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Spam Attack Immediately Follows Post on Brett Kimberlin

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When people argue for robust "report spam" and "report abuse" tools on social media, I always have a reservation: those tools are inevitably abused by unprincipled people who want to silence speech they don't like.

Twitter is no different. The report function on Twitter is routinely abused in an effort to attack political opponents.1

In a mildly creative twist, some abusers flood opponents with huge numbers of spam followers. Then they report the opponent to Twitter. See, buying followers is a breach of terms of service, and flooding someone with spam followers makes it appear they have bought followers. If you want to protect yourself from this, the best way is to make your account private — which achieves the abuser's goal by reducing your audience.

Today Popehat's twitter account got hit with about 20,000 spam followers in the course of a couple of hours. That attack followed, by about an hour, my posting the Popehat Signal seeking help for bloggers sued by Brett Kimberlin. Some of the bloggers sued by Brett Kimberlin have also been attacked by surges of spam followers.

But I'm sure all that is just a coincidence.

Twitter makes this extremely difficult to deal with, because it is laborious to block spam followers one by one, and because Twitter forces you to contact support via form, and yet there is no suitable form for this situation.

Just Tinkerin' And Thinkin'

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Eventually we'll offer shirts and stuff. When we do, we'll set it up so that any proceeds that would otherwise go to us will go to charity.

Ideas and suggestions are welcome.

The Road To Popehat: What's Wrong With Us Edition

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It's time for the Road to Popehat, the feature in which we check out the site traffic software, see what Google searches brought you here, and ask ourselves what the hell have I been writing to attract these people?

The answer, apparently, is some pretty disturbing stuff.

is rabbits emostiomal: American schools are back in session I see.

What important information would you include in a memo to your supervising attorney about methods to avoid the consequences of piecing the corporate veil? Meanwhile, law students' summer associate positions are nearly concluded. This person may have been being paid as much as $3,000 per week to Google questions like that. Isn't the legal system swell?

what will happen if execs of blood go into brain: You know, I really wouldn't worry about it.

Make an ad campaign of a deodorant with a nerdy man who is insecure with siblings and shy with girls. DO IT, GOOGLE! DO IT NOW! Why won't this damn thing work?

toes on my right foot stuck and I can't move them individually: I'm really sorry, but I just looked that up on WebMD and it says you have cancer.

how can you make men angry? That question is a step in the right direction.

what happens if uterus is a bully: Are you the same person asking about making men angry? Are you quite well?

wil a phonebook leave marks on the human body: Always happy to have our friends in law enforcement visit.

what are the odds of choking to dea: Uh-oh.

are there any blogs like Popehat in Canada: As if.

A Week In The Life of the Road to Popehat

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It's time for the Road to Popehat, the feature in which we check out our traffic logs, see what searches brought you here, and think to ourselves "this serves the people at the NSA right."

The following searches brought people here during the last seven days:

mother in law unmannered: My mother-in-law has lovely manners. She even laughed politely the time she gave my toddler son an empty plastic Jack Daniels bottle to play with and I referred to it as a "Tennessee rattle."

somewhere sometime someone: This is the sort of thing I see after one of my partners tells me "yes, I did a Google search, but nothing relevant came up. Can't you help me?"

what threats are harmful to my personal brand: Threats to MURDER YOUR BRAND are serious and should be reported to appropriate authorities.

Debbie Sclussel is insane: Well doy.

nipples of a wrestler: People tried to tell Peter Greenaway that the sequel was a bad idea, but he just wouldn't listen.

jews behind gay agenda: I see the National Organization for Marriage has a new strategist.

what to do when I want to watch a fat kid: Brought to you by the American Tourism Bureau.

do girls like boys who are weird and cowardly: "Do they? Because that would be really great if they did, thanks."

ken+white+so+angry: Meh.

Journalistic/Blogger Ethics Question

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I'd like input from journalists and bloggers.

Here's a hypothetical. You're a blogger and you write about a person who has been thrust into the spotlight — they are mildly internet-infamous. That person emails you and asks if they can talk to you off the record. You agree. They make a series of statements to you about the litigation that is the subject of your post. Some months later, that person's lawyer files a motion in court with a representation contradicting something that the person told you off the record.

So: either the person lied to you during the off-the-record communication, or the person's lawyers are lying to the court.

Does the ethical obligation to keep the communication off the record continue?

I don't think a single lie on a single subject vitiates the off-the-record agreement as to the whole communication. However, as I have said before, I am troubled by the prospect that a journalist can be bound by a promise to a tipster when it appears that tipster is lying to a court.

What do you think?

Next Time You Are Unexpectedly Banned

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Dear y'all,

We're using WordPress. From time to time, we have tinkered with caching software. At the moment, we're using none because we enjoy our banning software more, and cache seldom plays nicely with ban. Our server also offers caching for interpreted php modules, but we've turned that off. None of the other plugins we employ makes conspicuous use of caching, and we're presently not (knowingly) relying on a CDN. (The server bills at a flat rate, not by the mile.)

Nevertheless, folks occasionally report that they're encountering a ban notice on the front page or on a given post. Typically, these are not folks we've banned (whether directly or by ip range). So far, the false ban message seems to affect only, say, 5 visitors in 20k.

In every case, we've asked these victims of technology to clear their browser's cache and to revisit the site. In every case, this has worked.

We're currently investigating whether the hosting provider employs a pagespeed or caching module in their preconfigured, managed web server. We're also probing the logs to see whether the false bans happen to follow closely on attempted visits from folks actually banned. Meanwhile, if you suddenly find yourself banned and have no reason to think you deserve it, then go ahead and force a reload (CTRL + F5 on Windows; Apple+R or AzaleaBlossom+R on Mac; F5 or CTRL+F5 or meta+F5 on Linux) and see whether that fixes the problem. More aggressively, go to your browser's settings and explicitly delete your local web cache (Option+AzaleaBlossom E on Mac).

Once we're done troubleshooting and making this annoyance go away, I'll report back. And of course, if you're comfortable with the Dreamhost/Debian/Apache/Wordpress stack, feel free to make troubleshooting suggestions in the comments below!

A Day Reading Popehat Is Like A Day At The Farm. Every Post Is A Banquet! Every Amazon Purchase A Fortune! Every Comment Thread A Parade! I Love Popehat!

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But we don't love a few of you.

This is to advise that I have conducted our first mass banning, for intolerable rudeness to other commenters, ninnyhammery, and general jackanapery. If you can read this, congratulations! You have survived to fight another day.

I shan't name names. The guilty know who they are, or will soon. As for the innocent, keep fighting the good fight! Politely.

You may review our comment policies here. You may discuss my decision below.


Update On Our Amazon Associate Program, and Thanks

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Back in July 2012 Patrick announced that, though we still won't run advertisements, we'd started an Amazon Associates program to defray costs. The Amazon Associates link is on the right-hand sidebar, or through here. If you follow it, and buy something at Amazon, we get a cut.

I'm writing with an update.

1. You've ordered 1,255 items through the link, at a cost of $27,417.50, and we've gotten a cut of $1,680.14.

2. There's no way to tell who ordered what; we can only see what's been ordered in the aggregate. Some of you have awesome tastes. Some of you have terrible taste, defined as "different than mine." Some of you are either having a lot of sex or need to lubricate an aircraft carrier drydock.

3. Our costs are hosting and traffic monitoring. Earlier we were on a virtual server; lately we are on a private server. This has dramatically improved general reliability and performance during high-traffic periods. It's more expensive, though.

4. I'm still calculating the total costs during the period since July. Once I do, I'll report it. Anything above the hosting and traffic monitoring costs will be donated to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. If there's not enough left for the FIRE to please me, I'll net it up out of my own pocket to at least $500.

5. Nothing from the Amazon Associates program is going to stay in our pocket for beer or barbecue or movies or anything. I'll use it to repay out-of-pocket hosting and monitoring costs, and send the excess to FIRE. I'm not using it to reimburse other hard costs, like PACER and telephone calls and the like.

6. We very much appreciate the people who have used Popehat's Amazon Associates link. As traffic has increased the monetary costs of running Popehat have grown into the that-makes-a-dent range. The social and soul-related costs are another story.

Our Plan For World Domination Proceeds Apace

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Numbers courtesy of David, who found them on WordPress:

Average visitors per day, 2009: 1,834
Average visitors per day, 2010: 2,277
Average visitors per day, 2011: 3,135
Average visitors per day, 2012: 10,964
Average visitors per day, 2013 (so far): 18,169

Visitors per annum, 2009: 670,000
Visitors per annum, 2010: 831,000
Visitors per annum, 2011: 1,144,000
Visitors per annum, 2012: 4,013,000
Visitors per annum, 2013 (113d/365d): 2,054,000

Reality check: we could increase that by an order of magnitude by focusing exclusively on pictures of ungrammatical cats.

Pimp Your Blog, Spring Edition

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We haven't done one of these in a while, and I'm waiting for some responses about some contemplated posts and am generally lazy, so let's give this another shot.

Have you written a blog post you're proud of? Created some art that moves you? Gotten mentioned in the newspaper in a non-humiliating way? Found something you want to promote? The comments are open. Promote yourself, your kids, your friends, your bizarre and frankly disturbing social and political interests (within reasonable decorum, please). Have at it. (Remember comments with more than one link will get shunted to spam).

Road To Popehat: Week In The Life Of Popehat Edition

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It's time for the Road to Popehat, the feature in which we check out the traffic logs, see the searches that brought you here, and shoot an email to Rand Paul asking whether a vigorous program of domestic drone strikes is really such a terrible idea after all.

All of the following searches were used to reach us in the space of one week.

is constantly saying you are overpaid bullying: Not according to my managing partner.

is clint eastwood an asshole: Well, I like him, but my Barcalounger says he's kind of a dick.

i am in a wedding and got a subpoena for court for that day: Best excuse ever. Can someone subpoena me for the night of the charity auction I'm getting dragged to?

French man who line dances: I think I am finally at peace with Rule 34.

pictures of little girl on ventilator: No I'm not.

is there a lawyer I can call for pastor that has harmed me by playing god in my life: Regrettably, there probably is.

severe stalking ridicule and threats from perps while I am out and about with my family today: Um . . . go to the same lawyer as the pastor person.

how to beat blog comment spam filters: Go to the highest building near you and leap off the roof. The code will come to you in a vision on the way down.

will they forgive me if i commit credit card fraud: Well, are you sorry?

blog by ken white regarding global wildlife 2: COME AT ME, BRO.

pope is on the road to perdition: And my nav system is broken.


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We have a Facebook page, which like the gym, the kids, the dog, the cat, the taxes, the rent, and Mom (as she never ceases reminding us) we've neglected.

But we're considering reviving it.  The thought is, Facebook may be a good home for other things we've neglected, things that suffer under the weight of Ken's walls of text, things too delicate for Patrick's sarcasm, things that burn under David's glare. Things like this:

Popehat on Facebook

This will be a supplement to the blog, something like an Island of Misfit Toys, in which things that don't quite make it in will be given attention. It will not displace our Twitter feed, which is mostly devoted to announcing new posts, conversations with other twits, and the inevitable schizophrenic battles between Ken and Patrick, each of whom has access to the account and neither of whom pays attention to what the other has written.

Expect the painfully geeky. If you'd like to follow it, search for Popehat on Facebook, and you'll find us.

Question for Bloggers: Do You Even Try to Check The Spam Filter?

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We've got a comment spam problem.

We use Akismet at Popehat, like many blogs using WordPress software. We've set comments to close automatically on posts after 60 days. But the flood of spam is still inexorable. I emptied the spam filter yesterday afternoon, and this morning it was at 600 comments again.

That makes it impractical to check the filter for genuine comments accidentally caught there. This annoys me.

Do any bloggers have any useful hints on managing this?

Any Club That Would Have Us As A Member, Part II

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Like last year, Popehat has made the ABA Journal's Blawg 100, this time in the News/Analysis category.

It's clear that they still don't quite know what to make of us:

For a blog named after the pontiff’s headgear, Popehat sure is irreverent. A group blog devoted to—among many other things—First Amendment rights, Popehat was established back in 2005. Although it doesn’t necessarily consider itself a law blog so much as a geek blog, its members are quite active in the online legal community.

We'll likely be crushed by heavyweights like Above the Law and Volokh and Turley and Randazza, all of whom are deserving. But if you feel like it, drop us a vote anyway.

The Road To Popehat: Thanksgiving Leftovers Edition

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It's time for the Road to Popehat, where we look at the traffic logs, see what searches brought you here, and wonder if voting is a good thing.

Thanksgiving objectivism: GRAVY IS GRAVY.

naturally assumed you knew what was going on: I love this defense, but it never works, in court or at home.

can we file a low suit on physic attackers: I think I found a way to make amends to Charles Carreon.

how rizona law applies to fuck parents having arguments and taking children somewhere else for the time being: TWO ways.

o my god Leave me alone: Keep saying it, but it doesn't work.

how to get it so people have to download images in email: A marketeer's evil is never finished.

why cheerleaders are won't shut up but tell someone else to shut up: High school: second closest place to hell on Earth.

what do you call a place where lawyers work: And in first place . . .

"big balls" being kicked: Rule 34, or seeker of humorous soccer videos? I prefer not to know.

am I going to prison for that SLAPP order: Regrettably, no.

ken popehat groupie: Line forms to the right.