Don't Let Me Stop You

What the heck, you'll do what you want anyway.

Waiving the Flag

Posted by Dan Draney on September 12, 2005

We recently noted the addition of a new “feature” to blogger, namely the “Flag?” option on the Blogger navbar. This provides a way for readers or random passersby to notify Google if they find material on your blog that they deem “objectionable.” If some (unspecified) level of complaints are received, Google/Blogger may decide to remove your blog from its listings.

Our main beef with this, which is also how we happened to notice it, is that the html code has a simple error in it that prevents us from keeping DLMSY validated to the XHTML 1.0 Transitional standard. We can’t fix it and we can’t turn it off, so we’re stuck with it until Google acts.

Many Blogger users are also concerned about the potential abuse of “flagging” and what exactly Google will do with this information. People can take offense awfully easily these days, and now it’s easy to ding someone anonymously if you don’t like something they say. Would it surprise anyone if we were to learn that people are already flagging as “objectionable” the political views they disagree with? It’s a safe bet that if LGF and Kos were on Blogger, they’d each have a big pile of “objectionable” flags already. What, if anything, Google would do about that is unknown.

One Blogger blogger, Al S. E., has created a blog devoted entirely to this issue: Censorship by Blogger. We encourage you to read the linked article and the comments, particularly if you are a Blogger user. He also includes (in a previous post) a long list of links to what others have written about this, including our previous post at DLMSY.

Al S. E. believes his other blog has been de-listed by Blogger as a result of flagging. While I don’t agree with much of what he says there, I do agree that a de-listing for this content would be completely inappropriate. He’s expressing his opinions. They are far left views, but not “hate speech” or advocating anything illegal as far as I could see.

So has Al S. E.’s blog been de-listed? It isn’t clear to me. His arguments for this are that 1) Weblogs.com is not getting pinged when he posts; 2) since 8/1 he’s getting zero traffic from the “Next Blog” button of the Navbar; 3) he never sees his blog on the “recently updated” list of Blogger; and 4) people have told him they flagged his blog.

In my experience the Blogger automatic pinging of Weblogs.com just doesn’t work for DLMSY, at least it fails more often than it works. I manually ping to get the update pushed to the Alliance and Homespun lists, because it often didn’t happen otherwise. The auto-pinging of Technorati appears to work fine for DLMSY.

As for traffic to DLMSY from the “Next Blog” button, it is spotty. Sometimes I’ll go for weeks with no referrals, then I’ll get 20 in an hour. I got 1 earlier today after not seeing any for at least 2 weeks. As far as I know Blogger/Google doesn’t reveal anything much about how the destinations for “Next Blog” are selected. I’m sure they want to avoid people gaming the system, so they keep the selection criteria secret. It’s not even easy to tell that a referral you receive comes via “Next Blog.” If the refering page is a Blogger blog with a Navbar and no other link to you, it’s a pretty good bet. I don’t believe DLMSY has been de-listed, even according to Al S. E.’s criteria. I’m still getting some traffic via “Next Blog,” not zero.

Most of the time a blog will not stay on the “recently updated” page for long. Whenever I have looked they’d all been updated in the last minute. The emails Al S. E. received and posted from Blogger support have explicitly denied that he’s been de-listed. They don’t answer his questions about why he’s not getting “Next Blog” hits, but they do say it’s not because of any de-listing.

From what Blogger has posted about the policy, being flagged will not automatically affect your blog. A Blogger person must act on the flags for them to have any effect. Google claims that they have no desire to limit political discussions on blogs in any way. Unfortuately, they don’t say what their criteria are for de-listing or even whether or not a de-listed blogger would be notified of the action. Transparency and an appeal process would probably go a long way in easing people’s minds on this, but so far Google is sticking with secrecy.

Now Google is not the government and exercising control over content on Blogger is not censorship per se. As a private service/company providing the forum, Google certainly has the right to de-list or delete any sites it is hosting for any reason or for no reason. We, the “content providers” for Blogger, can choose to take our content elsewhere, if we don’t like that. Frankly, considering the amount of work I’m putting into DLMSY, the prospect of Google content policing hitting me someday does make me nervous. If there’s a risk of that, it will be better to change to another service sooner rather than later and start building up the new site right away.

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