We Demand That the Developer of “Fake News” Blacklist Software B.S. Detector Cease Distribution and Issue an Apology

Thanks again to our attorney Jim Moody. And as we keep saying, res ipsa loquitur.

Please tweet and circulate this letter widely.

For background, please see our post from earlier this week. Key sections:

One of most pernicious means underway to crush independent news sites is the release of software tools that brand them as unreliable. This means that hidden developers and the parties that fed them information are beyond any accountability, yet would serve as censors….

Shadowproof exposed how this technological response is being deployed in a reckless, fact-free, libelous manner against Shadowproof, Naked Capitalism, and other long-standing, well-regarded websites. Worse, this dodgy tool was promoted by CBS News. As Kevin Gosztola reports:

CBS News reported developers increased pressure on Facebook to address its “fake news problem” with a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox called the “B.S. Detector.” It claimed the extension relies upon “a constantly-updated list of known fake news sites, propaganda mills and ‘promoters of kooky conspiracy theories’” as a reference point.

However, CBS News was wrong. The extension is not “constantly updated.” The extension, as developer Daniel Sieradski shared, was created to “make fun” of Facebook. Sieradski “scraped some data together” that included sites, which are not “fake news” websites. (One of those sites was Shadowproof.com.)

“B.S. Detector” displays a red banner that indicates a news website is “not a reliable news source.” Up until publication, the extension still flagged Consortium News, Naked Capitalism, Truthout, and Truthdig, even though Sieradski said they would not be listed in the update….

We hope that this letter will make Mr. Sieradski, the developer of B.S. Detector, more cognizant of the consequences of smearing reputable, well-established sites and refusing to address ongoing damage to their hard-won reputations and incomes.


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  1. Marie Parham

    “And the man cut the pillow. A cloud of feathers came out. They landed on the chairs and on the bookcase, on the clock, on the cat which jumped after them. They floated over the table and into the teacups, on the rabbi and on the man with the knife, and a lot of them flew out of the window in a big swirling, whirling trail.

    The rabbi waited ten minutes. Then he ordered the man: “Now bring me back all the feathers, and stuff them back in your pillow. All of them, mind you. Not one may be missing!”

    The man stared at the rabbi in disbelief. “That is impossible, Rabbi. The ones here is the room I might get, most of them, but the ones that flew out of the window are gone. Rabbi, I can’t do that, you know it!”

    “Yes,” said the rabbi and nodded gravely, “that is how it is: once a rumor, a gossipy story, a ‘secret,’ leaves your mouth, you do not know where it ends up. It flies on the wings of the wind, and you can never get it back!”” http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/812861/jewish/A-Pillow-Full-of-Feathers.htm

  2. uncle tungsten

    I just tried to email mozilla urging them to dissociate from the BS detector and Mr Sieradski. I urged them to reconsider being swept up in hysteria and attacks on press freedom etc. I used an email address on mozilla’s ‘contact us’ form. The email was returned ‘undeliverable’.

    I will try again until I can get something that works. If they refuse to dissociate, I will dump their products and let them know.

  3. Rob

    According to Obama someone needs to curate the internet. Perhaps we need our beloved governments to each set up fact checking ministries. Perhaps they can be called the Ministry of Truth?

    1. craazyboy

      I think Ministry of Truth has been used already, and has a rather sullied connotation.

      Our leaders are pretty savvy about optics, knowing that the public needs truth googles to see things in the proper light, focus, and corrected vision.

      A better name would be forthcoming. Certainly “focused grouped” for fine tuning to the desired sentiment and accessible by social media.

      Dunno what we’d end up with. Department of RapOrCrap? Public Truth Broadcasting Station? Curves Balls Unspun? FaceOfRealNewsBook? Foundations Of Truth By Truth Foundations, The Empire Makes Truth – Get yours Here!, FauxFakeNews?[may be voted “dislike” by focus group due to use of double negative]……….

  4. ChrisAtRU

    Yves et al – Once the Holiday Shopping Dust clears, I’ll drop another envelope NC’s way. Thanks again for all you do!

  5. flora

    “Please be advised that Naked Capitalism, as a falsely targeted website, has standing to pursue such an action.”

    Excellent. Glad to read this.

  6. George Phillies

    “…curate the internet…”

    The well-known Vox Day had a definitive response, namely listing things that would be curated from the Internet as hate speech, if his side got control. Readers may imagine a list that included the likes of feminism and global warming affirmation as banned topics.

    Which is why I support the First Amendment and donate to the ACLU.

  7. Frank J Grimer

    ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’

    I had never heard of naked capitalism.

    But now I have – and so have all my friends and relations. :-)

    I found the articles on Uber very interesting and intelligent.
    I will enjoy reading many more articles I’m sure.

  8. Stephen Douglas

    And here comes Tech Dirt again, in a different article, discussing the difficulty of successfully pursuing a defamation suit:

    As we’ve discussed plenty of times, winning a defamation lawsuit — especially against a public figure — is particularly difficult (and that’s a good thing). The actions need to be particularly egregious.

    The article is about the recent Rolling Stone loss, but it explains why even the Washington Post has joined with Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to file an amicus brief against the judgement.

    I’m sure your attorney is cofident in sending letters demanding a retraction, but much less so about a defmation suit. The full article may will be worth your while (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20161208/17121236228/media-organizations-correctly-worry-that-rolling-stone-verdict-will-make-saying-sorry-actionable.shtml)

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As I have said, my attorney has substantial defamation and First Amendment experience, going back to Westmoreland v. CBS, and also has won two Supreme Court cases. And after the firestorm of universal criticism of the piece, TechDirt with a straight face tries to depict the conduct as “not egregious”?

      Moreover, you don’t just win by winning. You also win by what you can expose during discovery. That is why 95% of cases never go to trial. Either both parties see the financial cost of going to court as too high, or the defendant sees the “cost” of what would be exposed in discovery as too high. I’ve settled some past legal disputes on very favorable terms on the latter issue before.

      1. Stephen Douglas

        Tech Dirt was spefically addressing the Rolling Stone case and the charge of defamation against the Dean, as well as other similar defamtion cases. Tech Dirt was basically saying that for a defamation case to succeed, the defamation must be “egrigious.”

        It made no comment on the Rolling Stone case other than to say that it was not especially egrigious (but that the secondary posting by Rolling Stone appeared to swing the jury over to the “egrigious” scale).

        It said nothing more about that case, and nothing at all about your case (in this particular article).

        Your case is weak if it was taken to conclusion.

        But yes, the combined effect of you and other sources demanding retraction may convince WaPo and their attorneys that all the discovery, etc., would not be worth doing and the smart move would be to issue a retraction.

        Let’s hope that is what they do.

        But let’s also hope that this entire episode turns 99 percent of the readers away from ever reading anything in the Washington Post again. They are not a credible resource any longer.

        1. flora

          “Your case is weak if it was taken to conclusion.”

          In my experience, attorneys do not take on weak cases pro bono. In my opinion, a reputable lawyer with a good practice takes on a case pro bono when the case is strong.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          As Flora correctly infers, this is not the view of my attorney. I’m not about to expose his initial thinking about litigation strategy but we have one particular hurdle to overcome. If we can surmount that (and he wouldn’t have taken this on if he didn’t t think there were decent odds), the case has legs.

          The bigger issue is the unpredictability of litigation. As Gene Ludwig, when he was my attorney, said, “Anyone who tells his client they have, say, 70% odds of winning has no idea what he is talking about. Litigation is a crapshoot.”

  9. Yalt

    The ostensible purposes of the two lists are entirely different–one supposedly ferrets out anti-Semitism, the other allegedly exposes Russian propaganda intended to swing the election to Trump–and yet the same websites seem to be turning up on both.

    Is this a coincidence? I suppose it could be argued that the respective “methodologies” are both designed to ferret out any attempt at independent reporting so of course the same sites end up targeted by both. But I can’t help but wonder if both trails lead to the same basement.

    1. hunkerdown

      Hmm, Haim Saban, a $3 million Clinton donor and media mogul who is on record as being a single-issue guy, and whose issue is on record as being Israel, would have clear interests in both issues, despite (?) his curious absence from the First Draft News partnership. “Anti-Semitism” is deployed cynically by certain operators politically, in an “if you’re not for me, you’re against me” formulation. Operationally, denunciations of anti-Semitic sympathies seem to coincide most closely with critique of or opposition to Israel’s expansionist foreign policy and Apartheid internal policy, which are rather curious concerns for a US that purports to be secular, not evangelical. It is also worth noting that Russia is less than willing to tolerate that expansionist policy and allow Israel to establish a local empire at its expense.

      In other words, the “anti-Semitic” list could be treated as a simple rebranding of the “Russian propaganda” list, which is nothing more than a “what Israel would have gotten away with if not for those meddling kids” list. Both could be treated as extensions of a Rubinites’ Revenge campaign that would be in full force right now — again, if not for those meddling kids. That both lists gesture toward the same interests hiring the same “troII shops” is, perhaps, no accident.

  10. Yalt

    Is that address correct? My sleuthing skills are a bit rusty but 13214 is a Syracuse zip, not Albany, and on google maps that address comes up as a parking lot between a Tops Friendly Market and the DeWitt, NY fire department.

      1. Yalt

        My suspicion is that the only thing anyone in this story has to hide is the fact that they have nothing to hide. Even the pronoun “they” may be an exaggeration.

    1. grayslady

      You are quite correct. Had I looked at the address, I should have noticed Genesee Street immediately. I lived in Syracuse almost 50 years ago, but Genesee was one of the main thoroughfares everyone knew.

      I did a search for “Daniel Sieradski Syracuse” and found that, indeed, Syracuse seems to be his home. He has even posted his resume online here. You’ll notice that he lists his business address as 4465 E. Genesee St., not 4464 E. Genesee. The suite number is correct, but the city is, indeed, Syracuse, not Albany.

  11. Edward

    You know, actually browsers have a latent censorship capability without the App. They can be set to block undesirable websites which in principle could include the PropOrNot list.

  12. Marie Parham

    “Re: Naked Capitalism and the B.S. Detector
    December 10, 2016

    As the founder of The Self Agency, LLC and creator of the B.S. Detector plugin, I offer my sincere apologies to Naked Capitalism, Shadowproof, Truthout, Truthdig, and any other legitimate journalistic entities erroneously included in the B.S. Detector’s initial dataset of over 500 websites. It was never our intent for these sites to be included and we regret the error.” https://self.agency/re-naked-capitalism-b-s-detector/773

    1. Steve H.

      Note the copy of the formal response. Taking them at there word, inclusion in a dataset does not in itself imply that NC tested positive on their B.S. Detector. It can also be interpreted as a good-faith effort of evaluation, as opposed to cherrypicking outcomes.

      It is likely this is indicative of unaligned nodes beginning to be aligned against WaPo. Even if PropOrNot is a propoganda outlet not subject to journalistic standards, WaPo is and failed in their duty.

      I have run for office and came to understand that, entirely outside of false-flag operations, any mentally unstable person can do bad things and claim it in your name. Discovery should clarify the support network for PropOrNot, but blame lies squarely on the WaPo doorstep.

    2. bob

      That’s a pretty funny response from someone who took “self agency” as a tradename.

      “This data was compiled from established lists of questionable news sources for the sake of demonstration. At no point have I, nor any contributor to this project, claimed the initial data to have been authoritative. ”

      It’s wasn’t me who did it. It was my open source, fully chat roomed, vetted by volunteer academics, librarians, and journalists to review the data using an updated methodology established by Prof. Melissa Zimdars at Merrimack College.

      “Naked Capitalism’s claims that the B.S. Detector employs “undisclosed, unverifiable methods” and that I “did not provide any discussion or analysis of the methodology,” is belied by the fact that within two days of the plugin’s release, I created a public chat room, linked to from our website, and began working with volunteer academics, librarians, and journalists to review the data using an updated methodology established by Prof. Melissa Zimdars at Merrimack College.”

      It doesn’t even raise to the level of nonsense. There is no responsibility, because he didn’t really do it. “It’s open source magic. I can’t control it. It’s the agency of the self. ”

      This guy comes up with a “plugin” list which he doesn’t even populate by himself, then tries to weasel out of responsibility?

      Can he take responsibility for even one line of “code”? Or was the it the professors fault? Was there even one line of code?

      What exactly does he add to this project of his?

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for letting us know about this. As the tenor of the earlier comments indicate, this was not a well-considered response, although the form of it starting out as an apology is a step in the right direction. He’s increased his legal liability when his primary goal should have been to reduce it.

      We will address this in the next day or two.

Comments are closed.