New Retort Feature Dies Horrible Death

After banning the same person more than a dozen times from the Drudge Retort, I decided to experiment with a new site feature this afternoon that turned into a failure of epic proportions. I'm documenting it here so that other people who run online communities will avoid making the same mistake.

Throughout its history, the Retort has attracted a small number of users who delight in creating a large amount of trouble. They want to prove that no moderation system has ever been devised that can hold them. I am not questioning their decision or their singleminded pursuit of this goal. It is important to have hobbies.

When I see a new user show up who acts like somebody I've kicked off, I have written code that determines whether other users have connected to the server with the same IP address. Nine times out of 10, this reveals the user's real identity and I drop the account.

Since Retort users are conscientious about flagging offensive comments, I thought it would be a good idea to let users check whether a user has shared an IP address with others on the site. No IP addresses were revealed. My site checked the addresses associated with a user and posted a report like this:

ToniTennille has used the same IP address as the following users:

  • TheCaptain, user level user
  • MuskratLove, user level user

Within an hour, it became clear that this was a terrible idea. So terrible, in fact, that I must downplay my own poor judgment by using the passive voice.

Mistake was made.

If an Internet service provider, employer or school assigns IP addresses to its users from a small pool of addresses, people who don't know each other will share the same IP. I thought the Retort wasn't particularly large -- the site has 18,900 users, 1,700 of whom have logged in the past 90 days -- so the chances were slim that users who don't know each other at all would have ever shared an IP address.

Inaccurate conclusion reached.

As it turns out, there are a lot of people who share IP addresses for entirely innocent reasons completely without their knowledge. This was particularly true on my site of people using BlackBerries. Before I took the new feature offline, there were a dozen false positives. The flaw in my thinking is that I only was looking at shared-IP information when I already had reason to suspect that a user was bogus. So I could tell pretty quickly whether I had caught a troublemaker or not. When I wasn't sure, I ignored the information.

Retort users, on the other hand, gleefully checked out everybody and reported back the results, whether or not they made any sense.

I have a good track record with user privacy on my sites. As a general rule, I don't provide any personal information about my users to people who ask, no matter what the reason. As I've told a few lawyers and one police agency, I only would reveal a user's IP address or similar identifying information in response to a court order.

The new feature never revealed any IP addresses. But it was still staggeringly stupid and misleading, and all I can say in my defense is that I recognized the error and killed the experiment 1 hour and 43 minutes after it began.

Apology offered.


In this case, I can certainly understand your chagrin in discovering just what sort of 'nazi' wannabes you have as fellow members of Yellow-Dogism ...

BTW, I also feel sorry for your decline, "the site has 18,900 users, 1,700 of whom have logged in the past 90 days --"

I noticed, and have been trying to gin up interest, but it seems that scorn has worked and not many are as obsessed over me, anymore. Isn't that sad? Only scorn can get through to Yellow-Dog-Democrats?

As you know, I believe in the absolute right of the site's owner(s) to moderate their sites as they see fit. However, I think that they should take responsibility for their "free" speech, rights and responsibilites of ownership - not leave it to some general consensus, or some other individual's decision as to what is and, or what is not "offensive".

That only lends itself to partisan agreement, or the appearance of being so; due to whatever political majority might find the commentary of their opponent's as being "offensive". Take out, ban and restrict what YOU find "offensive" and take responsibility ...

The Drudge Retort is not in decline. That number of 1,700 users active in the last 90 days is the highest ever for the site. The two million hits last month is the most since the month before the 2008 election.

That was me, above ... not you, Rogers, since you already have that data ...

(way back when, they called all of that "fascist freeware", remember?)

Rogers pulls leg back, "The Drudge Retort is not in decline. That number of 1,700 users active in the last 90 days is the highest ever for the site. The two million hits last month is the most since the month before the 2008 election."

And, so ... even scorn can't get through to a Yellow-Dog-Democrat ...

Maybe you should relax?

The retort is brave enough to allow comments.. try commenting at Matt Drudge's website, it'll never happen.

Um My Ip address is shared by 18,000 users over three states.
That WAS a dumb idea.

you should be commended for providing a nurturing home for those few emotionally unbalanced individuals. They need you. That is why they come back and cause trouble. They know they are in a safe place to act out. This is one of your many important contributions to our society.

It this is the worst mistake you ever make it will have been a very good life.

There are also utilities that hide or lie about IP origins. Just accept that the internet is the id's playground.

Add a Comment

All comments are moderated before publication. These HTML tags are permitted: <p>, <b>, <i>, <a>, and <blockquote>. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA (for which the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply).