Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Obligations Of Blogs And Bloggers And Contributors--IMPORTANT

The topic of this post could be addressed in two parts. Part 1 would be about the obligations of those who use blogs. Part 2 would be about some practices related to Part 1. However, it is good to see both parts together. I have, though put in a separator where I think a natural break occurs. At that point, you can go for tea and parkin.
Other blogs have interesting material. That is a given. On one of the local blogs there is now a raging debate about the matter of liability of the blog and blogger and contributors. It is worth reading if you want to see how opinions are forming.

The terms for using the platform chosen by BFP and BU, WordPress, are listed here, http://en.wordpress.com/tos/. They should be read in case you ever read or contribute on the other blogs. I reproduce here (verbatim) the main obligations:
  1. Your WordPress.com Account and Site. If you create a blog on the Website, you are responsible for maintaining the security of your account and blog, and you are fully responsible for all activities that occur under the account and any other actions taken in connection with the blog. You must not describe or assign keywords to your blog in a misleading or unlawful manner, including in a manner intended to trade on the name or reputation of others, and Automattic may change or remove any description or keyword that it considers inappropriate or unlawful, or otherwise likely to cause Automattic liability. You must immediately notify Automattic of any unauthorized uses of your blog, your account or any other breaches of security. Automattic will not be liable for any acts or omissions by You, including any damages of any kind incurred as a result of such acts or omissions.
  2. Responsibility of Contributors. If you operate a blog, comment on a blog, post material to the Website, post links on the Website, or otherwise make (or allow any third party to make) material available by means of the Website (any such material, “Content”), You are entirely responsible for the content of, and any harm resulting from, that Content. That is the case regardless of whether the Content in question constitutes text, graphics, an audio file, or computer software.
The responsibilities are clear. I also have a blog hosted by WordPress, Caribbean Comment. I do my utmost best to follow the terms. I also know fully what information is available to the blogger/administrator. These include the IP address of persons submitting comments, and the e-mail addresses of any person who wishes to subscribe to a posted item. It is therefore always interesting to read the comments section of a WP hosted blog when contributors--not the administrator--notice posts suspected to have been made under multiple handles. They could be making educated guesses, but they could also be privy to the details. The latter cannot be proven, of course, but it is a reasonable supposition, especially if it is 'noticed' very quickly. WordPress also has a spam filter for comments and to remove from spam the comment must be released by the administrator. Spam comments are not always easy to spot, but when one sees the IP addresses and 'e-mail addresses' it is more apparent. (Those interested in pink plastic duck swizzle sticks can have all of the spam on that that I have found.)

The Living in Barbados blog is hosted by Blogger.com (related to Google) and its terms or service are listed here, http://www.blogger.com/terms.g. For ease of comparison, I reproduce the main terms below:

2. Proper Use. You agree that you are responsible for your own use of the Service, for any posts you make, and for any consequences thereof. You agree that you will use the Service in compliance with all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations, including any laws regarding the transmission of technical data exported from your country of residence and all United States export control laws.

You agree to abide by the Blogger Content Policy (http://www.blogger.com/content.g) and the rules and restrictions therein. Although we may attempt to notify you when major changes are made to the Blogger Content Policy, you should periodically review the most up-to-date version. Google may, in its sole discretion, modify or revise the Blogger Content Policy at any time, and you agree to be bound by such modifications or revisions.

Violation of any of the foregoing, including the Blogger Content Policy (http://www.blogger.com/content.g), may result in immediate termination of this Agreement, and may subject you to state and federal penalties and other legal consequences. Google reserves the right, but shall have no obligation, to investigate your use of the Service in order to (a) determine whether a violation of the Agreement has occurred or (b) comply with any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request.

Much of the content of Blogger.com and Blogspot.com -- including the contents of specific postings -- is provided by and is the responsibility of the person or people who made such postings. Google does not monitor the content of Blogger.com and Blogspot.com, and takes no responsibility for such content. Instead, Google merely provides access to such content as a service to you.

By their very nature, Blogger.com and Blogspot.com may carry offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate material, or in some cases, postings that have been mislabeled or are otherwise deceptive. We expect that you will use caution and common sense and exercise proper judgment when using Blogger.com and Blogspot.com.

Google does not endorse, support, represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of any communications posted via the Service or endorse any opinions expressed via the Service. You acknowledge that any reliance on material posted via the Service will be at your own risk.

3. Privacy. As a condition of using the Service, you agree to the terms of the Google Privacy Policy (http://www.google.com/privacy.html), which may be updated from time to time, as expressed in the most recent version that exists at the time of your use. You agree that Google may access or disclose your personal information, including the content of your communications, if Google is required to do so in order to comply with any valid legal process or governmental request (such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order), or as otherwise provided in these Terms of Service and the general Google Privacy Policy. Personal information collected by Google may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which Google Inc. or its agents maintain facilities. By using the Service, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of your country.

The terms are different from those of WordPress.

The information available to the blogger regarding contributors is also different. I cannot see either the IP address of a contributor or any e-mail address when a comment is made. I do, however, know the e-mail addresses of anyone who subscribes to the blog by e-mail (and conversely, who unsubscribes). A subscriber to this blog does not, however, give a name to be associated with his/her e-mail address. A comment can be made under no name (anonymous), a registered name (requiring log-in, as is the case with the administrator/me), or an assumed name (chosen at will and changeable at will). If any reader wishes to check this it is simple if you start a blog. I would prefer that readers assured themselves rather than take my word. If any reader finds the points made in this paragraph incorrect, I would be grateful for them to be corrected.

Therefore, the privacy of a commentator on a Blogger.com or Blogspot.com blog is VERY different. I would say that a commentator is more exposed on WordPress.

That is said to try to give assurances to readers of this blog. I also do not wish to be liable legally for things that I could control. I think the administrator's role is serious and that playing fast and loose is dangerous.

There is no obligation for any commentator to use a name. I have a comments policy that asks for a name--merely to make following threads easier. It seems to have worked well; I have violated that aspect occasionally to accept a very good comment. I do not receive many comments on my posts, but that is not a problem. That can be interpreted in many ways, positive and negative. I have said repeatedly why I write and the audience determines itself. Each reader can read and move on without comment, or comment occasionally, or comment incessantly. It's a matter of personal choice. I will pat myself and say maybe I have got it about right and no comment is needed.

A blog is not a chat forum necessarily but can generate a lot of 'dialogue'--this is evident on BFP and BU. See some major blogs in the US as examples of NOT chat forums. Managing comments is time consuming, and more comments must mean more time spent managing them. I moderate actively all comments, which means I should read them to ensure they are not profane, and then post (a minor edit to remove a profanity but retain great substance is the most I will change, and I indicate that, so that the commentator can see). Other blogs have virtually instantaneously publication of comments (an option available in WordPress). But sometimes one sees 'awaiting moderation'. (Some commentators are quick to flag that regarding their own comments, and that may reflect their 'bad' status on the blog.)

I have 4 comments pending that I have not published, two of them are anonymous (both posted on 12/08/09); these two read "Dull. As Always. Thanks for the effort." I would like to know if these are genuine or robot-generated (if anyone claims them, please resubmit as intended and assign your self a name). One comment is from a relative and we have discussed that the point is incorrect (relating to the water industry in the region), but I have not deleted it, for posterity sake. Another comment is from a local businessman (Scott Ames, posted on 25/03/09), whose company I criticized after a Holder's event. His comment set me straight. We spoke on the telephone and agreed to delete the offending post. But I keep the comment as a reminder to myself about the power of an error and its possible damaging effect.

I have received from time to time e-mail messages from commentators on other local blogs indicating that they have made a comment but it has not been published and is still 'awaiting moderation'. In all cases the comments contained NO PROFANITY. I indicate in such cases that the comment be resubmitted and that the commentator remark about non-publication of the previous submitted comment, and see what reaction follows. I am looking at one such instance now, where the text of the comment has yet to appear a day or so after its original submission. I have discussed this practice with staff at VOB, who have a policy of 'cutting off' callers who may utter things that could pose legal or other problems for the radio station. I have also commented on it by e-mail to the administrator in the specific case of the local blog concerned. I have not had a reply. It is ironic when practices abhorred when done by the print media--e.g. selective publication of letters, say--appear to be practised by the person claiming the behaviour is abhorrent.

Management of comments is interesting in terms of what it may say about managing of messages. A commentator on another blog mentioned 'astroturfing'. The commentator indicated that the Wikipedia definition is good enough to use, so here it is (astroturfing). Taking the definition given:

Astroturfing is a word in English describing formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous "grassroots" behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf.

The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt ("outreach", "awareness", etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual pushing a personal agenda or highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, non-profits, or activist organizations. Very often the efforts are conducted by political consultants who also specialize in opposition research.

If and where it exists one can merely guess at motives, but it is good to take a careful look at commentaries to see if in some senses they are padded. I have written about this recently (see Totally Blogged Down In The Mud), stating, "...they are building pyramids that appear to be large but are really held up by a lot of online hot air. Another aspect is what the traffic volumes are really representing." I think my initial reasoning is wrong, and some protestations may be valid in terms of this being done for revenue purposes. But the reason is yet to be made clear.

What does make some commentaries interesting is when the contributor/commentator makes remarks that one would expect of an administrator--then, one needs to look again at whether information is being shared.
For example, why on Earth would a commentator be interested in the traffic and volume of the blog where his/her comment appears? To ensure that the word spreads far and wide? Maybe. But why?

Similar questions arise when one sees 'proprietary' behaviour on blogs that is not challenged by the administrator.
Again, it may be incidental and the administrator may really take the view that stances such as self-appointment as umpire of a 'discussion' are ludicrous and should be seen as such without warranting comment. I personally would nip it in the bud, but that may be because soccer has strict penalties for dissent--it undermines the authority of the officials. In most sports questioning the appointed official's authority is heavily penalised (in baseball, arguing 'balls' and 'strikes' is a no-no). So, my mind set may be wrong.

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I know that people like to get their way. When scrutiny starts and commentators express sentiments about moving from 'here' to 'other forums' to 'take over'. I know that my antenna starts to vibrate, so too does that of many people I know. When I have shown people such comments their conclusions are as mine. But the heat of the kitchen is not for everyone. We all know that it is easy to be overseen, yet some people seem to think that anonymity is more than a thin veil.

As I have said before, none of this is rocket science, but more about following a logic and a trail where it leads.

Working for the IMF makes one into a certain type of macroeconomist. The main framework for designing assistance to countries is called financial programming. It builds a picture of the economy by looking at four aspects: fiscal (government operations), monetary (banking system operations), external (balance of payment, activities between domestic and foreign), and real (production, prices, and wages). The picture must fit together as there are known interconnections between the aspects and they are usually captured in financial flows. But, one of the key points is that the information for each aspect is collected separately; and as a corollary the Fund usually assigns separate economists to study each sector in a country. That way, by bringing the information collected and compiled separately we can better find inconsistencies.

The government does not have the banking system's accounts. So, we can check government records of banking transactions against banking sector records of its transactions with government. They should show the same things, but often they do not, so off we go to ask the questions and stories do not match--there is a limit to collusion. The external sector is often really important in such exercises: national governments cannot control information provided by foreigners. So, while we take a national report on trade and services transactions, we also take foreign reports of such transactions with the country concerned. They should match, but often do not. Off we go again. This usually reveals some massaging of national data and we look at things like 'unidentified' and any calculation that comes as a residual. And so on. The massaging may not have bad intent, but has consequences nevertheless. The Fund now penalises this if it involves a country getting money under 'false pretences' and 'misreporting' now has a public 'name and shame' process--check the IMF website to see a few culprits. For the Fund, there is no need to show intent.

You can apply this kind of logic regarding consistency to most aspects of life. If you are a parent you know how to fish for what your kids have been doing. If you do not sit down to have meals with your children you are missing the greatest bean-spilling session of all.

I often make remarks on this blog that pin me to a situation, so that if you check my account against that of others you should get the same story. Some see that as 'arrogant' and 'big headed'. As they say in French, "Ah bon?" (Really? You think so?). I say it is about credibility. If I say I met a former PM, there are only very few of those around and it is very easy to check whether the meeting took place and also what was discussed. But, people often do not check and run happily into walls and get bloody noses for being lazy. I often do not need to name a name, but the descriptions are clear. People say that in small places nothing is secret but many things can go unnoticed. So, there is a lot of calibration that can be done that fixes me where I say I was doing what I said I was doing. I have little wiggle room.When I do this with my wife it makes her furious--I tell her what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG was important in developing wordprocessing). I repeat stories for the same reason. The more people who know, the better. But I need not say to whom I have told the stories. It gives more people the chance to verify. So, when people condemn out of hand, what should one conclude? They neither know nor care?

I make certain deliberate mistakes with a limited group for similar reasons to see whether the misinformation comes back from somewhere else. It was sent to only a few yet more know it. How can that be? Institutions do this all the time to see if they have sound and secure systems. Banks force people to take vacation to expose collusion and fraud: seven to 10 days is usually enough for the fraud to unwind. Some IMF mission chiefs 'double up' by giving team assignments that overlap but do not make that clear. I must say that I have always resented this when I was aware of it. It seemed like so much make work. But, you then get information on something from two sources and it is better verification. Some cunning people at the Fund. I now bow my hat to those mission chiefs whom I maligned for this.

I only realised recently that Facebook and Twitter can serve similar purposes. If more people know where you are and what you do, then there is the 'neighbourhood watch' in effect. That does not mean that you want uninvited persons trying to sneak in and filch a few canapes and sip a flute of your champagne just because you are having a big fete.

When we hear or read persons claiming to uphold freedom of expression and at the same time they take steps to stop expression, waht is that? We can all be economical with the truth, but suppressing it is what? When false hoods remain uncorrected what does that say about those who say they are seeking truth? It has to fit together to make sense. It is does not, it is nonsense.


A Supporter said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this item. It is packed with information and acute observation on your part. In particular, I took note of the paragraph on "Astroturfing" and it was like a light went on in my head. I went back to a certain blog and went through a particular discussion and it became as clear as day to me that the host of that blog is using commenters IPs to "out" people under the cover of anonymity or worse, the host is passing on that information to a trusted colleague who acts as his agent. I also would not be at all surprised if the host of that blog is passing on IPs to government agents.

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Another Supporter said...

I guess that you have seen the way that BU and BFP have been at it and now one of the BU lot, Roosevelt King, has complained and had a post removed. Looks like a good fight brewing now.