We have very few rules for commenters here at TTAC. Not everyone is comfortable with that; some of our longer-serving friends remember with undisguised fondness the days when Mr. Farago ruled with an iron hand and “moderated” the posts the way a Ma Deuce “moderates” a field of mounted cavalry.
We’re also big believers in anonymity. There are multiple auto-industry people at TTAC who have privately disclosed their status in the business to us or simply signed up with their work e-mail, but we don’t share that with the world at large. Anonymity is, frankly, critical to the free flow of ideas in a world where people lose their jobs for saying the wrong thing in an arena completely unrelated to the rest of their lives.
This past weekend, we had two issues with anonymity. One was our fault — or, more properly speaking, my fault, since I permitted it to happen — and the other was the work of someone with an axe to grind.
Both of these issues have been resolved.
On Sunday, we had a post entitled “The Week That Was” by the author “Zombie McQuestionbot”. I created the Z. McQ alias some time ago based on the idea that jokey “ask the audience” posts neither require nor particularly deserve attribution, because they aren’t creative work. When you go to McDonald’s and buy a BigMac, it doesn’t come with a signature on it, because making a Big Mac is not creative work. The same is true for a “What’s Your Favorite Corvette?” or “What’s The Deal With Diesel Wagons?” post. It’s junk food, the kind of stuff you can get anywhere on the web. We have it here because when we don’t have it, people complain.
Most of the Zombie posts are written by me but I’ll hand them out sometimes when I’m busy. (Bark M. has never written one; when you think it’s Bark, it’s probably me.) This past weekend I was at Putnam Park getting my track legs underneath me again so I subbed out a Z. McQ post to another writer. In an effort to amuse me and/or further his prospects at TTAC, this writer took a swing at a former contributor of ours. Not by name, mind you, but by identifying certain characteristics of that contributor.
The resulting post was harshly criticized by the B&B, and justifiably so. As a result, it’s been deleted and the “Zombie McQuestionbot” alias will join “TTAC Staff” on the ash heap of history. From now on, we’ll attribute QOTD and Week That Was posts to the appropriate writers. I hope the B&B will accept my apology for permitting this to happen on my watch.
At approximately the same time that the Sunday post went up, we had a couple of new users register. These users used junk e-mail addresses and made their contributions using the Tor network of anonymizing proxy servers. Their posts, which usually occurred within two or three minutes of each other, contained various poorly-disguised attempts to rehabilitate the reputations of two former TTAC editors-in-chief. They also contained references to content published in a private Facebook group that is invitation-only for PR people and journalists in the auto industry. Last but not least, they contained allegations that are untrue regarding TTAC’s relationship with its writers both past and present.
I don’t believe in banning users, so we aren’t banning these users. Instead, we’re holding their usernames in a nice little lockbox, safe and secure, waiting for their owners to come claim them. All that’s required is for the people (or, more likely, person) to contact me with the identifying information for those usernames. Then that person and I will have a quick chat about his behavior, and he’ll be granted the permission to contribute again to our community. When I speak to this person, I’ll probably teach him a little bit about how Tor routes connections, so he can better disguise his geographical location next time.
The most frustrating part about this is that it represents a clear attempt to force us to break our commitment to the B&B of an open and largely Stasi-free environment. Not to worry; we will continue to wield the scalpel in preference to the broadsword. Your contributions are too vital for us to dispense with them. If you want to read an auto news website where commenters don’t exist and every opposing voice is immediately silenced, you can find that in China. But you won’t find it here.