On being filtered

I wasn’t going to write any more about the hotel net blocking thing since the head of IT over at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel promised they’d remove the employee proxy from the guest wireless network, but it’s still in place a day later. But this isn’t about that. I woke up a bit early this morning and decided to surf around a bit more to see who and how stuff is blocked in the SiteFilter proxy software.

I tried all sorts of blogs, both new and old, political and tech, but the ones that were blocked were completely random. Like I said before, waxy.org is blocked (screenshot), but similar sites are not. Gawker is blocked (screenshot), but no other gawker media site is (wonkette and gizmodo are fine). Acts of Volition seemed strange to block (screenshot), since it’s a pretty tightly focused tech/design blog. On the purely humorous side, Oliver Willis is considered not a “Chat” site like the rest of the blocked blogs, but a “Sex” site (screenshot). I bet the #joiito army is not going to be happy when they hear that Joi Ito’s site is blocked (screenshot).

When I found another random blog blocked, Girlhacker in this case (screenshot), I tried her main domain, but that worked (screenshot). So it seems they are putting in specific URLs in some cases (like this one), but in other cases (like MetaFilter), I can’t get to anything.metafilter.com, as the entire domain is blocked.

Of blogging services, the only one blocked is Blogger (screenshot), and just for a lark I tried Orkut, but that was blocked too (screenshot), dubbed a “Dating” site.

Those last two are a bit more interesting than simply blocking one person’s daily thoughts. I’ve been told this system is in place in every public library in Georgia (internet filters are currently required on a federal level or they lose their funding if I remember correctly). I know libraries have a longstanding problem with random folks viewing porn at free kiosks, but I think blocking a major blog service like Blogger is taking this too far. We’ve already seen examples of voices only heard through blogging, like the Homeless Guy and Salam Pax. They use their blogs as their secret channel to communicate to the world, and it’s not hard to imagine someone with an unique perspective on life that was limited to free internet use at a library.

I’m often jokingly comparing bloggers to pamphleteers of yore, but within blogging there are definitely some significant cases where people have a message to get out that can change the world. To find out that an institution of democracy like a library might be barring someone from sharing their perspective with the world saddens me. The irony that I had to go to significant means to even post this entry (my blog software has a *.metafilter.com address) isn’t lost on me.

What you can do about this: use this smartfilter tool to see if your site is being blocked, and you can request removal or reclassification. Seth also has a bunch of great info on filter software.