A fairly common trope in some of the darker corners of philosophical blogosophere is that people with unpopular views are being systematically censored by moderators of popular blogs. The biggest targets of criticism (in part because they are two of the most popular blogs) have been feminist philosophers and daily nous. And after leaving newapps the same thing happened to me. I would try to comment on a thread at these blogs and nothing would show up. I tried not to bother about it too much and just do interesting posts over here.
But the consensus (metablog) view started to make less and less sense to me. First, some of the people who claim to have been banned were saying things in discussion at blogspot blogs that the moderators at feminist philosophers and daily nous would clearly not deem to be evidence of ill will. This was clear from reading the threads. Second, I realized that my comments on *lots* of blogs were not going through, including those at the american conservative. It seemed pretty implausible that whatever I wrote at newapps had resulted in me being shunned by both feminist philosophers and the american conservative. Third, if there was a non-gendered word for mensch, it's long been clear to me that it would apply both to Jennifer Saul and Justin Weinberg. And what was being claimed by the people not being able to post at their sites was inconsistent with things that Saul and Weinberg were publicly claiming.
So, even though it seemed a little paranoid, I hypothesized that some people's comments weren't even getting in the spam folders of multiple blogs. I did some research about how that might happen. And, lo and behold, it turned out that there are companies that maintain "master spam lists" that are then utilized automatically by lots of blogs across platforms. And, in fact, every single wordpress blog (in addition to a host of others) is protected by Akismet. Could it be the case that the Akismet algorithm is overactive? That getting just one comment rejected by one blog might result in all future comments being rejected by all of the blogs protected by Akismet? Could this be an explanation of the radical disconnect between people claiming they have been blocked by blog moderators and blog moderators who have done no such thing?
Yes. Yes. And Yes.
What's happening is that if you get one comment rejected, Akismet can pick that up and put you on their master spam list. Note that this can happen even when the moderator of the blog has *not* said that your comment was spam. And also note that once you are on the master spam list your comments to the protected blogs don't even go in their spam folders. So the moderators of those blogs have no idea that you even attempted to post.
In this post I described how I was trying to see if Akismet could remedy the problem (I include there a link to the relevant page, instructions about how to use it, and a sample letter to put in the form). Akismet never wrote me back, but I did notice that the day after I filled out the form that the traffic on this blog increased ten-fold, and that all of the increase was from search engines. That was weird, and I bet if I'd done test comments at feminist philosophers and daily nous they would have worked then. But I still waited a bit to see if I got a letter from Akismet.
Today I decided to do test comments even though I haven't received an e-mail from Akismet. The first thing I noticed was the screen saying that my comments were awaiting moderation. Before I contacted Akismet that would not happen. They just disappeared into the void. And then I got an e-mail from Justin saying he'd actually received the comment this time, and then both comments actually showed up (here and here).
So this is pretty good evidence that there has been no conspiracy to silence people with views some of us deem obnoxious. There are lots of good reasons to not allow one comment to go through in given discussions. And moderators will often reject one comment by someone without in any way thinking that person is a reprobate who should be banned in perpetuity. And equally important, it's very easy (follow the link from two paragraphs up) to get your name off of the list if you are not a genuine spammer.
One wriggle is that I do not know if Akismet will take people who wish to post anonymously off of their master spam list. In the message to them (again, that I shared on the post linked to above), I gave the contact information that I always share when trying to comment. Perhaps anonymous people can give their DNS information? I'd be really intersted if any of legion of anonymous posters who are not able to post on wordpress and other Akismet protected blogs are able to get off the Akismet list by the technique I give in the attached post. Please if you are reading this, try to do so and share your experience in the comments below.