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On Blog and Media Site Policies on Censorship, Filtering, Noise and Artifact-- an Engineering Metaphor

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Rob Kall       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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I've spent a lot of years in the world of biofeedback, where physiological signals are acquired and amplified. The goal is to know what's going on in the body, so you can use the greater awareness to self regulate physiological functions not ordinarily accessible to voluntary control.

A website publishing news and opinion has some similar characteristics.
Biofeedback technology heartrate, EKG, HRV, RSA and peripheral skin temperature, which reflect the cardio-respiratory system, muscle electrical activity, which reflects the musculoskeletal system, or brainwaves, which reflect nervous system. A media or blog site detects things in the world, in the culture in the economy, in political systems.

In the world of physiological measurements, you want highly sensitive hardware and software that filters out noise and artifact. Noise comes from the environment in the form of leaking power sources, like light fixtures, computer power supplies, radio waves, or it comes from poor connections of the sensors and transducers which pick up the body's physiological signals, for example, an EKG lead that is not well attached to a hairy chest. Software and hardware are designed to filter out this noise and these artifacts. And even then, the researcher and practitioner must engage in practics to minimize these unwanted, useless signals that can ruin or distort the collection of meaningful information.

In the media and blogging, we have similar problems with collecting reliable information. The source of the information must be reliable be it a person or an organization. Then, as web 2.0 works, the conversation-- the commenting-- must be focused and productive. Spammers, sock puppets and fanatics can ruin threads and keep further productive dialog from happening.

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In biofeedback, you want to be sure that you are not filtering out valuable signal information. EEG, for example, filters out muscle artifact. EMG wants to see muscle activity, but filters out EKG. It's important to get the filters right.

On websites, there are also sources of artifact and noise. Sock puppets post bullshit or pretend to be legitimate comenters. Fanatics post the same noise-- the issue they are obsessed with-- on every article, diverting the conversation. Spammer clutter the comment section with inane, useless comments that have a link to their commercial site. Then there are the flamers-- people who are unable to act in a civil manner, who engage in conflict that exceeds reasonableness. And there are the haters-- who express racism, misogyny, anti-semitism, advocacy of violence. These are the kinds of "signal generators" that are not desirable for a website that seeks to provide truth and a community for earnest, civil discussion.

When it comes to biofeedback, my favorite radio station could be the source of highly destructive artifact. Or a healthy heartbeat may generate a loud signal that over-rides the subtler brainwaves I'm trying to measure. The trick is to filter out these artifacts, usually using technology that selectively removes their energy pattern.

It's tough to do that with a single website. But if you look at the net as a bigger totality, it's easy to do. When Mister R can't operate within the rules of one website, and he's filtered out, so his IP address can't post to the site anymore, then he can go to another site with different filtering rules.

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My experience here at OEN has been that often, the people who were filtered out of other website have often ended up being filtered out from this site too. The noise they make-- spamming issues, or spewing hate-- just doesn't cut it here either. Usually, these people whine and moan about censorship. We've dealt with that many times. Every site has a right and responsibility to apply filtering that maximizes healthy conversation. And my guess is most sites needs to, eventually, restrict access for those who add undesirable noise to the conversation.

The challenge is, how do you define what is noise/artifact and what is useful, valuable content. Someone has to decide. That's what site rules and policies are about. On most sites, an article on the experience and capabilities of a drapery design and production company is not useful. On most sites, repeated postings on the danger of aliens taking over people's minds is not useful. On most sites, a person who posts his same issue on every article's comment section becomes a source of noise-- to be filtered out. That's what editors and community members who use flagging tools do. They identify these sources of noise. If the person concerned with aliens goes to a site which focuses on aliens, his postings will probably not be considered noise. If the person who posts comments on one issue on every article goes to a site that focuses on his one issue, he will probably be welcomed. That's the way the web works.

But what if you don't see Mister R's postings as noise, like the editors do? What if you like MIster R, in spite of his postings? One thing you can do is become an editor, so you have more influence on decision making and so you can also see the deliberations that go into the filtering process. You may be able to post diaries or comments discussing the issues. That may influence the filtering criteria. Or it may not. That's why there are hundreds of millions of websites and blogs.

Recently, OEN's senior management made some policy decisions that led to some filtering. The decisions took a long time and a lot of struggle to reach. We think we made the right decision so the noise we now filter out no longer blocks other members from having conversations. We DID eliminate some conversations which we felt were chronically repetitive and or unnecessarily contentious or nasty. Our filtering didn't stop or censor those people and conversations. They just went elsewhere.

Our 40+ volunteer editors occasionally reject articles. We don't feel an obligation to explain why. We DO send rejection letters, which many sites do not do. But occasionally, we get unprofessional, even childish writers who decide that, because their article was rejected, they were censored. Some even send out mass mailings attacking our site. Our experience is that these sour-grapes writers damage their own reputation. Any serious writer with any level of maturity and professionalism recognizes that sites have every right to reject articles. It's a normal, usual and customary part of the journalistic, blogging, media filtering process.

As a biofeedback software developer, and developer of related applied psychophysiology software, part of my job was to figure out what my customers-- clinicians and researchers-- needed, in the way of filtering. Then, I had my programmers add the filtering options for end users to select. That's what editors and editorial management teams do for media and blog sites. With the software, the filtering options we offered worked for some people and not for others. If the filtering options didn't work, they went to other sources for their equipment. That's what happens on the web too.


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Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect, connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media. He's given talks and workshops to Fortune 500 execs and national medical and psychological organizations, and pioneered first-of-their-kind conferences in Positive Psychology, Brain Science and Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful people on his Bottom Up Radio Show, and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and opinion sites,

more detailed bio: 

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 


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