Groklaw accused of censorship

Summary:Especially obnoxious is sandboxing, censoring the fact of censorship from the person being censored.

To my mind, Groklaw is one of the indispensable sites in open source.

Just don't get on Pamela Jones' bad side. (I'm afraid I just did.)

When I took this beat, back when the SCO vs. IBM case was in full flower, Groklaw was always on top of the story. Sometimes I disagreed with it, but I saw it as unbiased, authoritative and credible.

There have always been those who claimed the opposite, starting with SCO management. The mysterious Pamela Jones -- never seen, a self-described paralegal, signing everything PJ, but with a detective's instincts, a librarian's access to research materials, and a litigator's sharp tongue -- added spice and mystery.

If you're a legal geek, Groklaw is delicious enough to be practically pornographic.

But now several people have come forward with separate claims of Groklaw censoring their comments, and Florian Mueller has posted examples of the practice at Scribd.

What in the past was only hinted at is now out in the open.

Mueller's Scribd piece describes some examples of comments being expunged and describes incidents going back to 2005. Most involve Groklaw itself, and charges of its censoring comments.

Especially obnoxious to some is the issue of "sandboxing." A user will write a comment, they can see it when they log back in from the same IP address, but it won't appear to the public. The person being censored is having that censorship censored.

Thomas Klupp, a longtime Linux user, wrote this has happened to him, when he questioned Groklaw policies.

"It is normal that discussion forums censor really bad comments. But my comment was a polite question." A copy was passed to me. It was a comment that questioned Groklaw's policy regarding discussions.

Blogger William Beebe wrote in 2007 of a similar experience. People whom PJ dislikes see comments, even entire threads, disappear, even if they are on point and supportive of Groklaw's general point of view.

One programmer who has been subjected to this treatment claimed in a note to me that PJ has a "conspiratorial mindset" and "nothing better to do than write about you all day every day." (This may be why he then asked that his name not be used.)

One person who is quite public in his complaints is Jay Maynard, maintainer of open source Hercules. Correction: The story text originally read TurboHercules, although the link is to Maynard's open source project.

As he wrote on his blog, "The writing was on the wall was when she picked one statement out of my long post, replied to it with a vicious attack on my credentials as an open source community member, and ignored all the rest of what I wrote. I can now only assume she did so because she found the facts inconvenient."

And that's the bottom line here.

No one is accusing Pamela Jones or Groklaw of violating any law. Most of those who have written on this issue, like Maynard, have the highest regard for the site's work. What they're questioning are is just what Jones  questions so eloquently -- a lack of transparency.

As one source who showed me extensive evidence on this point noted, while asking that his name not be used, "It's PJ's soapbox and she can have her way with it. The only real issue from my perspective is that she's sneaky."

For any discussion site to succeed people must feel free to disagree. I know comments to ZDNet are sometimes removed, but never by me, and never without sound reason based on a stated policy. That's all anyone is asking for here.

Tell us what the policy is. Don't just try to make people or statements you don't like disappear. What's fine for a personal Web site is not fine for a scaled community considered the journal of record in open source law.

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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