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Evidence for GroklXX's insidious censorship of perfectly appropriate, non-offensive user comments for purposes of disinformation and fabrication of consensus
19 November 2010 Florian Mueller http://fosspatents.blogspot.com Twitter: @FOSSpatents
At different points in time including yesterday, certain readers of my blog who also read GroklXX (that site calls itself "Groklaw" but I have my reasons to refer to it as "Groklie" in certain contexts) have provided me with information and material (screenshots and locally saved HTML files) documenting GroklXX's censorship of perfectly appropriate, non-offensive user comments. User comments were apparently deleted only because they reflect the growing disagreement between GroklXX's mystery-shrouded editors hiding behind an avatar named PJ and some of the site's open-minded, facts-focused readers. This includes requests for explanations of such deletions. For some time, I kept collecting evidence while hoping that there would never be a need to show it to a larger audience. I never promised the submitters that I would use the material they volunteered. However, yesterday marked a new low. GroklXX censored an entire subthread containing a reference to -- and reasonable discussion of -- a comment I posted on ZDNet. The deleted part included comments from some of GroklXX's most loyal users and volunteer contributors. In my observation, GroklXX's censorship far exceeds that of corporate websites, which either don't allow comments at all or accept criticism -- even of the harsher kind -- within reason. Disinformation and fabrication of consensus are irreconcilable with the core values of the free and open source software community -- the audience GroklXX seeks to mislead with such and similar behavior. Those complaints are not new, and this documentation quotes and links to several reports from users who eyewitnessed, and were in some cases affected, by GroklXX's truth-suppressing ways. There is overwhelming evidence -- old, recent, and brand-new -- that GroklXX is anything but a true and open community discussion forum and that the opinions expressed by and on that site are definitely not representative of the beliefs held by the open source community at large.
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Table of contents
1 1.1 1.2 2 2.1 2.2 2.3 3 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4 Incidents on 18 November 2010......................................................................................3 Deletion of discussion of ZDNet comment.......................................................................3 Deletion of question about censorship...............................................................................7 Incident on 11 April 2010..............................................................................................11 Perfectly appropriate and respectful user comment related to IBM/TurboHercules.......11 Baseless allegation of "personal attacks"........................................................................12 Unjustified removal of the entire subthread: visible only to the original commenter.....13 Previously published complaints over GroklXX's censorship...................................16 2005, linux-blog.org........................................................................................................16 2006, Yahoo! Finance message board for SCO Group Inc..............................................18 2007, blogbeebe.blogspot.com........................................................................................19 2010, ibmvshercules.com (Jay Maynard)........................................................................19 Protection of sources and concluding remarks
Note: To facilitate cursory reading and the use of this document as a point of reference, the mentionings of deletions of user comments are highlighted in red.
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Incidents on 18 November 2010
Deletion of discussion of ZDNet comment
1.1.1 Comments saved at 09:34 AM GMT Below each article, GroklXX routinely provides an Off Topic section for "[d]iscussions about things unrelated to the main article." At 09:34 AM GMT, a user saved a local copy of the Off Topic section of the discussion under the Groklaw article, "Oracle declines to press its motion to dismiss, so motion is dismissed." This URL leads to the current state of that section. The following screenshot shows the relevant part of the aforementioned local copy: [Screenshot #1:]
None of those comments was objectionable. This is the comment that opened the thread: [Screenshot #2:]
The link in the above comment that opened the thread pointed to this comment on ZDNet. The first response, "The fal[l]acies of PJ", actually defended GroklXX: [Screenshot #3:]
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The second response, "The text", contained the content of the ZDNet comment "for those who don't want to frequent [ZDNet]": [Screenshot #4:]
The above comment did not contain anything objectionable. Most of the text is facts-based criticism of GroklXX's reporting on the Oracle v. Google patent and copyright case. The attributes describing the "avatar named PJ" make reference to the fact that none of GroklXX's editors has ever revealed their identity or appeared at real-life events. According to Wikipedia, an avatar "is an object - page 4 of 20 -
representing the user" (nowadays usually in a graphical form, but as Wikipedia states, "it can also refer to a text construct") and it "can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user." All of that is non-judgmental, and "PJ" clearly meets the definition. The comment was not censored by ZDNet -- one of the world's leading editorial sites covering IT topics -- for being offensive. I did not even see any criticism. Only the GroklXX user who posted the link described it as a "troll comment". If GroklXX indeed aimed to "dig for the truth", it would have made -- in an effort to enlighten its users -- a facts-focused statement on the criticism expressed by the comment referenced and quoted. 1.1.2 Comments saved at and shortly after 10:40 AM GMT As opposed to anyone complaining over offensive content, a reasonable debate began. The following screenshot shows the Off Topic section as a user saved it at 10:40 AM GMT: [Screenshot #5:]
The above screenshot already shows a first act of censorship. "The text", which appears in the list shown by screenshot #1 and the content of which is shown by screenshot #4, had been removed. The above screenshot also shows that GroklXX regulars participated in the debate: "Winter", "Ian Al" and "stegu" (one of a few GroklXX users whose real name -- Stefan Gustavsson -- is known) have been very active GroklXX users for a long time. Different screenshots (of local copies of the discussion stored shortly after screenshot #5) show that the debate was reasonable and constructive: [Screenshot #6:]
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1.1.3 Entire thread missing in version saved at 03:37 PM GMT [Screenshot #10:]
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There was no justification to delete the entirety of the thread. There was also no justification for deleting a link to a comment on ZDNet criticizing GroklXX. I hereby certify that I have seen the comments that were shown above but no longer listed in screenshot #10. At least some of them must have been seen by at least those who replied to them. I believe that at some point there were even more comments on the thread but on the current basis (without screenshots) cannot certify more than the messages documented herein. 1.2 Deletion of question about censorship
1.2.1 List saved at 07:17 PM GMT By 07:17 PM GMT, the Off Topic section had grown but the censored part was still missing: [Screenshot #11:]
The growth that the Off Topic section experienced during a few hours suggests that a significant number of users must have read part or all of the thread discussing the ZDNet Comment while it was online. 1.2.2 List saved at 08:10 PM GMT and items saved shortly thereafter By 08:10 PM GMT, the Off Topic section contained a new (then bottom-of-the-list) comment raising the question of GroklXX's censorship:
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A screenshot taken five minutes later shows that the "Censorship" comment was appropriate: [Screenshot #13:]
The previous screenshot also shows that a reply, "Partial list of comments censored for no reason", was posted to the "Censorship" comment. The content of that reply is shown below. It merely listed the comments that had disappeared earlier that day. - page 8 of 20 -
The appropriate response by GroklXX's editors would have been to provide an explanation for the deletion of non-objectionable comments. Instead, they adopted the approach of totalitarian regimes and decided to suppress any such questions. 1.2.3 List saved at 08:45 PM GMT At 08:45 PM GMT, that thread had also disappeared: [Screenshot #15:]
The screenshot above was produced on someone else's computer than the previous ones. I hereby certify that I witnessed the disappearance of the relevant "Censorship" thread before and after. 1.2.4 List saved the following morning (19 November 2010) at 06:25 AM GMT The following morning, the two threads that had been deleted were still missing:
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Meanwhile, GroklXX published a new article, "Google et al Argue with Paul Allen's Interval Licensing: One Big Case or 11? Or None?", with a fresh Off Topic section: [Screenshot #17:]
Consequently, interest in the previous Off Topic section will subside. The censors succeeded. - page 10 of 20 -
Incident on 11 April 2010
I am summarizing the incident described in this chapter solely based on input and documentation provided to me. I can certify that the relevant threads are now missing from the GroklXX discussion in which they were, according to my source, posted. I have no reason not to believe my source that the comments shown in the screenshots used to be there. However, given the period of time that has since passed, I cannot declare affirmatively that I actually read those comments back in the spring. 2.1 Perfectly appropriate and respectful user comment related to IBM/TurboHercules
In the discussion below this GroklXX article, "Why I Believe IBM is Free to Sue The Pants Off TurboHercules", a GroklXX user posted the following comment: [Screenshot #18:]
The above screenshot shows that the comment was posted on 11 April 2010 at 05:15 AM EDT and that it drew at least three responses: one by "Wol", one of GroklXX's most loyal users; one by GroklXX's moderator avatar, "PJ"; and one by "jmaynard", whose real name is Jay Maynard and who is the long-time volunteer maintainer of the Hercules open source mainframe emulator project and known to many geeks as "the Tron Guy". Jay Maynard's negative experience with GroklXX's censorship policy is discussed in Section 3. The comment shown above focuses on legal aspects of the debate over whether IBM betrayed its open source patent pledge by a threat letter to French open source startup TurboHercules (referenced as "TH" in the comment). The commenter repeatedly refers to "Heracles", by which he means the Hercules open source mainframe emulator. Heracles is the Greek name of the mythical figure the Romans called Hercules. The mainframe emulator project bears the Latin name. The comment is above board. There is nothing in it that could not be accepted in a civilized debate. It expresses disagreement with (as well as surprise over) what I also considered an absurd legal theory by the avatar named "PJ". But where "PJ" is addressed directly, the commenter twice stated his respect for "PJ" ("and I don't believe she did", "I give her more credit than that"). The question whether "these forums [got] drained of legal knowledge" is also acceptable rhetoric. - page 11 of 20 -
Baseless allegation of "personal attacks"
The previous screenshot already showed that the relevant comment resulted in a subthread of its own. The following screenshot shows a comment by a GroklXX regular/volunteer named "Wol" (who states a misbelief created by GroklXX and addressed by me in this blog post) and, below that one, a warning served to the commenter by the editorial avatar named "PJ": [Screenshot #19:]
That warning is another example of GroklXX's totalitarian, oppressive approach to moderation: a) b) c) d) As screenshot #18 showed, nothing in the comment constitutes "personal attacks." The avatar named "PJ" does not substantiate that allegation at all. Any implied reference to other postings by the same anonymous commenter does not make the relevant comment any less acceptable in its own right. The comment provides valuable legal substance to the debate. It disagrees with GroklXX's party line and counters the impression of an open source community consensus GroklXX seeks to fabricate (in this case, as well as in countless others, such consensus would give the impression of an alignment of the open source community with IBM). The person(s) behind the avatar named "PJ" reacted emotionally to a commenter's wellreasoned contribution to the discussion, debunking an absurd legal theory of a kind very frequently found on GroklXX, especially when IBM's interests are at stake. In connection with the SCO case, alignment with IBM resulted in the appearance of accurate predictions. However, in certain other contexts -- such as the TurboHercules matter -- that same alignment often results in gross distortions, untruths, and manipulation. - page 12 of 20 -
The reference to dissidents who left GroklXX ("AllParadox and Marbux") certainly did not sit well with the editorial team. Unjustified removal of the entire subthread: visible only to the original commenter
In addition to outright deletion, GroklXX has another censoring mechanism in place that other people and I have witnessed independently from each other. That alternative approach -- called "sandboxing" -- makes a comment or an entire thread or subthread invisible to all visitors except the original commenter of the comment at the top of the (sub)thread and, presumably, GroklXX's editorial staff. I don't know the criterion GroklXX uses to identify a user. Some suspect users are identified by their IP address, which is a possibility but not necessarily the only method employed. The user who wrote the "How can you get a violation parsing it that way?" comment realized that the subthread had been censored that way. He produced a screenshot from his computer and highlighted (via mouse selection) the comments that other users were no longer able to see: [Screenshot #20:]
He then produced a screenshot on a different configuration which prevented GroklXX from identifying him as the original commenter. That screenshot shows that no more postings appeared below "You're misreading" (highlighted in the next screenshot), so the entire "How can you get a violation parsing it that way?" subthread had disappeared for other visitors:
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Since the above screenshot does not show the next thread title, I produced today a screenshot of the current state of that thread. I visited this link, and indeed, the "How can you get a violation parsing it that way?" subthread was not displayed: [Screenshot #22:]
There is no justification for the deletion of that entire subthread. It does not make sense that the avatar named "PJ" only issued a warning to the commenter and then deleted the relevant comment, the warning, and other users' replies altogether.
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Previously published complaints over GroklXX's censorship
Criticism of GroklXX's non-open, highly oppressive censorship regime is not new. The incidents documented in the previous sections appear to be merely a continuation of a long-standing editorial and moderation policy that is characterized by silencing dissenters and fabricating consensus for propaganda purposes. Users have made me aware of the frustration vented by disappointed GroklXX users on the web over the years. The examples discussed in the following were published in the years 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010. The criticism published by those users shows that GroklXX's approach is very unusual by Internet standards and especially by open source standards. 3.1 2005, linux-blog.org
3.1.1 26 January 2005: "Groklaw and Censorship?" Link: http://linux-blog.org/Groklaw-and-Censorship/ "I recently read a webpage that chronicles the traded messages of a person that posted comments on Groklaw.net and who believes that they were censored from public view." "As Mr. Petrofsky found, his posts were made only viewable to himself and erased from public view as opposed to outright deletion. It also seems that Mr. Petrofsky wasn’t the only one that reported this phenomenon either." "Is this a case of deception versus rejection? Would an outright rejection or deletion of the comment be a better way to go? It seems that this would be a valid avenue to go even if you were unsure about the content of the comment. If you delete the comment in question, then inform the submitting party that their comment was deleted for X reason, the person could provide validity, reasons, license, and sources for their comment(s)." "Would a ‘self-moderated comment’ style of submission OR outright deletion of the comments in question be a better avenue instead of deception? It is my opinion that it would. Mr. Petrofsky shares this opinion, [...] 'I have no problem with a newspaper editor or blog writer accepting submissions from letter writers or web visitors and choosing to publish some and discard others ... However, groklaw has attempted to prevent that last part [rejecting submissions/content] from happening by deceiving the one person who would normally notice a stupid post-rejection decision and might tell other people about it.'" "Besides Al Petrofsky, there are at least 2 other verified groklaw members who have experienced the same “post is invisible to all but me” phenomenon (note: Geeklog also has a setting for this in its latest version) I have also contacted a group of about 5 others that have first hand knowledge and experience with both Mr. Petrofsky’s situation as well as others in which these cases apply. The question that begs to be asked is, what is going on at groklaw?" 3.1.2 22 March 2005: "Disagreements + Groklaw = Deletion?" Link: http://linux-blog.org/Disagreements-+-Groklaw-Deletion/ - page 16 of 20 -
"Of the points discussed, no one could argue that Mr. Petrofsky was unreasonable at any time, nor could one argue that he was at all unprofessional in his requests and his behavior. By examining the evidence presented in that article, one can infer that he was indeed deceived. Today, we’ll look into more possible examples of deception and censorship from the site where “open source principles are applied.” We’ll be chatting with an ex-moderator from Groklaw named Brenda Banks aka br3n who was removed as a moderator after expressing her opinion about certain matters at groklaw. After having her moderator status stripped from her, she then asked to be removed from the userlist based on her own moral compass." "br3n: My first alarms/questions arose when the announcement came out that PJ was working at OSRM, then came the 283 patent infringement possibilities announced around the same time. Then when jgabriel [another Groklaw user] had his account deleted there was no way to ignore things anymore. This was when I tested PJ by email asking about his deletion and posting mild criticism of her on yahoo [The Yahoo SCO finance boards]. She never answered the email about him and she then removed moderation powers from me without correspondance. I felt that was the answer I would have to accept and that she would keep ignoring what she doesnt want to answer. Deleting his [jgabriel's] account and making all his posts anon, was just the most terrible/disrespectful thing I thought I had ever heard of." "john gabriel = was a more familiar name to me. I was watching closely when he was deleted. He had nothing on groklaw [in form of content] that would provide a reason for deletion. I was watching that closely. He had posted criticism on the yahoo SCOX board and I believe this is why he was deleted." "al_petrofsky = Was deleted due to the posting of the url to a tape of a hearing in court regarding SCO. He had written permission from the court to make it publically available and was deleted from groklaw without warning. Al Petrofsky [being censored/deleted/deceived] was not for good reason in my opinion. He had permission from the court for the recording and he believed he was in the right. I also think he was in the right." "Some of you may say…ok, so they got their account deleted. Big deal right? Register a new screen name or new nick! I’m sure that this thought has crossed the mind of many of these ex-members of groklaw. You may also say…”just get on with your life and forget about it!” But what is one really saying when they ‘get on with their life’? They’re saying that what happened really didn’t matter. Censorship coming from an open source supportive site…just doesn’t matter. I for one, being a strong supporter of both open source and the GPL, would not let this one lay down if it had happened to me. Hence, you have the groklaw category in this blog." "Scott McKellar says: [...] I exiled myself shortly after she kicked John Gabriel out, because I was disgusted at her arbitrary and high-handed tactics, and at the echo chamber of censorship and groupthink that Groklaw had become. If I had not exiled myself, I would likely have been exiled involuntarily later, because I was not willing to subjugate myself to PJ’s opinions. I had already found myself accused of being a troll for not slavishly following the party line." "Peter McDermott says: [...] Br3n suffered a personality assassination that was a thousand times worse than anything that Maureen O’Gara ever said about PJ. One word from PJ could have silenced the red dress fanboy brigade in an instant. Her failure to call her dogs to heel says more about the woman and her ethics than anything that I can say here."
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"MCW says: After recently reading more postings on Groklaw, I posted a comment critical of the personal paranoia Jones displayed over personal attacks – likening her paranoid comments to those of Hugo Chavez when talking about US assassination plots against him. This post was deleted, so were 10 other posts that followed mine. Some were supportive of my position, others were neutral, and a few were from the PJ vangaurd. Any follow-up posts I made asking where the original posts were and why they were deleted were also removed. I’m used to be a believer in Groklaw, but now I’m a total skeptic." "Dennis Towne says: Since that time I have occasionally posted test edges of the moderation, and the results are pretty disturbing: even incidental mention of the deletion policy or deleted accounts has resulted in sandboxing. I think the scale of the deletion policy is vastly underestimated; it is, quite frankly, draconian. I still occasionally check Groklaw for updates and information now, but when discussing it with anyone else, I make it clear that the site does not allow balanced debate and is extremely heavily censored. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of Vernor Vinge's "A fire upon the deep". The Blight character in that book uses misinformation, censorship, and network control in a similar way, though with perhaps more malicious intent." 3.2 2006, Yahoo! Finance message board for SCO Group Inc.
Link: http://messages.finance.yahoo.com/Stocks_(A_to_Z)/Stocks_S/threadview? m=tm&bn=2942&tid=383807&mid=383807&tof=10&so=E&rt=2&frt=2&off=1&p=mq611k_AWr bLlqArvKx.K_r6c55v2m5DOHmUgyxq6.J5PYFCet.LUhM"AllParadox on Groklaw To those of us that are still friends of Groklaw, and still support it: if you post on Groklaw, please do not use my handle, 'AllParadox', and do not link to my earlier posts. Sadly, now, apparently, anyone who refers to "AllParadox" risks having their post deleted. If past complaints by former Groklaw regulars are any guide, anyone who naively trys to re-post a deleted post, or innocently inquires of PJ about the problem, also risks having their Groklaw account deleted. [...] To pre-empt the inevitable flames: I have been a major contributor to Groklaw for years. I have aggressively defended PJ and Groklaw, and have defended them against charges of censorship. This creates a number of problems for me. For one thing, it appears that my defense of Groklaw against charges of censorship were wrong. I have been wrong before. I will get over it. Many have relied upon my integrity, when I have defended Groklaw against charges of censorhip. To those folks, I must apologize. I did not inquire more deeply when I should have, and I have let you down. Please forgive me. [...] To be disingenuous is one thing. To allow your friends to embarrass themselves when supporting you, by not correcting statements you know not to be true, displays a shocking lack of integrity. My feelings about Groklaw have now changed, and not for the better. In spite of it all, I remain a supporter and friend of Groklaw. Moreover, these are only my perceptions. I am not the Almighty, and do not know all things. I may very well be completely wrong. I still ask you to support and befriend Groklaw. However, and again: please do not use my handle or link to my posts when you post on Groklaw.
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Link: http://blogbeebe.blogspot.com/2007/09/groklaw-continues-its-bad-old-ways.html "Groklaw continues its bad old ways I'm no friend of Pamela Jones, owner and proprietress of Groklaw. I've never posted on Groklaw and never will, preferring to watch at the edges, primarily there to dig out the facts of the various SCO cases. Most of the time I've had no issues, but from time to time over the years I've stumbled upon the odd post and thread that, for whatever reason, would disappear over time, expunged by She Who Must Be Obeyed." 3.4 2010, ibmvshercules.com (Jay Maynard)
Link: http://ibmvshercules.com/2010/04/15/booted-from-groklaw/ Jay Maynard is the volunteer maintainer of the Hercules open source project and previously mentioned herein (Section 2.1). The information he contributed to the GroklXX discussion of IBM's patent threats against TurboHercules was unwanted only because he was able to speak from a position of being independent from the TurboHercules company and defending the open source project about which GroklXX would, if it were truly an open source community effort, care more than about IBM. Jay Maynard wrote on his blog: "Booted from Groklaw Well, what I expected has happened: Groklaw’s PJ has had enough of my disagreeing with her and objecting to having most of my words ignored and the few remaining ones twisted, and has revoked my Groklaw account: [...] The writing was on the wall 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." She is of course entirely within her rights to kick me out. Nevertheless, I think that she did so, after doing to me what she has, speaks far more to her true integrity and support for the community – especially those parts of it that dare to disagree with her in even the slightest detail – than it does to mine. In one comment, early on, the poster expressed pleasure that I had come to engage them, unlike SCO, which refused to do so despite repeated requests. I now understand why they didn’t, and cannot recommend in good conscience that anyone else who Groklaw decides is a mean, nasty, Microsoft-backed enemy of open source – whether the accusation is true or not – go there and try to set the record straight."
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Protection of sources and concluding remarks
To the extent that I have personally witnessed GroklXX's totalitarian censorship regime, I have stated so in this document. I have additionally relied upon information provided to me by GroklXX users by email. I have made a good-faith effort to check those third-party reports for plausibility. Since those reports are generally credible and absolutely consistent with what I witnessed personally, I determined that it was appropriate to publish the material. I will, however, strictly honor my promise to protect those sources. Therefore, I ask you for your understanding that I cannot and will not answer questions concerning their identity. There would be much more to say about GroklXX's propaganda efforts. On such important issues as the Oracle/Sun merger control process, IBM's patent threats against TurboHercules, Oracle's patent litigation against Google and defensive patent strategies and questionable vehicles such as the Open Invention Network, I could publish a long list of gross inaccuracies and distortions propagated by GroklXX, as well as some outright lies (including some that were designed to smear me). Another issue is the identify of the editor(s). While everyone is entitled to a certain degree of privacy, there must be a reasonable balance between privacy and public exposure. Someone cannot run for Congress without presenting himself or herself to the electorate. I believe someone cannot participate in political debates at a certain level as a "dark horse" and then make up conspiracy theories involving other, far more transparent participants in such debates. A recent incident showed that the person(s) behind the avatar named "PJ" will apparently never even be photographed. But I am not on a crusade, let alone a witch hunt. I believe GroklXX will likely be remembered as a "one-hit wonder" that rose to fame only with its coverage of the SCO case. GroklXX's articles and what the site presents as a community opinion should be viewed very skeptically, and I have the impression that skepticism is growing. Discussions on the site become incestuous. I believe there are good reasons to be skeptical, and this document states and proves some of them. Unfortunately, attempts in recent years to have reasonable discussions with the editor(s) behind the avatar named "PJ" have been completely unfruitful. Those attempts even elicited nastygrams. In one case, the avatar named "PJ" tried to pressure me into retracting a truthful representation of an open source company's lobbying in the European Parliament. Therefore, I reached a point at which I had to conclude that GroklXX is, despite the good it may have done for open source earlier on, a propaganda scheme that should be exposed for what it is. There are many other community sites where reasonable debates take place and are moderated transparently, and most of the mainstream IT media now also provide discussion boards. Finally, I would like to mention that (in no small part due to smear by GroklXX users) I had to make the decision more than six months ago to deactivate the commenting feature on my own blog. It became too time-consuming to keep track of it. The blogger/blogspot platform offers a variety of intriguinig features, but disabling comments for new postings automatically resulted in the deactivation (but not deletion) of previously posted comments. Should I activate comments again, all old comments will be fully restored. I do, however, participate in discussions on many other websites as well as real-life events. I also respond to most Twitter messages (@FOSSpatents).
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