No More Anonymous Comments on Slashdot

Photo by Jaroslav Devia on Unsplash

A viewer posted this comment on my YouTube channel in August 2019:

“I don’t know who you are, but why is there an insane amount of photoshopped gay porn on several image sharing sites with your face, name, and contact info?”

I considered carefully whether to answer or delete the comment. The viewer may or may not have been trolling me.

The subject matter, however, was a good enough reason to delete the comment. Neither “gay” nor “porn” are advertiser friendly words (not that my channel qualifies for ad revenues — not then, not now). Content creators are responsible for managing the comment sections of their videos. If the comment section becomes a dumpster fire, YouTube may disable comments for the video and/or take action against the channel.

I gave the viewer the benefit of the doubt by responding with this comment.

“My dedicated band of trolls thought it was funny to paste my publicly available image and contact info on to gay and child porn images.”

I left out the reference to Slashdot, a tech news commentary website founded in 1997 and the Reddit of its day prior to the Dot Com Bust in 2001. I’ve read and commented on the website for over 20 years. The new owners since 2016 made long needed changes to modernized the website. (The previous owners milked the website for its advertising revenues.) I’ve stopped associating Slashdot with my trolls over two years ago. The new owners didn’t need the negativity and my trolls deserved the quiet obscurity.

The viewer responded with a rambling comment that had every talking point that my trolls used to justify their abuse towards me on Slashdot. I suspected that this particular viewer may quite possibly be the same troll responsible for pasting my contact info and posting the aforementioned porn on Russian image sharing websites in 2017.

That stunt took me six weeks and 200+ DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998) takedown notices to clean up 95% of that mess. That I was able to do anything about it infuriated the troll. Russia was beyond my reach, as I didn’t know the Russian language, and American copyright law didn’t apply to Russia. Thanks to modern technology, several things worked out in my favor.

  • Google Chrome does an excellent job in translating web pages from Russian to English (right-click on a Russian web page, select “Translate to English” from the context menu, and Russian transforms into English).
  • Most of the Russian image sharing websites had a drop-down option on their contact form or a special email address for takedown notices.
  • Because the troll kept posting new links to the same half-dozen websites in anonymous comments on Slashdot, it took me five minutes to send out takedown notices when it took the troll 45 minutes to post new images.

I replied to the viewer with a shorter comment that asserted a few facts to see where the next comment would go. And, not surprisingly, I got another rambling comment with more of the same talking points. I deleted the entire thread — and vented on Twitter.

“Dear Slashdot trolls: Do not come on to my YouTube channel to rehash in comments everything that happened in recent years. Want me to disappear from Slashdot? Stop accusing users of being me and stop assuming every AC is me. If you need someone to troll, go after APK. Thx!”

Someone tweeted back that Slashdot “disabled AC posting”. I stared at that tweet in amazement and wonder. If it wasn’t a technical glitch, it was a radical and almost unthinkable change for Slashdot.

Slashdot without anonymous comments was a very a different website. Every comment on recent stories came from registered users. The swastika ASCII art, racist and homophobic manifestos, comments by APK (a well-known anonymous user), and all the dedicated bands of trolls—including my own, a.k.a., creimertards — that harassed specific users, were nowhere to be found. A comment thread without a crap ton of anonymous comments was a sight to behold.

The disablement of anonymous comments coincided with the publication of this story on Slashdot with a telling headline, “Should Some Sites Be Liable For The Content They Host?”

Under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act of 1996, a 26-word passage that gave birth to the modern Internet, tech companies were not legally liable for the content that users post on their platform.

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

If Congress decides to change the law to rein in the tech companies, those 26 words could disappear. Without liability protection, tech companies may find it easier to shut down their platforms than suffer the legal consequences for what their users post online. An alternative solution to avoid overreaching government action is for the tech companies to rein in their users.

Whenever a controversy causes advertisers to run for the exits, YouTube imposes new rules to make user content less edgy and more advertiser friendly. (Popular corporate content like Jimmy Kimmel that makes YouTube money are exempt from these new rules.) Content creators have no choice to the follow the new rules or risk losing their channel.

Not even the platforms are immune from being rein in if they don’t own the infrastructure that their website run on.

With the El Paso, Texas, shootings linked to white supremacists on 8chan, the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” of the Internet that allows anyone to post anything no matter how illegal without consequences, their web hosting provider came under public pressure to drop them. Cloudflare resisted for years on taking down 8chan for blatant Terms of Service (TOS) violations. With a sudden about face, they gave 8chan the boot. After a second service provider backed out, it became clear that 8chan was too toxic to host.

The major argument against banning anonymous comments on Slashdot has always been that users would abandon the website in drove and kick off its death spiral for good. After 20 years of trolls harassing registered users based on their comment histories, there wasn’t much of a user base left. The owners did relent by allowing only registered users to post anonymously. The era of anonymous users posting anonymous comments was over.

Slashdot returned to normal — albeit with fewer anonymous comments.

A funny thing happened on Friday, September 25, 2020: no one could post anonymous comments on Slashdot.

The first thread to mention being unable to post anonymously as a registered user was under a story about Facebook busting a Russian disinformation network to influence the November elections. That makes sense. The 2020 elections are going to be a raging dumpster fire for all the platforms.

Assuming that this wasn’t a glitch, the era of anonymous comments may be over on Slashdot.

October 13, 2020 Update: The workaround to posting anonymous comments on Slashdot is to have an older account with that feature still enabled. I found this out when one of my trolls requested a password reset on an old account of mine and I got the email to reset the password.

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C.D. Reimer

C.D. Reimer

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C.D. Reimer makes topical videos about comic cons, pop culture, Silicon Valley and technology on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/cdreimer