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Monday, December 10, 2007

I Was Wrong, On a Couple of Counts, about the Idaho State University site.

I posted late last week (now since taken down) on the apparent free speech violation I and at least one of our readers experienced at what appeared to be an ISU website, entitled We were blacklisted and our comments rejected as "malicious or illegal" when they were nothing of the kind.

An anonymous Idaho State University person who did not identify himself as a student but who implied being an employee there (DeanofGeeks) invited us to comment at his blog:
I do not mean to spam you, so delete this if you do not appreciate it. I have started an abortion discussion at the ISU discussion blog Just inviting you to present your own facts if you would like.
Then when I presented--not my own facts, but answers provided by the CDC, Harvard anthropologists, Naval Research and other published scientists, and even Planned Parenthood and Guttmacher, the 5 most objective-proof-laden segments of the 8 segments of my latter replies were blocked (i.e., not published) and my IP address was blacklisted. Because the first and the last two of the 8—but not #2 through #6—appeared selected for publishing, this seemed to refute any possibility that some software bot automatically had blacklisted me.

I also thought I'd learned the identity of this blogger, but it turns out I was wrong all 'round.

Never let it be said, I guess, that I can't admit when I made a mistake, or that I didn't own up to it. Here is the email I received today:
Deanof Geeks wrote:
Annie Banno,

First, let me emphasize that [the identity I thought DoG was] and the Idaho State University are completely unaffiliated with [The ISU employee] is not the user DeanofGeeks. Anything that happens at, a privately owned website, should not be considered to be endorsed by ISU or initiated by ISU.

This unfortunate circumstance happened to everyone using the Bad Behavior plugin on their WordPress-powered website. We use this plugin to detect and deter spambots before they have a chance to wreak havoc on our sites, and it is usually awesome. As described on the plugin author's website,, he made a change which affected everyone using the plugin, and because the error referenced a different common plugin it took everyone a few days to discover the true problem. I made a comment explaining the problem here.

After I fixed that I noticed 5 comments held in the queue, all by yourself, and I promptly approved them for publication. You should be able to view them at the original post.

I just reviewed the comments and believe they are the same held in queue, as I recall the numbers you used. I double checked the que and the spam bin and do not see any other comments, so if you do not see the comments you made I apologize and encourage you to submit them again.

I have my various emails forwarded to a primary email address, but because your first email got sent to gmail's spam bin it was not sent to my primary. Only when I logged in here for my weekly maintenance did I see the problem you were experiencing.

I do appreciate the effort and sincerity you put into your comments and assure you I am not censoring based on your content. This was a technology error, not a personality conflict. If you experience more "spam flags" please alert me.

take it easy,
I wrote him back:

Thank you for this explanation. I appreciate hearing from you. I've been informed that the commenter "Lee Anne" also has been blacklisted. Is her blacklist also removed and her latest comment in the queue still so that it too may be published (if it meets guidelines, of course, which I have no reason to doubt it does)?

It is unfortunate that this software error occurred. It certainly appeared as though the selective publishing of some but not all (the first one and the last 2) of my latest submissions was a sure sign of a problem with speech codes at ISU. I am sorry that I drew that conclusion. I was wrong. Now I am aware of Bad Behavior's "bad behavior" and will know that, anywhere in the future, a spambot-blocker can cause this kind of seeming problem.

While may not be "endorsed by ISU or initiated by ISU", its mission statement does say that " aims to provide Idaho State University students, staff, and faculty with more discussion and chat opportunities, and more ways to connect with our campus population." It also says that "the website could be transformed into a student organization." One can hope that software like that problematic plugin can be avoided altogether to prevent this kind of misunderstanding in the future.
Annie Banno
My formerly missing comments are indeed up there now.

I feel pretty bad, and stupid. Lesson learned, I guess. Who knew that spambot blockers could allow selective-publishing of some comments, then ban a whole bunch in between, and then kick the last couple online for view? I sure didn't, but I know now. Machines. It isn't too ironic that I just watched the DVD of "Live Free or Die Hard" a weekend ago, the movie in which some hackers take control of everything run by computers and fool the whole world, to everyone's near ruin.

Lesson learned. This makes me a lot more sensitive to how easy it is to assume, misunderstand, jump to conclusions, make mistakes, in this online world we've inhabited where we're missing the old standbys of facial expression, voice tone and inflection and body language. It is far too easy, for me, and for all of us, I guess, to bollix up.

Even though I feel foolish, I much prefer this than for any college or university to actually enable or support speech codes and intolerance as I had thought was happening with this one. This is a much better ending to this "story," as it's better for a whole lot more people than me.

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