware at the time that there was no way (or so she says) of getting or creating a list of blocked users, so there was no way to identify them so they could be unblocked. As an attempt to "do the right thing," she has offered to unblock any currently blocked user who contacts her via the email address she posts in her comment.

Read all she has to say in comments #1 and #14 of this thread and judge for yourself. She vows to change the SFGate policy regarding crypto-deletions, eventually eliminating them altogether, and I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt until evidence proves otherwise.

36 comments:

Eve Batey said...

Jimjams, I asked the same questions you did of our comment providers -- How is it not possible that we could not have a "this comment has been deleted" feature, given that many other software companies offer it? How hard can this be, right? We were first told that this would be something that would be made available to us previous to launch of comments, then we were told that it would be a few weeks after launch, and those weeks grew beyond just a few. As I told SFist, given a choice between waiting for a better solution and launching comments imperfectly, we chose the latter. All week, I've been wondering if that was the right decision. If you'd like to connect with the commenting company directly, email me and I'll get you in touch with the company (my email address is ebatey@sfchronicle.com). They will verify these points.

In reference our decision to stop using the block user feature, I understand your confusion. I should have been clearer when I stated that "we are not applying the 'block user' function to any new cases." You'll probably lampoon me for blaming the commenting company, and you're right to do so -- but they don't have a report that can give us a list of blocked users (again, happy to connect you with them to verify this), I discovered once you brought these points to our attention. We're working to find a way around this, so we can then look at a blocked users comments, delete those that violate the Terms and Conditions (though, to both your and my public frustration, they will just be "disappeared"), and leave the non-violating comments visible. At the time when I made that statement to SFist, I wasn't aware we weren't able to access that list of blocker users, or I would have been more specific. At present, however, no previous blocked users have been unblocked. Obviously, I know you're blocked, so I'm happy to unblock you in advance of every other commenter's unblocking. I'll do that when I get into work this morning. The irony that I can comment on your publication, yet you can't comment on the one for which I work, isn't lost on me.

Finally, jimjams (since I have you here), Patterico has asked that I share the comments that led to your blocking with them. I told him that I was reluctant to do so without your permission -- I know that in your online personae you are very protective of your privacy, and wanted to respect that. If I have your permission to share those comments, please do let me know.

And, as with this entire situation, I would be happy to discuss these issues with you directly, in order to address any and every question and concern you have. I'd be happy to have you publish our correspondence. I think that your posts on these issues are fantastic, but I hope that you wouldn't hesitate to call on me to answer any questions or concerns you have in order to help add what I can to your investigation. Again, my email address is ebatey@sfchronicle.com.

Anonymous said...

Jimjams, you simply destroyed them. They look so stupid now, with absolutely no credibility.

Thank you. This is reason enough to never read that rag again. I had no idea about this, but now I do. Once again, thanks.

islamicrepublicof youtube said...

Good work. Care to help take on youtube and their policy of deleting anything critical of Islam while leaving pro-jihadi, torture, suicide bombing videos and the like up without any censure?

I set up a blog this morning for people to post the youtube userids of the pro-jihadi videos. I'd appreciate it if you would allow this url to remain here as I am sure that you will be geting a lot of traffic from LGF. The selective centure of youtube drives me up the wall. I wouldn't be surprised if they are affiliated with al qaeda.

islamicrepublicofyoutube(dot)blogspot(dot)com

Thanks for exposing the SFCrhon for the liars that they are.

cloris said...

their explaination was pure, unadultrated bullshit. you should take it as intentionally demeaning and condecending.

changing a comment's text to read something else is a simple write command. getting some string to show up when viewed against x account, not in others is a great deal more convaluted.

sfgate's web team gave you the intentionally insulting answer they did because they don't respect you. this is who progressives are it's their personality type. they hate free speech and think only people with the correct views should have a voice.

novaculus said...

Nice job. As for Eve's comments, I say take her up on her offers. Pursue the software company that can't perform simple tasks or produce reports. Someone is lying, and if Eve is that ignorant, then the liars will be found at their software provider. Frankly, I suspect that they are all liars. Why pass up the chance to prove it? The more liars run their mouths, the deeper they dig their hole.

novaculus

Anonymous said...

They'd have us believe that they can't find anyone in the Bay area and nearby, center of the tech universe, to implement a simple feature that acknowledges a deleted comment?

Uh, bullshit. They're lying...again.

Anonymous said...

Another thought: Eve is clearly attempting to intimidate you by revealing posts made by you which she will say warranted your banning, or will use otherwise to discredit you. I suspect she also hopes to change the focus from these Orwellian practices to your comments.

Call her bluff, all the way.

NetizenCain said...

This afternoon I responded to Mark Morford opinion piece on The Golden Compass with the following: " netizencain wrote:

As usual, Mark gets upset over Christians expressing their opinions. None of his rights are denied. No one is calling for the killing of the movie's stars or director. This is such a non-issue.

Posted 11/30/2007 11:27:36 AM
"

And of course, when I check with my other browser, I see the following: "This comment has been removed by SFGate."

Yep, looks like everything is still the same old same old at the gate.

Anonymous said...

As Freud once said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

Take her explanation and her apology and her change to the process.

Declare success.

Move on.

Repeat, as necessary.

jimjams said...

Eve:

Thanks for commenting here. I will respond to your various requests and questions as soon as I can, but that may not be until tonight or tomorrow. Right now I'm very busy with other work and "real life"-related issues, so won't have time to re-immerse myself into blogging for the rest of today. I'll either email you directly or post my answers here in this thread.

This is just a quick drive-by comment just to let you know I saw your comment. I gotta run out the door, at the moment, unfortunately.

Later!

Anonymous said...

I am an lgf neocon and have every reason to enjoy this as much as all of you. But I am also in IT, and I believe ebatey completely. Software is a horrible, horrible industry to be in, and this is exactly the kind of functional trade-off that is made every day. To call her stupid or dishonest, after she clearly is trying to set he record straight, at some point just betrays your own over-bias. It was and is a dumb and awkward feature implementation, but now this is just too overheated.

progressives only ever lie about anything said...

clearly anonymous is as sincere in this thread as he/she/it is in the other.

why is it that progressives prefer deception to discourse?

Anonymous said...

"Software is a horrible, horrible industry to be in"

Sounds like a typical pessimistic Liberal.

Eve Batey said...

Thanks, jimjams. FYI, I have gone through your profile and deleted the Terms-violating comments, and made the rest visible. Please let me know if you have any issues accessing the site or viewing your comments when you're not logged in. And I hope you'll consider returning to SFGate to comment (keeping in mind the Terms and Conditions, of course).

NetizenCain, I haven't been able to access a list of blocked users to unblock everyone. If you'll drop me an email (I'm ebatey@sfchronicle.com) with your SFGate user name, I'll do exactly what I just did for jimjams for you.

It would be fantastic if any other blocked users reading this would do the same -- I'd love to unblock everyone as soon as possible, and until I can get a list of blocked users from the software company, hearing from folks who are blocked is the next best solution. I know that most of you don't want to return to the site to comment, but I'd still like to make your non-violating comments visible to our readers, so I hope you'll at least consider emailing me with your user name.

asshole said...

"...until I can get a list of blocked users from the software company..."

stunning. why are you even wasting your time on this?

Patterico said...

jimjams,

You say you were blocked for your politics. Eve says you were blocked because you violated their terms.

Eve says she has your comments and simply awaits your permission for her to release them to me for publication.

It takes two seconds to say yes, she has your permission to send me the comments in which you supposedly violated their terms. Then we can all look at them and make our own judgment. If she is wrong, the evidence will vindicate you.

Could you take two seconds and just say something like: "Patterico, that's fine with me"?

-- Patterico

ksksksksksk said...

not to but in, but couldn't eve, at this point, just make up anything she wants and make it a he-said-she-said between she and jimjam?

i mean, here she is just above pretending she needs to go to the "software vender" to get the moderators' block list.

that one's laid on top of a whole raft of really trully hubristic lies amidst all sorts of sockpuppeting and social engeneering feints.

at this point, whether jimjam was naughty or nice in his comments at sfchron, the matter of sfchron's web editors being purposeful, cold-blooded liars is settled business.

jimjams said...

Patterico:

I haven't decided yet whether or not I'm going to tell Eve she has my permission to release whichever comment it was that she says violated the terms of agreement. I probably made hundreds of comments at SFGate over the months/years, and was generally very vitriolic in my attitude, as I generally only commented on articles that incensed me in one way or the other. So I wouldn't be surprised if I "violated the terms of agreement" several times without my knowledge.

But this is a moot point, and going way off topic. This not about whether or not I should have some comments deleted, or whether or not I even merited banning from the SFGate site. No, this about the policy of deceiving people into not knowing they were banned. And it's not about me personally, but about the policy overall.

If I made a comment that merited banning, then just ban already: don't pull some mind game on me to trick me into typing into a void. And the same applies to all the other "graylisted" commenters as well.

Besides which, I made many many very insightful comments too (some of which I now realize were never seen by anyone but me). So what would be the point of highlighting my two or three most ill-considered comments and ignoring all the good ones? I certainly never ever ever advocated violence or used some racial epithet. Nor did I "troll" the boards and comment repeatedly and pointlessly. I commented very infrequently, actually, and tried to keep my comments on-point and incisive, and -- yes -- sometimes dismissive and belittling of the Chronicle's edtiorial stance. Somewhere in there I may have crossed the line according to Eve -- possibly. I don't remember.

But that's not the point. We're not discussing whether or not some comments merit deletion (I'm certain they do) nor whether some commenters merit banning (I'm certain they do as well) but whether SFGate's policy of tricking such commenters is ethical or not.

Patterico said...

Well, the thing is, I don't think it's necessarily a policy of tricking commenters. It's the way my software works too -- and, I'm told, the way most Movable Type and Wordpress blogs work, by default. (I certainly didn't design mine that way; a tech guy did all the technical aspects of my site).

To me, frankly, the bigger issue is whether people are being banned for political reasons or for violating terms of use. I leave comments that might violate someone's idea of "terms of use" all the time myself. But while I might use profane words and call people morons and such, I don't threaten them with violence or use racial epithets. I think if we saw the comments -- even the worst ones -- we'd be able to judge whether they were more like the comments we make ourselves when we're angry, or more like the comments we would never make.

I have no reason not to respect you. But you intended to publish the comments in question anyway, right? The only thing I can see you worrying about is having your comments cherry-picked to make you look stupid and/or angry. Fine, then say Eve can release your comments if she releases them *all*.

jimjams said...

"Patterico said...
...
To me, frankly, the bigger issue is whether people are being banned for political reasons or for violating terms of use."

Actually, to me that is a fairly minor side issue. And there's no way to prove it one way or the other. It's entirely possible that the Chronicle did ban people for political positions, and when later called to the carpet over it, would dig up the most outré comment that user ever made and claim retroactively that IT was the reason for the banning. We'll never know.

And what also can't be proven is that other commenters who were just as or even more offensive may not have been banned because their offensiveness wasn't coupled with the wrong political attitude. In other words, political viewpoints may have been an exacerbating factor in bannings. We do not know.

So, as a theoretical example, User A says, "That goddamned Fox News is nothing but a fascist mouthpiece." Then User B says, "That goddamned S.F. Chronicle is nothing but Stalinist hogwash." Now, if User B then gets deleted for using a swear word, and the admin points this out if asked, what you won't see is that other other user didn't get deleted -- the only difference being which media outlet they were insulting.

See what I mean? Again, we'd be getting into "he said/she said" territory, which is just going in circles.

In my original post, I mentioned this issue twice. The first time, I never even claimed myself that the deletions were politically motivated, but rather only that other commenters were saying so. The exact quote from my original post was:

"...many commenters who had their comments deleted would come back onto the comment thread and point out that they had been silenced for ideological reasons."

The second instance was the only instance where I make the claim myself, when I say,

"But there are many other comments that get removed for no apparent reason, except for their political stance, or because they strike too close to home -- pointing out flaws in the article's reporting or writing itself, or ethical or moral misdeeds on the part of the Chronicle editors or management."

Now, subsequent to my postings, zillions of other bloggers dogpiled on the Chronicle accusing them of political bias, but as you can see, I only proffered a guess, a supposition that there may be political bias, as it seems the only possible explanation for the disappearance of comments that seems otherwise unremarkable. And I was also echoing the claims made by other deleted commenters (prior to the "block user" system being implemented) -- an impression that I shared as well (that some of my comments seemed to be getting deleted for no discernable reason, other than what could only be their ideological stance). So this was always of minor importance to me, and you may have conflated the blogosphere's focus on it with my personal focus on it, which was much much less.

Even if there was no political bias involved in the deletions, the scandal would still be a scandal, because the crypto-deletion policy is underhanded (intentionally or not).

Personally, I still think there is at least some political/PC component to the SFGate's comment deletions, even if it is semi-unconscious on the part of the editors, because they have a different standard of what counts as politically unacceptable.

A good example can be found in the very illustration I used for this posting, which shows my deleted comment sandwiched between two other comments, in a thread about an earthquake in the Caribbean in which no one was seriously injured. View the illustration above to see them; the first one, by "stax1" said,

"No problem, mon. Cool runnings."

The comment (by "robinsf") immediately after mine said,

" 'It was crazy, mon, coconuts was flying everywhere!' "

So -- why am I pointing this out? Here's why: If you go to that thread now, both these comments have been manually deleted by the SFGate admins, which means (according to Eve) that they entirely disappeared. Check out the thread now yourself to see:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article/comments/view?f=/n/a/2007/11/29/international/i113633S83.DTL&o=1

As Eve stated, she restored my comment that had been auto-deleted, but the other two comments are no longer there, meaning they remain deleted.

Now, the whole point I'm bringing this up is: Why were those comments deleted? I mean, in what way did they violate the terms of use?

Was violence threatened? No.
Was a racial epithet used? No.
Were they offensive or racist in some other way? Well -- here's where we get down to the nitty-gritty. I would say No, of course they're not racist. But some hyper-sensitive SFGate reader took offence at them, clicked the "Report Abuse" button, then some SFGate editor reviewed the comments and determined that, in the ultra-PC Chronicle universe, merely using the word "mon" to evoke a Caribbean accent somehow constitutes racism. And thus is grounds for comment deletion. Oh yes, and the word "coconuts" might be racist too, because mentioning anything tropical means you're being culturally imperialist, or something along those lines.

This is what I mean about the political nature of the deletions possibly being "semi-unconscious." To the staff of the Chronicle, it goes without saying that any statement that even vaguely violates the PC/multicultural/post-colonial rules of engagement (such as using "mon" instead of "man") merits immediate deletion. But to someone like me, or "stax1" or "robinsf" or perhaps even you and millions of others, we think there's nothing noticeably offensive about such a statement. I've been to the Caribbean. People do say "mon." There are coconut trees growing everywhere.

And so, though this example is utterly minor and trivial, it shows the exact kind of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) bias I'm talking about, where PC attitudes dominate, silently but inescapably. Ultra-vigilant liberal commenters act as a sort of thought police, reporting as "Abuse" any comment that doesn't toe the PC party line, and as often as not, it seems, the SFGate editors agree with them and delete comments that in a sane world would be regarded as unremarkable. And if some unfortunate commenter racks up enough "deletes" to his or her account, then they may end up getting banned.

Of course, it's impossible to have an example-laden, provable argument about this, because deleted comments disappear entirely, so there's no way to demonstrate what gets banned and what doesn't. (Unless one by sheer happenstance manages to capture a screenshot of a comment that later gets deleted.) Which is frustrating, and why I had to rely on this offbeat (but illuminating) example.

Sorry to be so verbose, but you brought up an important issue.

jimjams said...

Eve:

OK, after some pondering, I've decided to answer your questions and requests here in the comments section itself, rather than emailing you privately.

First -- again after much pondering -- I'd prefer that you did NOT send my comments to Patterico to be published. Reasons? Mainly, I feel that it would create a huge irrelevant distraction to the main issue. Read my comments above addressed to Patterico, in which I discuss this issue in some detail. Basically, it comes down to: this whole brouhaha is not about me personally, or about my comments in particular, but about SFGate's overall policy, affecting all users. Even if my personal banning was merited, that doesn't change the fact that the "graylisting" ("block user function") used on SFGate was underhanded and to many people deeply disturbing. It has nothing to do with me personally, really, so the only possible purpose for sending my comments to Patterico would be to "attack the messenger" as a way of discrediting the message.

Now, there may be some fine print somewhere that says comments made on SFGate become the property of SFGate, and that you're fully within your rights to send them wherever you want, and if so, I guess I can't stop you. But since you did ask for my permission, all I can say at my end is that I would prefer that you not do it, because it is not germane to the main issue.

Second: Yes, I would be somewhat interested in knowing the name and email address of the software company that makes the SFGate commenting forum. If they can credibly verify their monumental incompetence, then I will post that as an update, and shift part of the blame from SFGate to this company, and retract my statement that I didn't believe your excuse. Post the info here in the comments section. OR, if you are uncomfortable doing that, send the info to the email address I used to start the jimjams account, which I will be able to access (through somewhat roundabout means). Be aware, however, that I will not be able to respond to that email privately to you; for security reasons, I will only be able to respond to you here in this forum. If I get your email, I will acknowledge it here, without publicly revealing its contents (except where permitted).

Third, as to your claim that you did not know that you couldn't unblock users, so that you unintentionally misstated in the SFist interview: I'll give you the benfit of the doubt on that one, and I will soon post an update here acknowledging your frank admission. I realize that many commenters here and on the numerous other blogs following this issue find simply not credible your claims that you are at the mercy of a technically inept third-party software company. But you've somewhat convinced me, personally, that you really don't have any idea how your own commenting software works, and that you did therefore not intend to misspeak in the SFist interview. So I'll mention that in the upcoming update to this thread as well.

Fourth: Thank you for unblocking my account. I may not ever use it again, but it was a nice gesture. A symbolic gesture, yes, but a step in the right direction. But what really needs to happen is that someone with some rudimentary technical skills either at SFGate or at the commenting software company needs to dig up the list of "blocked" users and unblock ALL of them. Or alternately, turn their "graylisting" into a real and honest "banning." I'm sure that there are many unpleasant "trolls" out there who deserved banning, and I don't intend to force you to allow them all back on to SFGate; but you need to implement a newly honest policy that simply bans them outright, and lets them know this fact. Perhaps simply delete their account and send them an email that says "Your account was deleted for violating our Terms of Use policy." How difficult can that be? You could have done that from the very beginning and avoided this whole brouhaha.

So, sometime later today I'll try to find time to make an update, acknowledging your gracious words here and apparent attempts to set the situation right again.

Thanks.

Bradley said...

jimjams,

By refusing to let your comments be seen so we can judge them, you've lost standing to complain about the Chronicle's comments deletion policy. As Patterico pointed out, you originally wanted these comments to be public. And they are relevant, because their banning was the source of your complaint.

don't change the subject said...

um, okay...

does jimjam not approving the release of his comments resolve the issue?

i've never had a posting account at sfgate (or thinkprogress) at all, and yet that doeasn't really bear on sfgate's startling connivances, does it?

beyond the intentionally deceptive software hack they deployed against their registered users, their response to its discovery has been to lie and sockpuppet.

and their conduct, from the very beginning of this controversy, has been the sole and only issue.

jimjams said...

bradley --

Have you read my comments about this topic? They answered you questions pre-emptively. You say, of my comments, "And they are relevant, because their banning was the source of your complaint." No, not at all. It is not the fact of my comments' deletion that is they source of my complaint, nor my banning as a user, but rather that this fact was hidden from me (and from many other users in a similar situation). If the Chronicle thinks I made comments worth deleting, that's fine -- delete them. Just don't trick me (and others) about it.

It is not the deletion of comments that was the basis of my complaint, but the policy of deception. How much clearer can I make it?

And it's not just about me: it's about ALL SFGate users, and users at any other site that use the same system. Whether or not I have "standing" is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. I could be a complete buffoon and the issue would not go away.

Eve Batey said...

Jimjams, in response to your points above:

First: Of course, I'll honor your request to keep your deleted comments between us. While Patterico is completely correct, and that sharing those comments isn't a violation of our Terms or Privacy Policy, neither is blocking users, right? Just because something's not specifically against the rules doesn't mean it's not, in your words, underhanded and deeply disturbing to many people. I've turned down requests from a number of reporters who have asked for these comments precisely for the reasons you state -- that to make this a granular conversation about the content of your comments would deflect from the important issue, which is that we shouldn't have been blocking users in the way that we did.

Second: Since the individual you'd have to connect with at the comment company hasn't been a participant in this conversation thus far, I'd rather send this to you personally, and will do so via the jimjams registration email address. I'll send that to you on Monday, when I can access your information. I understand your security concerns and desire to retain your privacy, of course. If you do need to contact me directly with any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me by IM (which doesn't pose the privacy issues email does), I'm ebatey2000 at yahoo and AOL, and my gchat is eve.batey@gmail.com.

Third: Thanks for accepting my ignorance. If only more people needed as much convincing of my stupidity as you do -- everyone else seems comfortable in believing I'm an idiot right off the bat. I don't know if you even care, but there are organizational issues at play, as well -- SFGate and The Chronicle are actually two separate organizations, with two separate staffs and reporting structures. Until recently, the only involvement The Chronicle had in online was in writing stories that somehow made it online by the (somewhat mysterious to The Chronicle) intervention of the hardworking Gate staff. While Chronicle staff have made great strides are increasing their involvement in online operations over the past year, the choice of the commenting company, as well as the subsequent project management of the commenting software implementation, was all handled through SFGate. The Chronicle was involved from a feedback perspective, but cannot take credit for the conversations between SFGate and the comment company, or in the hard work in implementing comments on SFGate pages. However, the comment management policies and their enforcement are the responsibility of The Chronicle. I am the one who begrudgingly accepted the comment software company's recommendation to use block user for frequent offenders, in place of having the transparent comment deletion function that they couldn't provide. That was my mistake and why I'm the one here attempting to fix this situation, as opposed to an SFGate webmaster.

Fourth: Damn right. We've implemented an (internally created, so we have nowhere to pass the buck) function that does almost exactly what you've described, instead of sending an email, the user gets the "you have been banned" message when they try to log in to comment.

Thanks very much for your willingness to engage in this conversation, and for your fair treatment -- especially given that our treatment of you and your fellow blockees wasn't fair in the least.

goodgame77 said...

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艾維 said...

精彩的文章是我停留的理由~ .........................................

ya said...

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Background Check said...

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Take her explanation and her apology and change her in the process.

Declare success.

Move on.

Repeat, as necessary.


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Burkey said...

I have been noticing a large number of comment deletions on SFgate.com and did a search and found this post. It is December of 2012. Your post here was made years ago.

The first story I noticed with heavy deletions is linked here:

http://blog.sfgate.com/sfmoms/2012/02/17/study-cell-phones-make-people-selfish/

The second such article in a week I've found with a curious amount of deletions is here:

http://www.sfgate.com/news/articleComments/Gauging-the-pros-and-cons-of-smart-meters-3259771.php

These are health and environmental issues and, as such, the deletion policy of the San Francisco Chronicle is starting to seem pretty interesting to me.

To my knowledge the L.A. Times, my local paper, doesn't delete comments anymore. At one time it seemed apparent that this was happening. I wrote a couple of letters to the Times about it, and blogged about it at my blogspot site. If they are still deleting comments, then they're doing it discreetly--ie, the average reader does not know that comments have been deleted because there is no message indicating deletion as there is at the Chronicle site.

Since these newspapers are essentially talkless talk-radio on a public bulletin board site, they are sources of important local feedback on various issues. In fact, newspapers could really profit from this if they pulled their collective heads out and recognized the importance of these conversations, which are ---ostensibly--open to all, and read by many in positions of influence. So the policies on these conversations are very interesting to me...thank you for your post.

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Anonymous said...

SF Gate still does this, despite their claim they revamped their system. Whats worse, my user account was deleted for comments that clearly were not TOS violations, but evidently enough users objected to my comment. In the microcosm of SFGate, they are not really any sort of forum or free exchange of ideas, it is a very carefully controlled censored (and poorly written) newsmag website.