The Internet Under Siege

The Nazi book burnings were a campaign conducted by the German Student Union to ceremonially burn books in Nazi Germany and Austria in the 1930s. The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism.

Book burning. If you’ve got yourself a little bit of power, have absolutely no appreciation for Free Speech, don’t agree with something, and you are cool with use that power to make sure everyone thinks like you, it’s what you. You prevent anyone with different ideas from getting the chance to be heard. Book burning was used, most notably, by fascist powers wanting to stop “subversive” ideas from becoming mainstream. More to the point, book burnings were used to stop those who already had those ideas from gaining power. To ostracise them, to villainize them, to deny validity to their arguments, and make their ideas synonymous with the absurd and force them into exile. This is the heart of fascism. When you cannot control their body, control their mind.

Fortunately for the West, many of those victims of the ideological pogroms and the purgings of free thought fled their distant homelands for more verdant soils of intellectual acceptance and freedom. They seeded the West with new outlooks and new ways of thinking, most notably, that the sorts of holocaust on honesty was never to happen in the free world again. It was through them that we remembered our roots; a culture born on ideas, where ideas are shared and allowed to grow, mix and create new ideas, where only the best rise to the top and the worst simply are left to sleep.

But ideas weren’t all that came. Along with the philosophers, came the engineers. Those brilliant minds fleeing Europe met together with those already among us. Together, we built a great world for new ideas, new inventions, and a world where anything we could think… we could build. Eventually, together, we created the greatest resource the world had yet known to protect and preserve the ideas, knowledge, and wisdom of humanity – the literal embodiment of the ideals of classical liberalism.

The Internet.

In all her glory.

Yes, the internet was our answer to radical fascism and the attack on ideas, knowledge, and the wisdom of those we simply don’t agree with. We would learn from others, and learn from each other, even our enemies, as well as those who have passed on in ages long ago. Yes, thanks to Al Gore and evil aliens, we were finally able to create a world where ideas would be safe forever, and ever. Amen.

Or did we?

In the last month, many users have noticed something strange happening behind the scenes of Quora. Before that, some background:

Those who follow me know that there is one topic I really like to write about, and that’s Islam. You see, though I know there are many Muslims who are good, I also know that Islam, more precisely the propensity within Islam to force out unfavorable ideas through force, is dangerous, and an extremely real and present threat few of us know affects of us even today. This, we call Islamofascism, and that is where I hang out a lot, surfacing times where news has been hidden or manipulated, bringing to light bullying by the “unbiased” media sources, challenging those who say criticism is prejudiced and championing those who are willing to say that something obviously wrong… is obviously wrong.

You see, Islamofascism provides me this beautiful wealth of opportunities to showcase and display what a series of bad ideas looks like. It allows me to talk about hundreds of millions of girls who have their cliterouses butchered for the pleasure of men, the murder of countless people for having the wrong ideas or refusing to live under medieval oppression, thedestruction of ancient cultural artwork, or about the colonization and subjugation of Western ideas and beliefs in the name of providing comfort and peace. I can even use it to show how the Islamic State has patterned itself after, no kidding, real life fascist regimes. Yeah, jihadists and the Islamic State hate me.

Jon Davis’ answer to Why should or shouldn’t I join ISIS?

Why, I can even spend hours in there talking about how Islamists are just the kinds of intellectual cowards that they will do whatever they can to prevent others from speaking badly about what they know to be true. Actually, I’ve never done that last one. That’s about to change.

Like I said before, many people started noticing something weird at the beginning of this month, activity that wasn’t normal for the site I write on most.

Lat in May, I wrote an answer to this question.

Why have ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al-Qaeda, Al Nusra and other Islamic extremist groups grown and thrived in the Islamic world?

Yep, right up my alley. A few days later, though, the question read something a lot more like this:

“Why have thrived?”

“Why have thrived?” What was this nonsense? So I looked into it by reviewing the question edit log. It isn’t exactly forensic science. Anyone can clearly review the question edit history log from the drop down box just below the question. In this case, someone had gone into a question which brought several answers to it that just don’t make Islam look very good, but in no way break any of Quora’s numerous rules against Be Nice, Be Respectful policy. The truth, unbiasedly said, often has that quality. But that’s problematic, you see, because fundamentalists don’t like it when you showcase things that exist within the faith that just might hinder their efforts to create more fundamentalists… like criticism. Remember kids: Not all Muslims are bad, but 20,000 terrorists didn’t just brainwash themselves.

So… what do you do if you don’t want people talking about that big secret you don’t want the rest of the world knowing anything about? You burn the book! Oh, I mean, why don’t you vandalize the question? Even better, why don’t you do it under Quora’s excellent Anonymous protection policies.

Wow, so you can edit a question to the point of being unrecognizable and I can’t do a thing to hunt you down with the fury and articulation capable only by the Credible Hulk?

What’s more, all the topics were missing. What’s that mean? That means that a question that now makes no sense, won’t even be seen because of the distribution from the writers who wrote answers to it. Those who have read my post on how to write successful posts on Quora will remember that topics are very important to getting noticed and helping people who are interested in the subjects you are writing about.

Topics are one of the most important features to understanding Quora and how to reach new audiences. … topics, combined with users, and their activity, focus user’s feed to help deliver the types of content that they would find interesting.

Without relevant topics which users follow, it doesn’t really matter who writes an answer to them. It is only by the combination of users’ answers, and topics that you are able to discover it in the quora feed.

What’s worse? There are topics that specifically limit distribution. How do you do that? Well,Possibly Insincere Question will do it. This limits who can see it to only those who have followed the topic. You don’t simply discover these topics. It is used by Quora Moderators to help groom questions from trolls. Apparently though, abuse of these topics is the Quora version of an Improvised Explosive Device.

Ok, so revoke the edits, report the vandalism, and reinstate the topics. No biggy.

Wrong. What started next was an edit war. Not only by me, but numerous other good Quorans brought together in the fight against Islamotrolls. It went on like this for several days. Seriously, this guy had time.

What’s weird. I reported the problem up on the facebook group for Quora ubernerd and wiped my hands of the matter, until I found out a few days later the issue… was still an issue.

Finally, the beautiful and wonderful angel from the other side of the server, Tatiana Estévezthrew down the end all, of locking down the question and topic edits from all future revision… from anyone. You can see her Zeus-like thunderbolt ending a days long crusade of madnesshere, by checking the question log. That said, I was at first, annoyed. I mean, I didn’t do anything. Why am I being punished too? There are still edits that need to be made and I can’t make them. Like I said, “at first…”

I started noticing it in other questions though, such as this one:

The log for that question is here: Evil Jihadis Brakin’ My Interweb. I fixed that one too, not that I believe it would matter long, but then I went to add one particular topic. Remember my favorite? Islamofascism. I’ve worked with that topic before. I know it exists. I practically live there bringing light to dark places. So what’s the deal now?

Oh, come on…

So not only can you prevent someone seeing a question from a topic, it’s actually possible to prevent a topic from even existing. So who was up to this one? Let’s check it out. Fortunately, you can’t delete a topic anonymously. So sluthes, let’s take a look. Johan Hanz? Who’s this dude? Why does he care so much? This is when stuff gets weird.

So… a guy who has never answered a single question, or asked one either, has never made a post, is not following anyone, or has any followers of his own… is suddenly so well versed in Quora’s policy to think to delete an entire topic on the premise of BNBR, which it isn’t even in violation of? Sounds like a sock puppet.

A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term, a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock, originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an Internet community who spoke to, or about, themselves while pretending to be another person. [1] The term now includes other misleading uses of online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a person or organization,[2] to manipulate public opinion,[3] or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website.

What this means is that someone is intentionally creating a multitude of fake users to go about vandalizing every topic which has served as a collection place for answers which show Islam in a less than a perfect light.

A multitude, Jon? Really?

Yeah. How can we check? You guessed it. To the logs!

Islamofascism… the book that wouldn’t stay burned (the edit log of our fav topic)

What did I see? There before me was, yes, a multitude of the insane ban addicts fandalizing everything within two clicks of an Islamic State love goat. Why, they’d declared jihad on Quora!

Between June 2nd and June 20th, 29 different users have deleted the Islamofascism topic nearly 50 times. These users included such prolific members of the community as: John Wayne, James Brown, Terr Ffgg. Francis Underpantsis, Fred Steve, Rod Stewart and most reputably… Jon Snow.

After checking these accounts, I fell into the rabbit hole… all the way in, to realize… dude this is a thing. From viewing the various edit histories of users I discovered and the topics they frequent I discovered at least 105 sock puppets that had vandalized over 102 topics, all of which were in the field of Islam. In total, these vandal sock puppets have made nearly 10,000 edits to topics,and questions over the past two weeks. This included breaking links in the ontology (i.e Islamofascism was not a child of Islam), manipulating questions from the FAQ section of topic pages, rewording topics. I also found numerous times where the socks destroyed questions like what was shown above. I also found where the socks left comments begging the OP to delete the questions because it invited so much harassment.

This worked at least twice that I found, including this:

Was Prophet Muhammad an aggressive person?

What is more troubling is the edits I didn’t find. Take this sock, Fred Alvarez. If you look at his edit history, he has more than 840 edits before they locked him out. If you look at the log, though, you see about twenty topics that he vandalized. So where are the 820? Well, he probably made these edits anonymously. While anonymous, these users were able to remove the topics from so many questions without there ever being a log of the action happening. That’s right. You can utterly destroy a question without a log of it happening. Take a look at these questions to see what I mean:

Other questions which have since been fixed (for now.):

And this question, changed just this morning, used to read “What could kill us so quickly that we wouldn’t even notice?” It was a really cool exploration of science and anatomy. Then…

Classy. Way to represent the religion of peace, and yeah, this user’s profile all the other recent Islamic trolls perfectly. Also now topicked with Justice, Education, Politics, and Science an already popular question suddenly had millions more people who might have it show up in their distribution. Fortunately, that was fixed quickly.

In all, I found fifteen questions that showed that they had been tampered with. Ajas Mohamedin his answer to What is the proper response to recent Anonymous vandalism of questions on Quora? hints at many more.

I never used to block quote the original question at the beginning of my answer; things have changed. As on date, at least 30 of the questions I wrote answer to, remain vandalised by truncating question texts and removing topics.

Forty-five doesn’t sound like much, unless you realize that these are just questions I stumbled upon, had been following before the edits, or the case of a few, where followers like Lyonel Perabo told me that there question had been vandalized. The translation: I only discovered them because of luck. Unlike editing a topic’s page, which is done openly, a person can change topics associated with a question or really anything about it, with no log visible to the public. That means that, more than likely, there are hundreds of questions and answers out there, undiscoverable to anyone and will no clear way to find, or more importantly, fix them.

I want to make the point at this time to say that people are working hard to try and fix this. Quora has known about this problem for a while. On June 10th, Christopher VanLangpublished this post on the moderation blog Topic Gnomery: Damage Control in Islam.

Simply put, Quora is very aware that there are a series of both synonymous and anonymous accounts that are going around vandalizing topics and questions related to Islam. Moderation seems to be working around the clock on this and many users have been actively messaging about this.

He’s telling the truth. In my endless scrolls through topic and user edit logs, I saw the same names over, and over, and over again… you know, besides the Islamotrolls. I want to take this chance to call them out for the excellence and dedication they show each and every day that no one ever notices… because it’s their job not to be noticed.

Vo Nghi Nguyen, Timothy Wingerter, Raziman T.V., Christopher VanLang, Amalia Melek

Team Leader Chris added this:

At the moment, I advise users to avoid getting in edit wars since these accounts have been undergoing revenge edits. At the moment, I would suggest that users report the edits of the anonymous accounts to flush the users out of hiding and report the users for vandalism and creating sockpuppet accounts.

And there is the good news, you can stop a lot of them right now without the edit war. I have a list of more than a dozen socks that are still active. Quora has adjusted its automated tool set to cause a person to be blocked if too many reports for violation of Quora’s policies against either them or for their content. What’s also cool, is that if you are a person who regularly builds trust within the system by reporting only good examples of reports that are later proven valid, then you could eventually be able to insta-ban a sucka! Some of us, who have made the commitment to shutting down activity that does no good for the universe, can block some accounts instantaneously because of the credit we’ve earned. Granted, that took time and no frivolous reporting, but if you would like to build up your ban-jutsu ninja assassin skills, message me or make a request in the comments, and I will send you the list of active trolls to practice on.

Of course, I’m only saying all that for a point. If you can do it, so can they. The question How did you feel when you were edit-blocked from Quora? details numerous answers of users were unfairly, or at least questionably edit-blocked over the last two weeks. Four of them I will highlight here:

Beth Murray’s answer:

I felt alienated and a little helpless when I had been blocked…

I woke up this morning to another reported comment, about… Islam! … I imagine I will be edit blocked again soon. Then I envisage I will just give up. I don’t have the energy to fight this or enough skin in the game.

From Pegah Esem’s answer:

Helpless and confused!

I have barely written something about Islam here on Quora which weren’t even against Quora’s laws , not a bit!

I got edit blocked for a week without an explanation, and after that week I realized that some of my Quora friends were blocked too, and the thing is that some ISIS supporters are taking actions and reporting people they don’t like.

I bet I get another edit block for this answer as well.

Piyush Michael had this to say about it

The first thing you feel is ANGER. Unadulterated anger. The feeling of helplessness and your investments on this site only magnify it… Then there is the sense of helplessness… Then comes Self doubt. You can scroll through Quora but are unable to promote, comment or debate. You are a phantom. Then you start doubting your own standing…

…I can smell a troll from 100 bytes away and spend a lot of time keeping them away from my friends. I’ve also gained insights into how quora works.

Also that nobody is safe on quora.

And finally, Omar Alshaker’s answer to How did you feel when you were edit-blocked from Quora?

…I’ve never ever been so free and open about my opinions on several topics. Being an atheist Middle Eastern doesn’t come cheap. When I found this site that is strictly in English, I felt a huge relief. Because the language barrier and Quora policies filtered a lot of garbage and casual Facebook threats. Even though I got a couple here, but that’s not Quora’s problem at all…

…Four of my answers on Islam, that fully stick to every Quora’s policy, were collapsed. Two of my comments were permanently deleted without any notification or warning whatsoever. Two of my friend’s (Beth Murray) were deleted too. And I thought, well, those ISIS supporting dickheads are on a reporting spree, which is their game since ever…

…Well, honestly, sadly, I felt that I’m mostly done with Quora. I didn’t even bother re-editing my bio. Just waiting for another incident to leave.

I want to return to something that Beth Murray said in her answer.

The morning my editing was reinstated, I saw a blog post indicating that the Islam and Muhammed topics were being vandalised. That day, Ajas had more of the questions he had answered about Islam vandalised and his answers were reported again, I believe. Pegah Esem also wrote a blog post that morning and I then realised she had been edit blocked… After writing about Islam. Myself and others were all blocked within the same hour on 3rd June 2016.

So within days, sometimes hours of each other, we have four potentially great users, silenced by manipulation of Quora’s system that, for years, has given me a healthy and productive place to learn from others. These people may not come back, and may not, just as importantly, continue to show something very wrong in the world… namely that there are people out there who would seek to prevent others from learning, prevent others from sharing knowledge, and silence people who are good simply because that knowledge makes many others feel uncomfortable. Perhaps more importantly, that they would work this hard to pull it off, even here on little old Quora.

Most of those I’ve mentioned are ardent atheists, so it would surprise some, perhaps, that I am wanting to share their story at all. I’m a devout Christian (who slips up rather often.) Why support people who say my God doesn’t exist? Because I am also an American, and part of our tradition, along with my faith, is the concrete belief that there is almost no idea that cannot be made better through rational debate. It was so important that in our version of the 10 Commandments, that freedom to communicate, be heard, and the responsibility to hear others who come in peace, must be protected. That is literally the first thing we said must always happen. Every other Amendment in the Bill of Rights exists clearly to support the First. Amen.

For that reason, I as a religious person or as an American, am appalled when others are silenced for their beliefs, no matter how far they differ from my own. The intellectual creme rises to the top, and the rightest way to destroy is to let it exist in the light, where it can be judged. That is the purpose of our freedom… the constant quest for perfection.

But when we have a world where ideas are suppressed, we have a world that is incomplete and imperfect. We darken it to those places we are afraid to look. I am a very strong Christian. I pray, teach Wednesday night youth, am a leader at Church Camp. My wife teaches Sunday School, and if I wasn’t up all Saturday night plagued with a research project I can’t put down, I am there every Sunday. I also love Neil DeGrasse Tyson and have spent hours watching The Cosmos. I find it fascinating hearing how the universe was created and how we all came to be. Science makes me appreciate what a smart guy God is.

You don’t have to agree with me on matters of theology, but you know that what I say is true. We have to be able to have free and open, unadulterated communication between all people. What we have here on Quora, however, is something else. We have Islamic groups who have collectively organized with the very clear, though clandestine, goal of limiting your ability discovering information that is harmful to the image they want you to believe. They are forcing you to have a particular conversation, around specific facts, and away from problematic truths.

But another point of interest. If you thought this was just a Quora issue, think again. Across the internet, similar instances of those who are critical of Islam are being silenced… you know, without actually killing them. Breitbart News reported Milo Yiannopoulos’s twitter account was banned twice in the last week. Milo is a Gay Conservative (yeah) who makes no qualms about airing his numerous grievances about Islam. That said, he like me, keeps it civil, resting well within the confines of the rules of the medium he occupies. That didn’t stop him from being banned though, and twice, through automated spam reporting. This was evident by Twitter’s immediate (well, within a couple hours) reinstatement of his account, after his fans revolted…fabulously.

Here is the moment he found out.

Unphased, the personality responded as such.

Milo: “Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me… It was probably a mass reporting from the Arabic Twitter.”

Gavin: “Oh yeah, they troops on masse. I did that Jesse Hughes interview, and it has almost as much thumbs down, and if you click on the people putting those thumbs down and they are all Arabic comments. They have a whole army.”

Milo: “Yeah, well if they mass report enough, I think it triggers some automatically.”

It’s interesting to see exactly what happened next, on Youtube.

For those curious about what the Jesse Hughes interview was, Jesse Hughes is a member of the band Eagles of Death Metal, the band performing in the theatre that was attacked in Paris. Before touring in Canada, Hughes gave an interview with Gavin. The interview was very critical of Islam, and looking at the likes, dislikes, and the comments, it was exactly as he said. Massive evidence of tampering. You can view that video here.

So Quora, Twitter, and Youtube. Who knows where else. Wikipedia? Facebook? Those have never been the targets of user manipulation. What could go wrong? This is why I really don’t blame Quora that much. This is big and big in a way that the internet really hasn’t seen before, like ever. In every conceivable way, the internet is being purged in every user generated community of content the Islamofascists don’t want you seeing. All of, everyone reading this now, are being led, against our wills, to information that others choose for their benefit and against what is true. Why do I say that you are being led? The answer to that question lies in the only Islamic topic I found with absolutely no instances of tampering by the trolls, and still doesn’t to the moment of this publishing.


You can check the edit log, just as I’ve shown you how with every other topic mentioned in this post, as well as nearly all the other topics in Islam. Why hasn’t Islamophobia being tampered with? Is it too small? Hardly. At 1.3k followers, it is one of the largest topics in the field. Obscure? Certainly not. As one of the most popular points of conversation, it’s impossible not to see questions and answers about Islamophobia mostly from Western liberal writers explaining the error in faulting anything Islam or holding any Muslim accountable when someone among their ilk acts deplorably… such as we have here.

So why is Islamophobia up? Because that’s the conversation these people want to happen. They want a conversation led by Westerners to continue in a field where nothing else negative is being said. In a world of free speech where nothing negative is allowed, were the only voices are those of ardent defenders of the Islamic faith and those proclaiming that all criticisms of it and its people are examples of innocent Muslim victimization by an oppressive, racist society, then you’re left with a really pleasant picture of Islam aren’t you?

Are you starting to see how 20,000 fanatics happened so fast? Is it real yet that you, right now, are already being influenced by fundamentalism, in every way our Western liberal mindset has allowed you to?

And yes, it’s scary, being that across the internet, the conversation they’re choosing is the conversation we were left with. It is one we were forced to have because any time a question is asked, where the answer doesn’t fit the narrative of a victimized innocent Islam, that question is made to not exist. The topic where it might be discovered is purged, the answer is made to disappear, and the answerer, our friends, peers, and the one just like any of us, a truth seeker and sharer of knowledge, is thrown out of our communities and punished. Outside Quora, commentators are being banned and video feeds are are being manipulated. What’s worse? It’s all done through manipulation of a system that was built to protect us by those who brought us together.

Give all this, and without yet even mentioning the giant Orlando shaped Gay Elephant in the room, how honestly can people still defend such a system that knowingly does that? Why go to such the effort if there is nothing these people don’t want the world to see? What is it that they don’t want you to know?

Well, now it looks like we’ll never know.

Thanks for reading. While topics like this anger me, I like writing about it. I feel it is a way I can help. That said, I do it all the time. It takes up a lot of my time and energy, but I am glad to do it if that helps. That said, I’d like your help creating. If you would like to support this and other works like it, please visit my Patreon support page. Any help you can give to help provide me the freedom to continue to write articles like this will be greatly appreciated. Jon Davis is creating A Military Sci-Fi Novel, Articles, and Essays | Patreon.

About mdolphins

Hotelier, Vaper, husband.

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