IMPEACH GEORGE BUSH!! The Meaning of Blogger's Flag: Hidden Censorship on Google's Blogger is now Official Policy

Saturday

Hidden Censorship on Google's Blogger is now Official Policy

If you have a Blogspot blog, you may have noticed a drop in your blog's traffic since mid-August or so. The reason may have to do with the fact that Blogger staff have decided to “de-list” your blog. Although your blog is still available on the Internet, far fewer people will actually get to see it, as I'll explain below.

A considerable amount of your readership and traffic usually come from random visitors who accidentally arrive at your blog by hitting the "next blog" button, or by clicking on the name of your blog under "Recently Updated" blogs on Blogger's home page. The way it works is that when you publish a new post, it enters a queue, which means two things:

1/ Your blog may appear, albeit briefly, on the Blogger's "dashboard" (home page) within the list of "Recently Updated" blogs. This way, anyone who visits Blogger's home page may end up visiting your site.

2/ At least as importantly, some of the people who click on the "next blog" button at the top right corner of most Blogspot blogs will end up at your site. In other words, the "next blog" button leads only to blogs that have recently published.

For a long time, Blogger has been quietly taking away both of the above "privileges" from some blogs. In other words, when such a delisted or "de-indexed" blog publishes new posts, they don't enter the queue of newly published posts, and so they have no chance of receiving traffic through either of the two above avenues.

Now the procedure has become an officially announced part of Blogger's policy. On August 17, Blogger introduced a new feature called "flag as objectionable." http://buzz.blogger.com/2005/08/flag-as-objectionable.html This meant that if a blog reader came across a blog that he/she disliked, for any reason whatsoever, he/she could communicate his/her displeasure to the Blogger staff by clicking on the new "flag" button on the “navbar” at the top of the offending blog. Then, if there are enough objections, Blogger staff block that particular site, that is, make it impossible for that blog to receive traffic through the above two avenues. Removing them from these lists means that far fewer people, if any, will ever see these blogs.

Blogger has made no attempt to define what constitutes "objectionable." I am all for blocking pornography and violence (and spam blogs, for that matter), but this obviously goes much further. For instance, I have no doubt that most Republicans find every criticism of Bush's policies to be "objectionable." And I have no doubt that they have been merrily visiting critical blogs and flagging them as objectionable.

This poses no problem if you see your blog as a way to communicate with your friends and family, because they would already know where to find you blog. But if your reason for blogging is to communicate your thoughts and concerns to a wider audience, Blogger's censorship, in both its old hidden form and its new open form, poses a big problem. It keeps new readers from finding your blog.

An even more insidious issue is that Blogger gives itself the authority to judge and remove blogs from circulation on arbitrary grounds, without making any attempt to discuss the issue with the particular blogger involved. Is this what blogging has come to? I urge you to write Blogger at support@blogger.com and let them know what you think.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should add that, as far as I know, my own main blog at http://alse.blogspot.com/ was "de-indexed" for some time. I believe the reason was that many Right-wing types were angry at the content of my blog and, as they told me, complained to Blogger that it was "anti-American." The de-indexing of my main blog appears to have been lifted since my recent protests.

By the way, there is a simple way to remove the whole navbar from your blog to stop these types from subjecting it to censorship. This method, and much else, has been discussed in the posts listed below.

[This post was also published on the Progressive Blog Alliance website at http://pbahq.smartcampaigns.com/node/1619 ]

32 Comments:

Blogger Lewis said...

Just a quick and possibly stupid question, but how does one find out if one's blog has been delisted?

9/07/2005 01:28:00 AM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

A very good question, actually, Lewis. If you use a tracker that counts the number of visitors to your blog, any otherwise unexplainable drop in traffic can be due to having been de-listed by Blogger (They prefer the term "unlisted," as that sounds a lot less harmful than "de-listed.") Also, publishing a new post should normally lead to some traffic, as I explained in the post. If that isn't happening, you may have been de-listed.

9/07/2005 01:40:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Didj said...

Thanx for the essay. I believe all your points are valid. Thanx for linking me below. Keep up the good work.

9/07/2005 02:03:00 AM  
Blogger Lewis said...

After a little exploring, I think I've found one other answer to the question I posed earlier.

Post something on your blog, then wait a bit and go to weblogs.com to see if your blog shows in the list of recently updated blogs.

From what I've been able to discern from the info provided by the blogger powers-that-be, a blacklisted blog won't get a weblogs.com ping.

9/07/2005 02:12:00 AM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

Thanks for the tip, Lewis. Please keep digging. We need all the info we can find to fight this thing.

9/07/2005 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

BTW, the flag feature is not the reason you see fewer spam blogs these days when you the "next blog" button. Rather, the reason is that Blogger took some specific anti-spam actions that they explained here.

9/07/2005 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Shar said...

I've checked two pinging services, the weblogs connection always fails, they must have removed me too!

9/07/2005 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Abe said...

I don't think the lack of a ping to Weblogs.com is definitive evidence. In my experience that just doesn't work reliably. I have been pinging manually after every post for months, and I know others have also found they needed to do that. The automatic Technorati pings seem to work, though.

Over the time I've had DLMSY I've often gone for days with no evidence of the random hits from "Next Blog" and then gotten 10 or 20 in a few hours. It's hard to tell what to make of that.

I do agree with pretty much your entire post, although I'm much more of a Bush fan than a critic. Google itself is pretty left on the political scale, so if they are choosing to de-list for political reasons, rightwing blogs are at greater risk than leftwing ones. In either case, that would be wrong.

They claim in their help page that they are not de-listing blogs based on politics (other than "hate speech," which is undefined).

Considering that:
1) We have no way of knowing if anything has been flagged on our site
2) We have no reliable way to know if we've been de-listed
3) We apparently have no way to defend our blogs against anonymous attacks that we don't even know about,
I'd say at a minimum, Google needs to let us know if/when we are flagged and/or de-listed. I find it hard to complain too much about a free service, but this is important.

9/07/2005 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

Thanks, Abe, for your comment. It is a great relief to know there are still some intelligent Republicans around (believe me, that's meant as a heartfelt compliment).

I think Lewis' point may have been misinterpreted in a couple of the subsequent comments. I'll try to disentangle the issue. Lewis' point was that if Blogger has blacklisted you, they won't ping weblogs.com on your behalf. That doesn't prevent you from pinging weblogs.com on your own. Weblogs.com will accept pings from both blacklisted and regular bloggers. However, the fact that your post has not appeared on weblogs.com independently of your pinging them indicates that Blogger has blacklisted you.

Now to your next point. If you receive, let’s say, a dozen random hits a day from people who hit “next blog,” and then you receive no hits whatsoever that way for weeks on end, there is no doubt you have been deliberately blacklisted.

I can't resist making a couple of political comments as well.

Google is neither right-wing nor left-wing. It is power-wing, so to speak.

At a more “practical” level, Google’s Blogger is simply a service-provider. In the same way that the electricity company has no right to tell you and me what to do with the electricity it provides, Blogger has no similar right either. And there is no such thing as a free service (unless it is proivded by a charity). Some newspapers are distributed free of charge in order to be able to collect advertising revenue. Blogger is one of the many ways for the Google conglomerate to make a name for itself and sell other products and services through that reputation.

9/07/2005 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger Prof. Kienstra said...

Thank you for the very interesting essay. Keep up the good work.

9/08/2005 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Serra said...

I had one day where I had nearly 50 hits from "Next Blog" users, a couple weeks ago. I've had nearly none since.

Thanks for swinging by my blog--I've bookmarked you and will be reading as you update.

9/08/2005 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Semi said...

So theoretically if you just flag every single blog you come across, including your own, then Blogger is going to have delist an awful lot of blogs. And that reduces the amount of times they get their name out on the internet in weblog sites which, of course, affects their bottom line. And that is all they really care about. So hit 'em where it hurts. Flag everything.

9/08/2005 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

Everyone, please don't forget to write support@blogger.com and tell them, repeatedly if necessary, that you won't stand for censorship of ideas.

9/08/2005 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Wetherell said...

Quick rebuttal-

>> "In the same way that the electricity company has no right to tell you and me what to do with the electricity it provides, Blogger has no similar right either."

Blogger isn't a public utility. Well...not unless US state or federal laws have changed in the last few hours or so. :) So the same rights don't apply.

>> "Flag everything."

That won't work either - it was an expected response - and a lot of thought went into detection methods for that. More importantly, flagging is only one piece among many of the systems in place that determine what appears via NextBlog.

>> "And that reduces the amount of times they get their name out on the internet in weblog sites which, of course, affects their bottom line."

Blogger doesn't really have a "bottom line" though I suppose I'd have a nicer van if it did. :) It's just a free service and Google's interest here is in aiding the online participation via blogging. That's about it. Really.

>> "...if they are choosing to de-list for political reasons, rightwing blogs are at greater risk than leftwing ones. In either case, that would be wrong."

Bush fans are welcome and encouraged. So are Bush detractors. The Blogger team isn't interested in determining what will appear on NextBlog based on politics of any stripe.

Hope that helps! Gotta go back to work. - (former Blogger engineer)

9/09/2005 05:15:00 AM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

Thanks for your comments, Chris, though I think most of what you say doesn’t address the main issue of this post. But to address briefly the points that you bring up: I suppose one's notion of what Blogger has a right to do or not to do depends on one's overall political stance (this also applies to one's notion of Google's overall interest in all this). I was just answering someone’s comment when I compared Blogger to a public utility. What I am interested in is what Blogger actually does, and not the theoretical issue of its rights, and of whether it is responsible to the public or not.

My own interest is as follows. I believe Blogger placed a block on my main blog on or about August 1, 2005. Before that time, I received a lot of traffic from people clicking the "next blog" button. Since that time, I have not received even a single hit that way. Also, since August 1, 2005, my blog has never appeared on the "Recently Updated" list on Blogger's dashboard.

The above information is based on the blog's traffic tracker, which is reliable.

The clear explanation is that some sort of block has been placed on my blog. I have asked the Blogger staff to supply me with the reason for the block, as well information on how I can get it removed. But I keep receiving very polite but very irrelevant form letters from them. My feeling is that they prefer not to tell me what is actually going on, whatever it is.

9/09/2005 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger JoeChongq said...

Do you people realize the problem Blogger has been under with all the spam? The main purpose of this flagging system is to clean the spam out. They aren't censoring blogs, they are just not promoting objectionable ones. You can still be as objectionable as you want. The only blogs actually being removed are a small portion of the pure spam blogs.

Blogger isn't going to care if a legitimate blog has been flagged a bunch of times if it is not actually objectionable. They are apparently overly cautious when they review flagged blogs because splog fighters are having a hard time getting obvious splogs deleted.

I suspect that the pinging not happening has nothing to do with being blacklisted. My blog apparently stopped pinging in the last couple days yet I have gotten several groups of hits from the Next Blog ring.

If you notice the Next Blog ring appears to be working different than before. Just a few weeks ago you would hit a bunch of duplicate blogs if you traversed the ring long enough. Now that doesn't happen. So obviously in addition to cleaning the spam from the ring they are using a larger random sample at a time to provide the ring.

Have you ever noticed that your ring hits are usually in groups? The reason for that appears to be because to populate the ring they choose a group of random blogs and they make up the randomly ordered ring for a short period of time.

They aren't censoring ideas, they are censoring spam. If you think spam has anything to do with actual ideas other than get rich quick then you have no clue what is going on. Spam is ruining internet search engines. Almost any search is full of spam results. How are people supposed to find anything? Finding actual information is like finding a needle in a haystack full of shit.

If no one can find your blog because the internet is so full of spam it doesn't matter that you are uncensored. No one will read it anyway.

9/10/2005 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

Joe, I appreciate the effort you have put into the explanation. I think what makes me doubt it a little, though, is that Blogger's staff themselves have never, to my knowledge, offered me (or anyone else) any such explanation for de-indexing and for the flag. Everyone who has tried to communicate with them about these issues seems to have received irrelevant form letters from them (you’ll find a sample of such a futile effort at communicating with them at the bottom of this page). I am not disputing that what you say may be part of the truth. But I (and many others) don’t think it’s the whole truth. And I will continue to see it that way until I hear the full story straight from the horse's mouth.

9/10/2005 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger JoeChongq said...

You are never going to get the whole story from the horse's mouth. They are holding all the cards and you are not the only one that wants to see them. Spammers do to.

I and many other spam fighters have been trying to get spam blogs and Blogspot members who spam removed from their service for a long time. The one time I got any feedback from them said something like that they did not police content of blogs because they wanted to protect freedom of speech.

The spam blog I was writing them about in that case was a porn spam blog full of explicit images. I mentioned to them that it should not be in the Next Blog ring because kids use that ring too.

They didn't want to have to make the distinction. Luckily months and months later they finally are doing this and now you want them to stop. I have no doubt they are still strong supporters of freedom of speech. But spam is not speech. They have a duty to the rest of the internet to clean out spam.

9/10/2005 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger JoeChongq said...

In addition, removing the whole navbar is likely breaking the terms of service of Blogger.

9/10/2005 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

I am sorry, Joe, but I feel your comments confuse the issue. No-one is opposed to fighting spam (except spammers), and accusing people of being pro-spam is not very helpful. What I want to know (and briefly please) is why they are de-indexing perfectly legitimate blogs. That's what this discussion is about. No-one here is pro-spam. And please don't tell me they are not de-indexing legitimate blogs, because I know they are. Also, as I have mentioned a couple of times in this blog, the Blogger staff themselves have clearly stated that the Flag is to fight "objectionable content." They have developed completely different tools for fighting spam, which I have referred to a couple of times in this blog. The Flag discussion, contray to what many people believe, has very little to do with spam. The Blogger staff say the Flag is to prevent having people shocked by the content of the "Next Blog."

9/10/2005 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger JoeChongq said...

If they are de-indexing perfectly legitimate blogs it likely is because they don't have good guidelines yet as to what should be removed. With the small portion of spammer blogs that are actually getting deleted it seems to me there is more than one viewpoint on what gets removed. The same problem likely affects the sites getting removed from the ring.

But what is objectionable is totally subjective anyway. I don't think Bush bashing is objectionable, but obviously lots of people do. How can you write specific rules for determining something subjective. Obviously there are certain things they can write rules about such as pornography, but where is the line between porn and artistic nudity? And does it matter? Should there be no nudity in the Next Blog ring? We know Americans have a far different view of nudity than European countries and what is acceptable for childeren to see is totally different. There are lots of very good blogger photographers that I would never have seen if it weren't for the Next Blog ring. If you rule out nudity I would guess half the photographer blogs I have seen would be banned.

Blogger is saying that the Flag is not mainly for combating spam, but look at the timing. Their huge spam problem becomes heavily publicized across high profile blogs. And shortly after they come up with the flag system. Obviously they are using it for objectionable blogs too which they should be, but no matter what they say about it the main inspiration of it was to get rid of the spam problem.

I don't think Blogger (as a whole) is trying to censor legitimate blogs. It just depends if you get the wrong reviewer or if they are in a bad mood when they check sites that have been flagged. And they must do it very fast; some spammers create hundereds of totally useless blogs.

If they were doing it toally on the Next Blog flag I am sure my blog would have been removed from the ring as soon as the Flag button was implemented. Spammers hate my blog and I am sure have flagged it numerous times.

9/10/2005 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Bangkok Ram said...

Very interesting, I shall be watching closely.

9/14/2005 12:10:00 AM  
Blogger jack said...

I hate to crack up a good conspiracy yarn but I got here by clicking the "Next Blog" button so you obviously haven't been de-listed. At least not as of 9/15/05.

Here's the thing. Blogger owns the blogs even if you write them. Blogger doesn't have to justify what blogs it includes or doesn't in its traffic generating mechanisms.

Only GOVERNMENT censorship (at least in the USA) is unconstitutional. Otherwise, freedom of the press belongs to those who own the presses.

And, here, Blogger owns the press we're all using. It can make whatever rules it wants about what appears here.

9/15/2005 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Al S. E. said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jack, but I wasn't talking about this blog being de-listed. And, speaking of conspiracy yarns, my paying work is conspiring to keep me from replying to your other points right now, but I promise to reply soon.

9/15/2005 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger Tricky said...

I didn't read through all the comments so I appologize if someone already mentioned this but...

Who's great idea was it to put the Flag button next to the Next Blog button?

I certainly hope a user needs to do more that click that Flag button because I have almost clicked it many times while thumbing through blogs.

Great post. I was not aware of this policy.

9/26/2005 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

how do you define pornography? and why block it? or violence for that matter? censorship is censorship.

12/31/2005 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Gin said...

Blogger will do just what they will. And in the end, the outcome will be something similar to watching the whole of Vancouver Island standing on the beach in Tofino waiting for the tsunami. People who publish fact or publish even opinions that aren't liked by another group in our society will always suffer until the world's end. The age of enlightenment certainly is not among the masses in our society. Who knows what is next? I might be flagged for wishing you all a "Merry Christmas". Do you know what I think Blogger should do? Make the reader accountable as well. Anyone who has ever been flagged for questionable content should be allowed to continue posting, but perhaps have some kind of symbol or notification (and disclaimer, because this society lives by them) that this blog is real and not "happy and fake-smiley" like our society is. In otherwords - unmatched.
I'll even be bold to say that once I've posted this, I'll probably get flagged just for it alone.

Good luck everyone. Think for yourselves! Censorship can't fight all your battles, but brains can.

12/31/2005 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger multidemineo said...

I really did find this page by chance. the information here was extremely useful - thanks!! I hadn't thought about it, the flag thing...a good way of exposing material that should be better controled, but also a great tool for the envious, spiteful and holier-than-thous. seems like our life is full of these flags and people who click them eagerly...not giving space for some thought. anyway, navbar is out.

1/17/2006 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Daniel Christianson said...

"A very good question, actually, Lewis. If you use a tracker that counts the number of visitors to your blog, any otherwise unexplainable drop in traffic can be due to having been de-listed by Blogger (They prefer the term "unlisted," as that sounds a lot less harmful than "de-listed.") Also, publishing a new post should normally lead to some traffic, as I explained in the post. If that isn't happening, you may have been de-listed."

A better way to tell would be to get a sitemeter that lists the "referral links." If you post a few new posts and don't recieve any hits coming from another blogspot, then you've been delisted.

~Uber-Conservative Out (We love freedom too)

2/14/2006 10:39:00 PM  
Blogger Hippo said...

Sometimes people just flag your Blog because they think it's stupid, or boring, or in my case probably because it's not in English but in Dutch.
First time, I asked Blogger why. No reaction, but the flag was gone. And returned the day after. This went on for a few days, one time about 3 days, the next time about 5 days.
And no, Blogger did not tell me why.

2/22/2006 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher London said...

It appears my blog was de-indexed by Google sensors as well, see my blog entitled, NEOCON GUERRILLA'S IN THE MIDST: Glenn Beck's Take-down of Debra Medina: http://www.nycconsigliere.blogspot.com/

2/12/2010 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Bastard said...

Google is too big for its britches. They have de indexed my blog as well based simply on the desire for censorship from members of the fat acceptance movement. These people are very much like right wing nut and tea baggers although many claim to be left of center but so did Stalin.

Righties also spam and troll forums.

4/17/2011 09:09:00 PM  

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