On October 25 - 27 Ben made these three posts to
the editorial list of the Seattle Indymedia collective
Oct 25 • (1) Learning to work together, (2) the content of localism
• working relationships that avoid unnecessary friction
• Who owns the newswire?
• Localism represents a retreat from the goal
of providing an alternative news service
Oct 26 • Solutions to newswire spam (reply to J)
Oct 27 • (1) political overview, (2) going beyond slashdot
From: Ben Seattle
Date: Sat, 25 Oct 2003 09:54:06 -0700
Subject: (1) Learning to work together, (2) the content of localism
I am replying to the "Shameful fruits" thread at:
I assume that many or most subscribers to this list have seen it
since it since it was discussed here on the "brain damage: the
debate of trolls" thread when it first began.
working relationships that avoid unnecessary friction
The first issue I would like to raise is the question of tone,
particularly as used by one or more anonymous editorial
And, while I'm at it, what's the deal with editorial members
hiding behide anonymity? I use a pseudonym (for reasons that
should be clear) in all my political work and consider nothing
wrong with that--but I am consistent with using the same
pseudonym whether I post here or anywhere--because letting people
know who you are is a basic part of civilized interaction with
others--and is inseparable from taking responsibility for your
actions. When one editorial collective member posts insulting
comments without using a consistent name or pseudonym--then he or
she is, in effect, hiding behind the skirts of all the other
members. If one editorial collective member acts like a jerk
then the entire editorial collective is more likely to be seen as
jerks--unless the member who is posting takes responsibility for
his or her actions by identifying himself or herself.
A number of editorial collective members have responded to the
"Shameful fruits" thread with an emotional and insulting tone.
What is the point of such behavior? I think it is done to vent
or express emotions. Of course it is sometimes healthy to
express emotions. But it is not useful or productive to attempt
to initiate a pissing contest with readers who take their time
(which may be just as precious as your time by the way) to
explain why it hurts the movement to segregate posts on
Both Wilhelmina and I have taken the time to present our views in
a calm way. In response, one or more editorial collective
members has posted a variety of comments on the "Shameful fruits"
thread that appear aimed at discouraging discussion.
Wilhelmina's thread was called "an act of aggression". I was
said to be a complete moron with an anti-IMC agenda. Note well:
this is in the context of criticisms made by Wilhelmina and me
that the editorial group has apparently recognized as correct (at
least in a temporary, defacto sense--because the policy of
segregating posts on Palestine has been discontinued at least for
Of course it is natural in discussion of political differences
for things sometimes to get a little heated and over the top.
But I think it should be clear that the movement is served by a
calm tone of discussion among progressive people--and that we
should all strive for such a calm tone. Since we are all human
we sometimes overreact to something which we consider
provocative. But, in the interest of the movement, we should
(after we have calmed down) recognize and apologize for our
overreaction. That's my view at least. Unnecessary friction
makes it more difficult to communicate and collaborate.
Unnecessary friction between ourselves serves the interest of the
corporations and the ruling class.
Who owns the newswire?
> Introducing yourself by calling us "shameful"
> seems pretty hostile to me. Diluting our newswire
> (yes, ours, did you think it grew out of the ground?
> do you think the neo-Nazi posts you hate so much
> will be hidden by little elves?) with "articles"
> complaining about editorial policy is an act
> of aggression. If it doesn't seem like it to you,
> keep looking until you figure it out.
> This whole discussion belongs NOT on
> the damn newswire, it belongs
> on firstname.lastname@example.org
-- (comments by an anonymous editor)
I believe the above is mistaken on several counts. Yes the
editorial group has "ownership" of the newswire in the sense that
they are responsible for it and make the decisions that (for
better or worse) make it whatever it is. But there is another
view which, I hope, corresponds to the views of at least some
editorial committee members: the newswire serves the masses (I
know that some of you are offended by my use of the word
"masses", but this is the word that best expresses what I want to
say) and the editorial group functions as _custodians_ of the
newswire--as a representative of the masses--who are, in a deeper
sense, the real "owners". In this view the principles and
policies that guide the development of the newswire are not a
matter of the whim or caprice of the overworked editorial
group--but rather represents a serious responsibility which
requires _encouraging_ criticism from readers.
Second, it is hardly clear from your site design and layout that
the seattle editorial list is the place to engage editors (my
previous email outlines a concrete proposal to make the editorial
list more visible and accessible to readers). If we accept the
(hopefully not too strange) idea that readers and users of the
site should play a major role in determining its principles and
policies and future direction--then it would naturally follow
that readers should have an easily visible link that would allow
them to follow the discussion--and contribute to it. Based on
the current design of the site: the obvious place for this is the
Gentry, on October 19, made a suggestion that the "Shameful
fruits" thread be placed in the center column because:
(1) it would be a good way to increase traffic to the site and
(2) it would provide a good forum for public accountability
This was immediately opposed by "typist at speakeasy" as "too
much navel gazing".
This "navel gazing" argument would typically be used at any
mainstream bourgeois news service. The paper "USA Today",
for example, would not run an article outlining different
opinions concerning how the paper should be run (ie: "Fred thinks
we are going too far in being shameless boosters of war on Iraq
while Jim thinks we are not going far enough") because such
discussion would not be "news". A bourgeois news service
maintains a strict segregation between the product ("the news")
and the process ("the clash of views/principles concerning what
is news"). Bourgeois news services maintain this segregation for
many reasons--including making clear to the masses that they will
never be anything other than passive consumers--and should not
ever even think that they have a role to play in determining what
is "news". The best example of this is the Fox News slogan: "We
report. You decide".
But isn't Indymedia supposed to be different than these kinds of
bourgeois news services? Isn't Indymedia supposed to run in
accord with different kinds of principles?
I believe that Gentry's argument for putting the "Shameful
fruits" thread in the center column is correct and "typist at
speakeasy" is mistaken. Increased traffic is good. Public
accountability is good. (And these two things go together--the
increased public accountability will help to create increased
traffic.) The "navel gazing" argument is an argument for
"professionalism". But professional journalism in this country
is, with rare exception, not something to be proud of.
Localism represents a retreat from the goal
of providing an alternative news service
> If anyone's prepending "seattle." in front of "indymedia.org"
> while looking for news about Palestine, perhaps they
> should reconsider their research strategy.
I disagree. One of the things that was exciting about Indymedia
as it developed was that there were all these _different_ centers
run by different people that each determined their own policies
concerning how they should be run and what was considered "news".
So instead of there being one group of people of people who would
function as gatekeepers--there would be a many more diverse and
distributed groups of people. Despite the "rundundancy" of
multiple news centers reporting (often) on the same
events--activists liked this concept because of the principle of
"not putting all your eggs in one basket". If one group of
gatekeepers ended up with their heads in places that cannot be
reached by sunlight (and let's face it--this happens within the
progressive movement more often than we would like) there would
be many _other_ groups that would prove reliable and maintain the
principle of providing the news that the corporations don't want
us to know.
But now a very different concept has taken hold. Instead of
there being multiple, independent, redundant centers each
responsible for providing a comprehensive set of news items (or
at least a sampling that attempts to be more representative of
comprehensive than the bourgeois media) we have a
centralized/feudal system: the Seattle IMC reports mainly on
events in Seattle, the Atlanta IMC reports mainly on events in
Atlanta, and the head IMC reports on events in Palestine or
But then what happens if the head IMC fails to give attention to
important news (or analysis) of events in Palestine? Where is
the redundancy if the single gatekeeper fails?
And it has failed.
> I would like to see an antiwar portal such that
> the article "Bush gives Palestinians a Road Map
> to Oblivion" occupies the center column.
-- Ben (from the "Shameful fruits" thead)
An anonymous editor replied:
> All the peace plans that have been publicized by
> the establishment for the last 35 years have been
> bullshit. You know that, I know that. More bullshit
> is not necessarily news.
> Recent feature stories on Palestine in the center
> column at http://indymedia.org/ have included:
(this was followed by a list of nine news items on Palestine
posted over the last ten months at www.indymedia.org)
I looked at all nine of these news items. Guess what? Unlike
the "Road Map to Oblivion" article, none of these news items
explained or even referenced one of the most basic and
fundamental facts essential to understanding the tactics used by
imperialism (and its Israeli client state) against the
Palestinian people: imperialism is attempting to engineer a
_civil war_ among the Palestinian people.
Some people would consider this an important analysis because it
helps us to understand a lot of the scattered news stories that
we hear coming from the region. The Israeli parliament has said
it is ok to kill Arafat (he is a "terrorist"). We have all heard
that. Many progressives respond by saying that, no, it is not ok
to kill Arafat (he is not a "terrorist"). But what many
progressive people do not know is _why_ the Israeli parlianment
made such a decision: because Arafat refused to initiate a
fratricidal civil war amongst the Palestinian people. Arafat is
a murderous thug who has assassinated many progressive
Palestinian activists. US imperialism and its Israeli client
state have no problem with Arafat being a murderous thug--as long
as he acted as _their_ murderous thug (to paraphrase what FDR
reportedly said about Somoza). But Arafat refused to carry out
his orders to help engineer a savage and bloody civil war. That
is why the Israeli parliament authorized his assassination.
Now some may disagree with this analysis (I think this
analysis is pretty solid myself). But I think that Indymedia
readers should have an opportunity to read it and make up their
But where will readers see this analysis on Indymedia?
The nine articles over ten months on www.indymedia.org did not
present this analysis. Most of the www.indymedia.org articles on
Palestine were simple news. Israel bombed Syria. Guess what? I
already knew that Israel bombed Syria from reading the
_bourgeois_ news. How about a place where I can find the
thoughtful and well-researched analysis that will always be
filtered out of the bourgeois news?
One of these nine articles _did_ contain a _link_ to another
article (by Edward Said, reposted from Counterpunch) which
contained a single reference to the possibility of a civil war
(calling this possibility a "gleam in the eye" of Israeli
And where was this article from Counterpunch reposted? At the
New York Indymedia site:
If New York had hidden (or segregated) this article then it would
have simply been that much more difficult for activists to learn
about the central thrust of imperialist tactics in this part of
the middle east at this time.
Such a Palestinian civil war would be a huge tragedy for the
Palestinian people. Both sides of this civil war (Arafat's
Palestinian authority and the Islamic nationalists of Hamas)
would be led by corrupt factions tied to monied interests.
The winner in such a war would be imperialism--and the
loser in such a civil war would be the Palestinian people. And I
believe it would be a mistake to consider such a civil war
inevitable. We should be doing all we can to alert progressive
people everywhere to what is going on so that it becomes more
difficult for imperialism to engineer such a murderous bloodbath.
Of course we have another option. We can choose to hide (or
segregate, a halfway method of hiding--because each additional
click to reach a story reduces the audience by a factor of ten)
the story. That will solve a lot of pesky problems.
But my view is that making such a choice would indeed be
From: Ben Seattle
Date: Sun, 26 Oct 2003 13:39:09 -0800
Subject: Solutions to newswire spam (reply to J)
Thank you for your response.
> Ben, Is it your position that all the Palestine
> Israeli posts should stay on the newswire?
There are several issues involved here. One issue is timeframe.
Are we discussing the period:
(a) between now and when we migrate to a new code base
(b) after we have a new code base
(c) longer term
There is also the issue of process and how the editorial members
view the role of the Indymedia site.
For example: should readers be notified in advance of a major
change in editorial policy and given an easy way to comment on
the change? It appears to me that there may be different
opinions within the editorial collective on this question. I
believe that the editorial collective should function in a
democratic way: if most members of the collective believe that
the role of the readership should be passive--then there is no
problem with making a major change without either notifying or
consulting with readers.
My view is that the Seattle IMC should make it a principle that
readers are consulted (ie: notified and given a 30 day period in
which to make a public comment) before a major change is made in
editorial policy. Segregating posts on Palestine is certainly a
major change in editorial policy.
The new code base will apparently be installed within about five
weeks and, depending on the design, may minimize somewhat (for a
while) some of the problems with flooding of the news wire.
Other IMC sites have separate newswires for local and non-local
news. Both the local and non-local newswires are visible from
the front page (an important consideration because every extra
click to read a story generally reduces the audience by a factor
There are many other measures to reduce flooding. Posters could
be asked to voluntarily restrict themselves to one post to the
newswire a day. (A separate web page could be created and
inserted in front of the normal posting page so that everyone who
posts would see and be aware of the new one-newswire-post-per-day
policy.) It is also possible to make this mandatory
(ie: enforce this using technical means) but I think we should
first give a fair trial to making this policy voluntary..
Some IMC sites (I think Philadelphia) allow editorial committee
members to rate posts and then show two newswires:
(a) one newswire with posts highly rated, and
(b) a news wire with posts that are unrated or rated poorly
I think this may be useful [but] it would be better, for several
reasons, to allow readers to rate the posts and to filter posts
The raises some technical issues but I consider it important to
recognize that the technical issues are all solvable if the will
exists to take this step. Code consists of scripts that will do
whatever it is we need done. If the need is big enough--there
will be geeks who will help us out.
In the long run the solution, in my view, is to make use of what
is sometimes called "collaborative filtering". Collaborative
filtering allows readers to self-organize what they want to see.
For example a space invader from the FreeRepublic.com would rate
posts based on what he liked and disliked. The freeper would
then be able to see other posts that were favorably rated by
people who tended to agree with his own ratings. On the other
hand, someone like me (a leftist) would have the option of seeing
posts that were favorably rated by other leftists. Everybody
would be able to see what they wanted. It would all be
I have not seen collaborative filtering used yet in discussion
systems but consider that such is only a matter of time. The
closest thing to collorative filtering that exists now is the
klunky, annoying system at amazon.com (ie: people who liked this
book also liked these other books).
I would like to see IMC's consider implementing collaborative
filtering within the next few years.
Another useful feature would be to allow each person who
contributes a newswire post to have the editorial power to hide
comments to that post. The reader, however, would have the final
authority and would have the option to see the comments that had
been hidden by the person who posted the article.
> You came to our meeting a few weeks back with
> what I felt was a legitimate complaint -- hide some
> of the crap on the newswire -- we have been
> wrestling with how to do that. There seems to
> be no middle ground either it's open and
> everything goes up. Or it's editted and we're
> accused of being nazis or bourgeois.
Actually what I insisted on is "zero tolerance for neo-nazi
posts and comments".
No IMC can allow threats (ie: "I am going to kill you") for
obvious legal reasons if nothing else. I argued that we should
similarly have zero-tolerance for obvious neo-nazi posts (ie:
posts which either link to neo-nazi websites or promote obvious
nazi views). We need to take this stand:
(1) on general principle, and
(2) because these people are aggressive and organized
and will otherwise make our newswire unusable.
So we should be clear: we do censor all threats and we do censor
all neo-nazi content. No one is going to accuse us of being
"bourgeois" if we make it clear that we censor neo-nazi shit
(except the neo-nazis--but I don't care what they think).
I think that all editors should have the charter to delete
obvious neo-nazi posts (as well as obvious threats) immediately.
Why should it be necessary to seek permission from other editors
beforehand on something like this? These issues are very black
and white. (If it is unclear whether the post (or comment) is
neo-nazi that may be a rare and different situation--then other
editors should be consulted.)
What to do about the freepers and creepers is a very different
kind of problem because (unlike threats and obvious nazi posts)
there will not always be a clear and unmistakable line between a
right-wing asshole and someone who has something intelligent to
Where we get into trouble is when we decide to censor stuff and
there is no clear and unmistakeable line that can trusted to make
I am not opposed in principle to grouping or hiding "brain
damaged" posts and posts from obvious trolls. The problem here
is that such a categorization nearly always undergoes a kind of
"inflation" where the defintion gets expanded and abused to the
point that legitimate posts are thrown into this category. I
keep in mind that the "shameful fruits" post was called
"Braindamage: The debate of the Trolls" last week ;-)
Is it possible for us to avoid this kind of "inflation"?
I don't know.
This is why I believe we should keep in mind that, in the long
run, we must make it possible for readers to rate the posts and
to filter by rating. This leaves the work (and the infinite
number of judgement calls) to the readers. It saves us work and
hassle--and it gives readers what they want.
And, as I have already noted: there are some technical issues in
making this happen--but the technical issues can all be overcome.
If we don't make this happen it is because we are not serious
about making it happen.
> When Gentry mentioned the Shamefull Fruits piece,
> it was to get a feel for what people thought of it.
> Articles we're excited about get submitted directly
> as feature proposals, (FP) in subject line. *Ideas*
> get aired in email with an exchange of opinion.
> I'm of the opinion that the Shamefull Fruit post
> is an insider argument and not worth using up
> valuable center space. Others supported
> Gentry's idea of making it a feature. Should it
> be proposed as an FP, it would probably get
> enough support or at least no opposition to
> make it to the center column.
The most useful article to place in the center column, in my
view, is the "Road Map to Oblivion" article.
Your comment is related to the issues which I raised in my email
yesterday on working relationships and localism. That email,
unfortunately, drew very little response. At this point it is
probably best for me to withhold further comment until or unless
I can get a better picture of what other people here feel in
http://struggle.net/Ben (my elists / theory / infrastructure)
From: Ben Seattle
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 2003 07:20:43 -0800
Subject: (1) political overview, (2) going beyond slashdot
> Well, welcome to the list. I take back the moron
> comment I posted, and will now treat you as
> I do all active editorial members, in otherwords
> with more respect.
Hey, thanks for your encouraging words--and for giving me the
keys to the magic kingdom ;-)
> it's a step towards understanding that you've
> signed up and are actively involved in
> the discussion
Well I am signed up to the list. I am not in the editorial
collective, of course, and I will not be voting. Nor will it be
possible for me to participate in the discussion at anything near
the intensity that I have recently (I am way too overwhelmed with
other responsibilities). But the Seattle Indymedia project is a
very important one. It has been quite valuable to me and to
thousands of activists in Seattle and (considering the sites it
has spawned around the country and the world) to hundreds of
thousands of activists elsewhere. Furthermore (at least to a
very significant extent) the Seattle IMC is focused on
progressive news as mediated in an open way by an active
community. And such a project is the focus of my life's work.
At the same time (until or unless I am proven wrong) I am of the
opinion that the Seattle Indymedia project faces severe
limitations in terms of what it will be able to accomplish in
relation to what I believe is possible with a news service
mediated in an open way by an active community. We live in a
class divided society and this simple fact profoundly influences
everything we see, hear, feel and touch. This simple fact
profoundly influences everything in our minds--and in our hearts.
This simple fact of life in the early 21st century is reflected
within each of us and, more to the point, is reflected within the
Seattle Indymedia collective. The focus that I would like to see
for the Seattle Indymedia project (ie: a strong focus on giving
readers the news, information, open discussion and debate
necessary to understand the class forces which make our society
what it is--and all the logical conclusions that follow in
relation to the creation of a mass movement that is serious about
fundamental change) is not something which I consider the Seattle
IMC as likely to take up (certainly not in 2003 or 2004) -- for
the simple reasons that such a path would be:
(1) controversial to the max and would likely be extremely
upsetting to a number of people within the collective and
(2) would involve shouldering complex, difficult and confusing
tasks which no one (myself included) understands very well.
For this reason it is my view that some kind of separate
non-Indymedia project is necessary. Having said that, I should
add that this does not mean that I don't wish Indymedia well--or
am unwilling to assist in small and modest ways. On the contrary
I would like to encourage the evolution of Indymedia in a
direction that I consider healthy. I just want to emphasize that
I insist on keeping my expectations realistic--and modest.
The need to go beyond Slashdot
I have been following slashdot for years. Their ratings system
is wildly successful. To my knowledge it is the best and the
most well-known rating system on the net.
However I think that, in the long run, we need to think in terms
of collaborative filtering (which is more advanced than what is
used by slashdot).
For those who have not followed the details of how slashdot
works--the slash code essentially selects a kind of temporary
jury from the pool of registered users. Each selected user is
then given the opportunity to rate a small number of "posts"
All visitors to the site are then given an opportunity to select
which ratings level they would like to use as a cutoff in
selecting comments. I usually select "5" (the highest) because
my time is limited. For example there might be half a dozen
postings rated "5". If, on the other hand, I select "-1" (the
lowest rating) then I might see more than a hundred
posts--including all the trolls and brain damaged.
But I am sure that you guys know all that.
But the slashdot system also has limitations. Not everyone can
rate any post they would like: only the randomly chosen few.
Furthermore each post is rated by only a single, randomly-chosen
person--rather than a larger number of people. If that person
happens to lack a clue--then the post could get a poor
rating--and lose out in the competition for attention.
And there is a much deeper problem than this. There is a single
uniform rating system that applies to everything. But in a site
with a fair number of political news articles and comments the
need for "collaborative filtering" will eventually assert itself.
With collaborative filtering you, as the reader, have the option
of looking at the posts that are highly rated by that subset of
people who have tended to agree with your own ratings. For
example a freeper, who originally comes here to cause "trouble",
would be able to look at posts which are highly rated by other
freepers (even if such posts include little content other than a
made-up image of a soldier pissing on a photo of Rachael Corrie).
On the other hand someone like me would have the option of
looking at only those posts that have been favorably rated by
other readers whose ratings judgement has been similar to my own.
The significance of such collaborative filtering (for reasons
that I do not have time to try to explain here--I will simply
state it as my "opinion") is that the end result of such a system
in a news service with the breadth and traffic volume of the
Seattle IMC--is that a lot of the freepers that come here looking
for trouble--will leave here strongly opposed to the war and to
all the vicious plunder of the large corporations. And this
phenomenon, played out in innumnerable forums over the decades
ahead will (in my opinion) eventually lead to a very extreme
crisis for the present ruling class.
(Getting back to the subject) I am not sure if the description of
collaborative filtering above is very clear. But that's ok.
Collaborative filtering is not on the immediate agenda. For now
(ie: for the next year or two or three or four) a more ordinary
tpye of filtering would be a step forward for the Seattle IMC. A
first stage might be rating by editors. Later stages would
include rating by readers--and filtering by readers (ie: similar
to slashdot). Sometime down the road (I would certainly like to
see it before the end of the decade) would be collaborative
The significance of this for us at this time--is that in
selecting a new code base (a decision that we will be living with
for years) I would argue for selecting that code base which comes
attached to a group of geeks who would be willing to help us
customise it for our own experimentation. If this is not
possible--then the next best alternative would be code that local
(ie: possibly more available) geeks could learn to understand--so
that we could be more self-reliant and modify and experiment with
it ourselves. I am by no means a hard core geek--but I do
understand the principles that form the foundation of filtering
and rating systems and would certainly be interest in discussing
this with anyone who is interested.
Hey--I'm going to be late for work. Bye.
http://struggle.net/Ben (my elists / theory / infrastructure)
To: Ben Seattle ; email@example.com
Date: Sunday, October 26, 2003 11:08 PM
Subject: RE: [Seattle-editorial] Solutions to newswire spam
(reply to J)
The Philly site uses their own version of slashcode. It's not
by those outside Philly, but I love the ratings system. I don't
know if it's
available in MIR, DADA, or SFactive. Also check out Danbury,CT
easily my favorite IMC.
As for rating comments, look at http://www.slashdot.org for a
been doing it successfully for years.
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