CommonDreams has erased me from their web site.
On Wednesday, August 5th, I posted a comment on CommonDreams in response to an article there by Medea Benjamin. I initially had trouble getting the comment to appear on the site, but chalked that up to technical problems with their comment script (since they've had various issues with it). A few hours later my comment disappeared from the comment thread. I still thought this might be a technical glitch and so I posted the comment again...but it disappeared yet again, this time within a few minutes. By the afternoon I'd posted it yet one more time, as well as posting a response to another person ("Rebel Farmer"); within minutes, both his comment and my reply to him were deleted as well.
Throughout this time there were long periods where comments I submitted would seem to fall into a black hole; the comment form would take them, but they never appeared in the comment thread. But if I tried to submit the same comment again the site would respond with "Duplicate comment detected"--so it was accepting them, but also holding them for some reason. Still hoping that this might be a technical issue rather than a ban or block, I tried creating a different user and posting from it, which worked initially...but then it started being blackholed as well. Thanks to a referral the next day to my site from the URL "http://www.commondreams.org/archive/wp-admin/moderation.php", I can say with certainty that the editors were intercepting and silently deleting my comments.
It gets worse. After my comments had been deleted from the Medea Benjamin article thread for the fourth time, I searched Google for all appearances of my username (distantocean) on commondreams.org. I'd been posting comments there for about two months, so there were a fair number of hits. But when I followed one of the article links, I was shocked to see that the text "distantocean" didn't appear anywhere in the page--my comment was gone. I tried another article, and again, the comment I'd posted there was nowhere to be found. I tried all of the remaining article links, and I found that only one comment I'd posted there--the first one, back on July 12th--remained intact (presumably an oversight). Every other comment I'd ever posted on CommonDreams had been deleted.
The cold feeling that had been spreading through my stomach throughout the day exploded. I honestly felt like I'd just been punched in the gut. I'd spent hours crafting those comments, and now they were gone--just vanished. And the fact that my comments were still in the Google cache made it clear that this had happened just recently.
Believe it or not, it still gets worse. Not only had my own comments been removed, but comments by other users that simply mentioned my username had also been deleted. I'd understand if you find this difficult to credit; believe me, it was very hard for me to accept as well. But thanks to Google, I have proof. Below are two copies of an article on CommonDreams ("Democrats’ Responsibility for Bush Radicalism"), including the comment thread; the first is a copy of Google's cached version of the page, and the second is the current version of the same page:
- The uncensored version from Google's cache
- The censored version as it currently stands on the CommonDreams web site
If you look at the comment counts in these pages (just after the article itself) you'll see that the uncensored version from Google's cache has 133 comments--but the current page from the CommonDreams site has only 127. And if you look more closely you'll see that of the six deleted comments, three of them were written by me and the other three (two by "baska" and one by "srelf") mentioned my username. The specific comments that were deleted are numbers 92, 94, 99, 104, 126, and 127 in the uncensored version. No other comments are missing--just mine, and those that mentioned my username.
I'd invite you to read my comments in the uncensored version (you can find them via CTRL-F "distantocean") and see if you think there was anything in them that justified their deletion from the site--not that anything could justify deleting the comments of other people whose only transgression was responding to me, of course. I spent so much time writing the main comment that I reposted it on my own site, here; Arthur Silber felt it was worthwhile enough to link to it.
CommonDreams has ignored every query I've sent them about this. I've emailed them directly, and I've tried contacting them via comments (since I know they read those--even if only for a moment, before they delete them). But they've refused to respond. Since I know that they've visited my web site in the process of moderating (and deleting) one of my comment-queries, I know they've seen what I've written, and so I'm left with no doubt that these have been deliberate actions. Based on their first set of deletions of my comments, I have to assume that this started because someone at CommonDreams didn't like my response to Medea Benjamin, and decided to retaliate not just by deleting my response to that article but by wiping out everything I'd written on the site. And removing my own comments wasn't enough for them--they went further and actually destroyed all traces of my existence on the site, with no regard for the effects on innocent bystanders.
I'm not the only person CommonDreams has censored--in fact there were other people on that very same Medea Benjamin thread asking where their comments had gone (they also received no answers), and I saw comments by other people appear briefly and then disappear minutes later. And here's another article discussing censorship by CommonDreams. As that article notes and as I've seen for myself, when people ask about the censorship, CommonDreams typically responds by censoring those comments as well. But I've never heard of them erasing someone completely from their site (though how would I? after all, they control the medium, and they obviously don't hesitate to exercise that control).
I can barely express how dumbfounded, disappointed, and disillusioned I am by this. One of the major progressives web sites on the Internet, a site that regularly publishes articles about threats to freedom of speech, apparently feels that it's perfectly acceptable to censor writing based solely on the political content. They issue no warnings; they offer no explanations; they allow no appeals. They haven't even posted a comment policy that I can find anywhere on the site (maybe because "we'll delete any comment we like, and there's nothing you can do about it" sounds a bit too authoritarian). They're in control, and they apparently like it that way. The contempt that this shows for their readership and for the principles of free expression and free association is breathtaking.
To anyone who posts on CommonDreams: you should know that nothing you write there is permanent. If the CommonDreams editors disagree with what you've written--no matter how thoughtfully you've expressed it or how relevant it may be--they can simply delete it. And if they disagree strongly enough, they may do to you what they did to me and delete every trace of you from the site. I wouldn't have believed it myself, but at this point the evidence is overwhelming. Don't take my word for it; look at the before and after versions of the article I've provided above and see for yourself.
I've saved the crowning irony for last. The very day after they vanished me from their site, CommonDreams published an article by Ruth Conniff titled "Overcoming Censorship". Though perhaps I can even top that one: I tried to post a comment in response to the article, but it never showed up.
UPDATE: A friend noticed a comment last night on CommonDreams that independently verifies my own experience, which puts my last doubts on the matter to rest.
UPDATE 2: It took them a few days, but CommonDreams finally deleted that one last comment of mine that they'd somehow missed in the initial sweep (I'd guess that queries from readers of this article prompted them to look again). So my erasure from their site is now complete.