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John Simkin

Web Publishing

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I receive regular complaints about the content of my website. I make every effort to be objective in my narrative and most complaints concern the use of sources to illustrate the topic I am writing about. I recently upset racists in America by my page on Nathan Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Their main complaint concerned my decision to include a passage from Harper’s Weekly (30th April, 1864) on Nathan Forrest’s role in the Fort Pillow massacre (the killing of a large number of African American soldiers who had surrendered to Forrest’s Confederate Army). Forrest is a hero of the Deep South and would never be criticised in textbooks used in their schools (the internet is now a problem for those educational institutions unwilling to look too closely at their country’s past).

I also get complaints about the factual content on my website. A few days ago I got a very angry email from the last surviving relative of one of my heroes, Robert Tressell. The reason why he was so angry was that in a recently published reference work on English Literature, it made a mistake about Tressell’s life. When he complained to the publisher, they pointed out that they had got the information from my website.

After failing to get his novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, published, Tressell moved to Liverpool with his daughter with plans to emigrate to Canada. The mistake I made was to state that because he did not have enough money for two tickets, he sent his daughter on ahead (with the manuscript). Although this story appears in most accounts of Tressell’s life, it apparently never happened. One can see why writers have included this story. As Tressell dies before he can save up enough money to buy his own ticket, it emphasised the tragedy of the situation. The image of the daughter returning with the manuscript, determined to get her father’s book published (something she achieved in 1914) also adds to the power of the story.

When informed of this mistake I immediately corrected my page on Robert Tressell (something the reference books are unlikely to do even if they are reprinted – correcting mistakes is an expensive business in book publishing). I also sent a polite reply to Tressell’s last surviving relative. This is a strategy I adopt to all hostile email writers. This embarrasses them and they usually reply in the same style. This worked and I had a delightful reply inviting me to his home to look at the Robert Tressell family archive. I readily accepted and will soon be making a trip to Felbridge.

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Guess that is a risk you take when publicising webpages on historical persons/events. But have you ever had to deal with physical violence or was 'only' digital?

Anymore persons who had simular experiences?

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Guess that is a risk you take when publicising webpages on historical persons/events. But have you ever had to deal with physical violence or was 'only' digital?

I have not yet experienced physical violence (although I am sure this would have happened if they could have got at me). The main problem is having to deal with technological aggression. For example, I am sure you get targeted by viruses if you produce controversial subject matter. The most dangerous attack I have had to deal with was a plan to cut off the revenue stream of my website. For obvious reasons I cannot go into too much detail but it resulted in the police being called in to investigate the offender. It was a very clever scheme and nearly worked.

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Guest Andrew Moore

In four years I have had probably fewer than ten abusive messages - all of which apparently came from students browsing my Web site while at school. These were not really personal, so much as the outbursts of frustrated teenagers.

Against this, I can balance thousands of messages expressing good will and appreciation. And many of those have led to friendships, meetings and opportunities for collaborative working, writing commissions and more.

Like John, I have also had contact from people who have information and ideas to share - and I always include such information on the relevant documents, with an attribution or acknowledgement.

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For me i have never accounted abuse etc on the internet. Only once ,when a person claimed to be misquoted, is almost became abuse but cooler heads prevailed and the situation was dealt with in good manner.

Mistakes can happen! :ph34r:

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I have been locked out from discussion lists several times by automatic filters accusing me of using "offensive language". I had my knuckles rapped for using the phrase "black bitch" - which actually appeared in the following context:

"I love greyhounds. I have adopted three retired racing greyhounds over the last 20 years. I currently own a dog called Swifty, and my daughter has a dear little black bitch called Millie."

You can view pictures of Swifty and Millie (racing names "Groovy Guzi" and "Mother Cluck"), together with their pedigrees, at http://www.greyhound-data.com/

On another occasion a colleague used the word "cocktail" in the context "a cocktail of different approaches to teaching" and was locked out from the same list. Finally, one member in exasperation blew the whole system apart by sending the following message to the list: "Ah, cocktails for two, followed by a bumper meal in Scunthorpe. Bottoms up!" Shortly afterwards the filter was removed.

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That is more a question on developing good filters. Idea for a new thread!

Yes, and thanks for starting it, Marco. The problem is that human language is not at all clear-cut. As has been indicated elsewhere in the forum in a reference to understanding language on the telephone, we are constantly engaged in information gap processing, which is a very subtle process - and often unreliable, which is why people sometimes talk at cross purposes. Although a good deal of work is going on in the area of Human Language Technologies, we are a long way from developing software that "understands" natural language: see Module 3.5 at the ICT4LT website: http://www.ict4lt.org (Human Language Technologies).

I recall a letter being written to a national daily newspaper in the UK, in which the correspondent accused the paper of being racist for referring to a "black cab driver" who had been involved in a crime. The correspondent raised the question of the relevance of the colour of the man's skin. What the correspondent had failed to see, however, was that "black" referred to the cab, not the man! "Black cabs" are the traditional London black taxis. A hyphen would have clarified the meaning, i.e. "black-cab", and in speech the way the phrase is stressed would have sorted it out. This is why we are a long way from developing fully automatic machine translation systems - also dealt with in Module 3.5 at the ICT4LT website. Automatic parsers - which are essential for determining what the source language means before it can be translated - are not bad but they are not 100% reliable. This is why automatic translation systems are moving more and more towards a memory-bank-based approach rather than a parser-based approach.

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In four years I have had probably fewer than ten abusive messages - all of which apparently came from students browsing my Web site while at school. These were not really personal, so much as the outbursts of frustrated teenagers.

I have had very few abusive emails from students. Mine nearly all come from politically committed adults. I expect the main difference concerns the content of our relative websites. I made a conscious decision to look at controversial subjects. As I have said, most of these complaints do not concern my narrative but the primary sources I use.

On one occasion the education minister of Finland was forced to answer questions in parliament about my website. Apparently a government website had provided a link to a section on my website about the conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union during the Second World War. The reason for the uproar was that I included extracts from Soviet history books justifying the invasion. I was actually asked by the Finns to remove the offending extract (I refused).

Of course I get more emails of praise than criticism. However, these rarely comes from politically committed visitors. Most come from students and their parents.

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On one occasion the education minister of Finland was forced to answer questions in parliament about my website. Apparently a government website had provided a link to a section on my website about the conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union during the Second World War. The reason for the uproar was that I included extracts from Soviet history books justifying the invasion. I was actually asked by the Finns to remove the offending extract (I refused).

Today i had a discussion with my students on a similar topic. They wanted to know if legal steps can be taken against 'offensive' or 'false' content on websites. To be honest i do not know. i know that countries are trying to develop legislation for the internet, but to the best my knowledge not much has happened.

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In answer to Marco's question about legislation, this is taken from a Law firms website:

Internet Libel

The same rules apply for the internet as most other areas of the press. If the words published on-line are defamatory, the author and publisher can be sued. They can then use the defence of justification, fair comment, privilege.

What is different though is the recognition that ISPs do not fall into the traditional categories of author or publisher. They can defend a claim for libel if:

·        It was not the author, editor or publisher;

·        If reasonable care was taken;

·        The ISP had no reason to believe that it caused the publication of the defamatory statement.

An ISP may fall foul of the law if it knows about the defamatory statements but does not react fast enough to remove them.

The World Wide Web = Actions World Wide

Your defamatory statement can appear on any internet terminal around the world. Therefore litigation can be brought in each country.

http://www.media-solicitors.co.uk/internet-libel.htm

(Don't worry Andy, there wasn't a copyright notice on the page I've lifted it from... )

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It is probably worth adding that all material published on the Web is subject to copyright unless there is an explicit statement indicating that it is in the public domain or, for example, may be used exclusively in an educational context. At the ICT4LT site, which I maintain, we have a page of guidelines and links regarding copyright: http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_copyright.htm

A new profession has emerged: the copyright bounty hunter. Bounty hunters trawl the Web looking for infringements of copyright which they can report to the copyright owners or their legal representatives for an agreed fee. Watch out!

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Marco Koene writes re copyright:

I will, but how can they bring charges when the server eg is in another country?

I am not sure. There is probably a huge loophole here: cf. the problems we have regarding spammers who operate from servers in countries that don't respect international law. Regarding copyright, however, almost all major nations follow the Berne copyright convention. The EU countries collaborate on IPR - the following Web page may be useful:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/trade/issues/sec...y/survey_en.htm

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