Comcast is the largest Internet provider in the United States. It is in the company’s best interest to attract and keep as many customers as it can for its products. Any action that will cheese off the customer base is a bad idea. It’s simple economics, right?
Enter www.afterdowningstreet.org, a liberal site that is still all aflutter over the leaked memo that originated from 10 Downing Street, in London. The key section that has captured their attention is the following: “There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Liberals are focusing on the last sentence and using that as proof that “Bush lied, and people died!” This is why nobody agreed that Saddam had WMDs in the ramp-up to the war.
Wait. That’s not the case. Every intelligence service on the case agreed that Saddam had WMDs, used WMDs, couldn’t account for all his WMDs, and was drooling over the prospect of getting more WMDs. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “Stop using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.” John Hinderaker of Power Line Blog has done a grand job of explaining the yawn that is the memos. But liberals, in their loathing of President Bush, cannot be convinced that it isn’t a smoking gun after all.
So afterdowningstreet.org has been doing its part to spread the Left’s anti-Bush story, but something happened. For about a week, some e-mails sent by site owner David Swanson with his website’s URL in the signature were not getting where he wanted them to go. In Swanson’s own words:
We didn’t know it, but for the past week, anyone using Comcast has been unable to receive any Email with “www.afterdowningstreet.org” in the body of the Email. That has included every Email from me, since that was in my signature at the bottom of every Email I sent. And it included any Email linking people to any information about the upcoming events….
Comcast effectively censors discussion of particular political topics, and impedes the ability of people to associate with each other, with absolutely no compulsion to explain itself. There is no due process. A phrase or web address is tried and convicted in absentia and without the knowledge of those involved.
The anti-spam software that Comcast uses, a Symantec product called Brightmail, essentially started to catch anything with the site’s URL as a spam message. This action was not originated by Comcast, but by the Brightmail software that the company uses. I do not claim to be a Brightmail expert, but I have been using the software on my e-mail server for almost two years, so I am reasonably familiar with the program. Before I used Brightmail to filter out my spam, I was using another product, and it was catching as much as 3% of my e-mail traffic incorrectly. Each day, I would spend at least an hour verifying that what it had caught was indeed spam, releasing the messages it had caught incorrectly, and writing new rules in an attempt to catch the stuff that got through.
In all the time I have been using Brightmail, the program has never once identified something as spam that wasn’t. My favorite feature of Brightmail is not having to spend my time writing rules to catch spam. All through the day, a group of Symantec employees is busy writing rules to catch spam, and my Brightmail server downloads these new rules as soon as they are available, many times each hour. Since my domains generate, on average, between 75% – 80% spam, I am very happy with the way Brightmail has cleaned up my e-mail.
But Swanson isn’t a fan of the anti-spam software. In his article, he sees Comcast’s use of Brightmail software as a specifically-directed attack on his site and its content by Symantec. He quotes extensively from People-Link.org, the group that is hosting afterdowningstreet.org, about this brouhaha:
Targeting the inclusion of a website url can only have one outcome: that communications about that website and the issue it is presenting will be blocked from large numbers of people and that the communications from that site’s administrators and the campaign’s organizers will not reach their full constituency.
Whether Comcast’s intention or not, this is effectively political and unconstitutional.
I can empathize with the aggravation and life-disrupting effects of an untrustworthy e-mail system. But I can’t agree with Swanson or his host that this issue is unconstitutional because it is not a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment specifically states that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…” But in what way has Congress written a law preventing Swanson from speaking? He has not run afoul of the law; he has been hit by the actions of non-government software being run by a non-government company. And make no mistake — Comcast could chose to block any e-mail for any reason, and it would not be a First Amendment issue.
Mr. Swanson, like everyone else in the U.S., is free to express his political views and his opinions of the government, but that freedom does not mean that a private company is obligated to allow an individual to express his views through the use of that company’s assets. Nor can an individual cry foul and complain of censorship if people react negatively to the sentiments he chooses to make public. The Dixie Chicks have the freedom to state their displeasure about the President, but they can’t really complain if people choose to boo them. 2 Live Crew is free to perform at whatever venue it can book, but no publisher is obligated to buy or sell the band’s music.
While it would be within Comcast’s right to filter out the liberal e-mails passing through its servers, I do not believe this situation was a conscious choice on the company’s part. For one thing, while Comcast uses Brightmail to filter its e-mail, the company relies on Symantec to provide and update the rules that determine the filters. If this had been a directed attack on liberal lunacy, Symantec would have created a multitude of rules to filter out e-mails originating from a myriad of different liberal sites. But that wasn’t the case. This site was the only one affected, and when Comcast brought this issue to Symantec’s attention, the rule was promptly removed. This isn’t the act of a company with a political axe to grind.
Brad Friedman of BradBlog.com jumped into this fray, both tracking the block and announcing when it was lifted. He posted the following as the rules changed: “The official line from Symantec, as Fertik reported it to us, was that the Bright Mail [sic] filter is completely automated, and due to the increasing appearance of ‘www.afterdowningstreet.org’ in email, their automated filter kicked in.”
While the comments posted by others are not condoned by Friedman, they are quite illuminating:
Just another piece of evidence that those who support Bush do NOT respect or have any concern for what the U.S. Constitution says and represents. Just like Bush and all of his cronies whose real g_d is the dollar. New motto for the Republican Party: ‘It isn’t fascism when we do it’.
What Comcast did is illegal. Comcast should be prosecuted, and BRAD BLOG should investigate who made this decision at Comcast, and do a story on that person. And the story should include the reasons this person did this, and BRAD BLOG should link this story to how Corporate America is beholden to the Republicans.
This is big, and it’s a huge discovery, and I salute whoever detected this. They think they can get away with anything! Then they tell us not to compare the Bush Administration to Hitler’s ministry of propoganda. This Comcast travesty falls under the Bush Administration fake news reports, etc…….which draws a valid comparison to Hitler’s & Goebbels ministry of propoganda. Who said we can’t make this comparision? It’s a valid comparision!
So if it’s a spam filter issue, fine. But we’ve all seen Bushco wield its axe to squash dissent, so it’s not a stretch at all to think it could be deliberate.
So here are the two possibilities: President Bush and his evil sidekick Karl Rove told Symantec to block the URL to punish the site, or the Symantec software automatically kicked in with a sharp rise of e-mails coming from the site. I’d vote for the latter, but that’s because I understand Meyer’s Law:
When the same set of facts can be explained equally well by
- A massive conspiracy coordinated without a single leak between hundreds or even thousands of people -OR -
- Sustained stupidity and/or incompetence
Assume stupidity and incompetence
It’s called artificial intelligence for a reason.