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Feeds and Banning from Planets

Stewart Smith has written about the removal of a blog from Planet Linux Australia [1] due to publishing a list of URLs that the Australian government wants to censor.

The first point I want to make is that even if you had a list with thousands of entries that are not likely to offend anyone or incur any legal liability then it’s still not suitable for syndication on most Planet feeds. The correct thing to do is to have a paragraph describing the list and why people would want to read it and then use the MORE feature of your blog so that the rest isn’t in the RSS feed. If you use WordPress which seems to have the MORE function broken then that would mean hosting the list somewhere else.

In regard to the specific post, in a comment on Stewart’s post Matt suggests that the Planet software somehow filter out certain blog posts. I am not aware of any way of doing that apart from through code changes, Matt could submit some patches to allow that sort of thing.

One thing that would be really good would be to have an exclusion tag or category in a blog feed. So you for example you could have feed URLs such as /feed/lca which would be configured to list all posts without the tag not-lca. Another way for a blogger to do this would be to use Yahoo pipes [2]. The people who run a Planet should be prepared to take any feed URL. It would not be difficult for a blogger to create a pipe that excludes all items that have “NSFW” in the title (or any other possible way of listing them).

A final option is to have multiple blogs. I have a blog for documents that I regularly update [3]. Many of those documents had been plain HTML files edited with vi for years before I started blogging. But WordPress is a reasonable CMS and as I use it for blogging it made sense to use it for other documents too. WordPress has no good option for managing two types of documents, ones that are date-based (regular blog posts with the date in the URL) and non-date based (which change periodically and have different date stamps). There are WordPress pages, but the support for having moderate numbers of pages is not great. Also on my document blog I will often have articles appear new regularly as I change the date when updating them. Anyone is welcome to subscribe to the feed for my document blog if they are interested in seeing new versions of the documents, but I expect that most people don’t want to.

The Debian WordPress package (as of last time I used it) and my fork of the Debian WordPress package have great support for multiple blogs. There is WordPress-MU for bulk blog hosting, but that is only designed for people who want to run something like LiveJournal or Blogger. If you just want a few blogs for friends and relatives then the regular Debian WordPress package will do the job well.

Some bloggers maintain two blogs, one for public things and another for close friends and relatives (people who ARE interested in what they ate for breakfast). Having one blog for the NSFW material would be a reasonable thing to do for certain bloggers.

Finally while I doubt that someone who runs a Planet installation faces any legal liability, there is also the issue of a PR liability. From a PR perspective I think it’s best for the reputation of Linux users in Australia for certain things to not appear on Planet Linux Australia. That said it would be good if there was a process for removing and reinstating blogs that was publicly documented. There will obviously be many differences of opinion as to what is too risky to allow on the Planet so we should expect that from time to time feeds will be temporarily removed. When that happens what does a blogger have to do to be done to be syndicated again?

Update:

A comment has revealed a way of filtering out RSS feeds via the feed URLs used by wordpress. A URL such as /feed/cat=-X will give a feed of all articles that don’t contain category number X. Multiple categories can be specified when separated by commas. So this allows WordPress users to exclude their NSFW category from Planet Linux Australia.

4 comments to Feeds and Banning from Planets

  • Submitting to legal pressure of entities without any legislative basis to exert such pressure is cowardice and even if they might have some kind of authority in one country, they have no authority in other places. Governmental censorship of the Internet is a direct threat to free software development – there have been cases already where Wikipedia and Sourceforge were entered into anti-terrorist or anti-porn blacklists.

    It is a valid and wise PR strategy for free software communities to stand for a free Internet.

  • With WordPress excluding a category is simple. Look at this feed for instance, and compare it with your regular feed. It’s possible to add many categories in a space delimited list to that cat variable.

  • etbe

    Aigars: In regard to the authority in one country issue, the Australian government has authority over web sites hosted in Australia, using Australian DNS names, and paid for from Australian bank accounts.

    In regard to the pressure without legislative basis issue, that’s a good point. The best available information available to me suggests that there is no cause to be afraid in regard to the current issues that have been raised. However if the government was to claim that distributing the list incites people to view material that is illegal then that’s a different issue which could be a greater risk.

    George: Thanks for that!

  • my understanding is that the law is viral and that any site that links to a black listed site then becomes eligible for blacklisting / fines.

    so even if you make the offending link an extra click away (via read more) you are still at fault in the eyes of the law.

    this is just the impression i have gained over the last few days, not sure exactly.

    maybe rot13 will save us :) how about a rot13 tag for html5! stick that in your law and smoke it.

    “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” Ayn Rand