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.

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. Rather, the plugin was published, at its outset, with a disclaimer stating that the software is a proof-of-concept, not a finished product, along with directions for requesting the removal of any misidentified sites. That disclaimer has accompanied all releases of the software.

Our dataset does not draw from PropOrNot in any way, as has been alleged, and any resemblance between our datasets is entirely coincidental. The suggestion from Naked Capitalism’s attorney that we may have government agents secretly embedded among us, working to propagandize against independent media, is a wildly conspiratorial and unfounded conjecture. I wholly appreciate the way these publishers feel in the wake of the Washington Post’s bolstering of PropOrNot’s unfounded allegations against them and I deeply regret that this oversight may have added to their distress. It was not at all my desire.

Contrary to both Shadowproof and Naked Capitalism’s claims, all erroneous listings are immediately removed from our database, though it may take some time to be reflected in users’ browsers due to our release process and dependency on third parties, like Google, to distribute our software. I personally removed all of the aforementioned sites as soon as I learned of their inclusion.

At no point did any of these sites, save Shadowproof, make an effort to contact me requesting removal nor to remedy this situation amiably before the publication of Naked Capitalism’s legal notice and blog post falsely accusing me of a “witch hunt,” of using “undisclosed, unverifiable methods” when I have been entirely transparent about our methods from the outset, and which describes our data disclaimer noting that our dataset is imperfect and under review as “an astonishing admission” rather than an act of due diligence.

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. The further development of that methodology has taken place in an open, public process in which we encourage all to participate. Every person who brought concerns to us absent of invective has been invited to join that discussion and to raise their concerns with the community. There are presently no unverified domains remaining in our dataset.

The reason we have not published a list of our “anonymous supposed experts,” as Naked Capitalism deems them, is because of the harassment to which I and Prof. Zimdars have been subjected since we began to tackle the issue of so-called “fake news.” Nonetheless, anyone who chooses to join our public chat can see who is participating in the review process.

Naked Capitalism’s invocation, in its blog post, of the aphorism “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it” also falsely implies that the Self Agency, LLC is in some way profiting from a free and open source project released under the GNU Lesser General Public License. There has been no effort to monetize the B.S. Detector in any way, nor shall there be.

Our content advisory system is not censorship insofar as it does not filter nor block any content, nor can it be activated without the end user’s consent. An individual must knowingly choose to use our plugin, and using any kind of content filter or filter-like application — even one that is error-prone — is well within that individual’s rights. Furthermore, content filtering software employed by governments, schools, public libraries, and corporations, over which end users have no control, routinely block websites inappropriately and make no efforts towards transparency, such as publishing their blocklists. Worse yet, providers of such software seldom offer those wrongly listed an opportunity to dispute their inclusion. Conversely, our dataset is completely open to the public for review. Criticism and disputes are emphatically welcomed. And, again, no one is being coerced to use this software against their will.

I reiterate my apologies to the publishers of and contributors to those sites which were improperly identified. What follows is our formal response to Naked Capitalism.

Daniel Sieradski
CEO, The Self Agency LLC