New WordPress Feature Inadvertently Bringing Trolls Directly To You



One filling and she removed a small piece of bone; April 25, 2008 — Self Portrait.

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WordPress recently announced a new feature it hopes will act as a catalyst for WordPress bloggers to get to know each other. Unfortunately there are people using WordPress who should never meet. Like racists and civil rights activists, or Sci3ntologists and people with mental health recovery sites.

But a few days into the launch and that’s exactly what’s happening, and the WordPress solution of “just turn it off” isn’t working because most WordPress bloggers have no idea how the feature got onto their blogs in the first place.

The new feature is called “Possibly related posts”, it’s a series of links automatically placed at the end of your posts. The links are supposedly random and are determined by the tags and/or categories you’ve chosen. So if you tag something as “photos of home” and choose a category of “photography” the links should take you to a WordPress site with similar interests and hobbies.

But if you’re writing about the corrupting influence of Sci3ntology (Co$), and tag it as such, there’s a very real possibility you’ll have Sci3ntology’s WordPress page linked to your page.

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The problems with this are pretty obvious, you don’t want ten Tom Cruis3 disciples showing up and asking why you’re being such a disturbing influence.

There’s also the problem with how the feature interprets your recommendations. How does it make sense, for example, if a ‘woman of colour’ writes about a violation of her rights, only to have a link to a racist blog at the bottom of her post?

My problem with the feature is having someone new to their mental health recovery having to put up with links at the bottom of their posts to people who might take advantage of them… or links back to them from people who want new members for their ridiculous science fiction cult.

And it’s already happening.

In these screenshots from a blog called “The Frame Problem” you can see where the blogger has written about someone who was attacked for years by Sci3ntology, and who has suffered greatly from them, and in the “Possibly related posts” there is a link to the WordPress homepage of Sci3ntology.

…the black arrows show his anti-Co$ material, the green are WP links which make sense relative to the post and the red arrow is to the completely out of place link.

This might not seem like a big deal, but the problem starts with the link on your page and readers thinking you put it there. The problem ends with your link on their page and your blog being noticed by them. By the racist who hates women of colour, and by the Cult who believes all mental illness can be cured by staring intently at a wall and giving them all of your money for the privilege.

The “Possibly related links” feature is based on a similar feature on YouTube.

“…you can start with a single video and then see something else interesting in the related videos and you lose yourself…”

But on YouTube the links are clearly marked as being offered by YouTube, and the links never appear on your account or take anyone back to your account. In short, YouTube is not a blog… it’s a video hosting site with blog features.

The best thing to do until WordPress fixes this feature, in my opinion, is to turn it off and maybe even ask WordPress to make sure your blog isn’t ending up on other blogs.

You can turn the feature off by going into your Dashboard, finding the Design Tab, then click on Extras and there will be a little box there… just click it.

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About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have a 4-year old son, a newborn son, and I'm helping to raise my 8-year old step-son, I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal.
This entry was posted in Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, crazy people with no pants, Health, Manic Depression, Technology, WordPress. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to New WordPress Feature Inadvertently Bringing Trolls Directly To You

  1. And is the level of discourse on YouTube really something to emulate? http://xkcd.com/202/

    Thanks for posting about this. I’d been wondering how to turn this off, but as I hadn’t seen any related links actually showing up on my blog, hadn’t got round to it.

  2. Nita says:

    I wrote a note to WordPress about this. They usually respond very quickly to direct emails and that was the reason I wanted to write to them. I was on holiday when this feature got turned on and god knows how many days it was on before I came back yesterday and switched it off.
    For example on the clothesline post which you commented on the links were to 2 new york times articles which I had already linked to in my main post, one very poor quality blog post, and even one on dryers!! And in my post I was trying to say switch off your dryers and here there was a post which seemed to suggest that one should get the right dryer! It was too ridiculous and I had to switch the feature off. A pity, because the idea is good, but we need to have control like Engtech rightly said in this post.

  3. thordora says:

    It gave me links to myself. Snicker.

  4. Gabriel... says:

    Hi Thordora… I can’t believe I didn’t put that in the post. The feature offers a selection of your own posts as well, which is something I like about it. Right now your posts are in bold and are at the top of the list.

    Nita, when you get a response let me know and I’ll edit the piece accordingly. The company providing the service is called Sphere, and it’s based on their search program. I think it would work a lot better, and in the best interest of the blogger, if the search was done just after the blogger selected the tags and categories they want for their post. Sphere’s program would then generate a specific amount of link options the blogger could choose from.

    Have you thought about letting your readers know what’s going on? In my opinion this is something the blogger should be able to control.

    Thanks ExChimp, and you’re welcome. From what I can tell only a tiny minority of WordPress bloggers actually read the announcements WP makes on feature upgrades, or the Forum where the features are talked about. Most services I use have an automatic email which gets sent out explaining what’s going on… since WP only makes one, maybe two announcements a month it might be something they could consider.

    And xkcd is the funniest thing ever… maybe it’s tied with the No Garfield in Garfield thing.

  5. Nita says:

    They replied almost immediately Gabriel but it wasn’t much. This is what I got:

    Howdy!

    Thank you for the “possibly related posts” feedback and we’re tweaking constantly to improve the feature.
    Cheers,

    Marianne

    Well it means they know something is wrong and they will fix it. If they don’t, frankly I don’t care much because I will keep it turned off! I haven’t mentioned this to my readers because now its off. Lets see what WordPress does with it.

  6. Hey man, nice shot. Did you get someone to shoot that, or was it on a timer?

  7. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks Justin, that’s 100% hand-held all natural self-portraiture right there. The dentists at the office I go to have a great sense of humour. That’s the fourth time I’ve taken photos of my appointments.

    The coolest thing ever though was when I filmed one… you may be disappointed because there’s no blood, but here it is:

  8. giannakali says:

    thanks for leading me to how I could get rid of this feature…I didn’t like and wanted to get rid of it but didn’t know how…

  9. Brian says:

    I turned it off as well. The concern I had is that the links posted weren’t clear as to the fact that they were not mine. Nor did I have anyway of deleting links I didn’t want. Most bloggers don’t want links finding their posts, spam is bad enough and since Goggle doesn’t delete spam blogs and links, why invite more?

    Btw, Nita is one of the best bloggers out there.

  10. Gabriel... says:

    Brian, you and I are in total agreement on both points. There needs to be something above the links saying “WordPress (or Sphere) is offering these Possibly Related Links…” but it still has to be optional. And I’ve always said Nita’s blog will be the most important one you read all day, and I’ve always meant it…

    You’re very welcome Gianna

  11. raincoaster says:

    This post just got you blogrolled. I’m going to put something up in a few hours and there will be HAIR ON THE WALLS when I am done. I’ve never been so angry about something they’ve done, and I’ve been plenty angry with them before.

    It’s a good idea on paper, but to use the power of blogs to reinforce the hegemony of the Mainstream Media rather than break it apart is repellent to me and I’m going to say so in some very choice vocabulary.

    They might just “Timethief/DrMike” me over this one.

  12. Gabriel... says:

    I don’t know… as long as you’re not cursing out Matt’s mother you should be fine. From what I remember the confrontations between Dr. Mike and WP started because of opinions but finished because of Other Stuff. I’m still not clear as to why Time Thief isn’t in the forums, other than her getting tired of having irate and panicking people telling her to piss off… which would be good enough reason for me not to come back.

    I know what WP wants to do with this feature, it’s just… they have a very basic problem with introducing stuff. As good as the support and Forums and FAQ’s and whatever has been (and I’ve actually had WP Matt email me about a problem I was having) they still have a problem communicating with their clients. It’s a common problem with young companies…

    Thanks for leaving the comment, raincoaster, and for introducing me to your blogroll.

  13. kristiane says:

    Hey, thanks for this post. I was wondering how to get rid of that.

  14. Gabriel... says:

    You’re very welcome…

  15. cindykesey says:

    yes, great post indeed. I just noticed this new “feature” and was unimpressed. Actually I was horrified as there were links to religious blogs (my blog includes lots of sexy stuff). Possibly related to my @#$%.

  16. raincoaster says:

    I completely agree about the communication issues. I’ve met some of the WP guys, and I personally like them, but there are simple ways to introduce things that simply prevent things from going to this level of hostility. It’s as if they see customer relations as entirely re-active, which is kind of an engineering standpoint, I guess. But they let themselves in for a lot of grief.

    As for the TT/Dr Mike things, well quite frankly TT was blindsided, and when she protested that she’d been banned unfairly (which she had been) let’s just say it was not handled well and things escalated. Badly. It couldn’t have been handled worse.

    Dr Mike’s banning was held up on Edublogs as a perfect example of a bad way to treat essential, knowledgable, and helpful volunteers in an Open Source project.

    I have no illusions of invulnerability, myself, but neither do I really invest much emotion in the forum. When they do something I think is a bad idea, I find a workaround and I hand it to as many people as seem to need it and I go on. But this demands a post, and you’re to be congratulated for making a fine one.

    My computer’s crashed seven or eight times today and it’s nearly midnight, so I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to put anything useful up today.

    But maybe on the bright side, by tomorrow they could have changed it again!

  17. katbur says:

    Thanks for highlighting the issue. My blog is about breast cancer, had to turn the connector off very quickly.

  18. Seriously? It looks like it was shot a few feet down your body.

    Let me know if you ever end up doing a gallery show of your dental photography.

  19. Gabriel... says:

    Actually that makes a lot of sense katbar, and something I didn’t think about. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Bonjour mon chum Justin. re: the dentist photo… the camera was in my left hand and I was holding it about a foot above my waist. Because my hands shake I had the multiple exposure setting on, which means my camera will take three shots: shot.shot.shot. I took three sets of three, only one set (this one) came out perfect. It’s a 37mm lens, so pretty much everything on the same plane will be in crisp focus.

    If you want to see more of my teeth, try here and here. Both photos are post-extractions (two different teeth, two different occasions) so there is blood in both. Enjoy…

  20. hymes says:

    Before the Washington Post started using Sphere there were good links to blogs on their website next to articles, once they started using Sphere it all went to pot. I need to turn it off, thanks for the reminder. I moderate all comments now due to spam, but I still don’t want to attract say folks who are anti-civil rights and pro-prejudice :).

  21. I’ve seen your previous dental shots. Quite… engaging. Visceral? Interesting, in any case.

  22. Pingback: New WordPress Links Feature May Expose Your Blog Even After You Opt Out « …salted lithium.

  23. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks for commenting, Hymes, it’s always good to see you here.

    The thing is, I opted out but my posts are still being picked up. Last night, two days after I opted out, a link to a post about my brother’s experiences on 9/11 popped up on a gardening blog.

    We were told we could opt out, so I did. But we weren’t told it could take days for our blogs to be removed from the system, if we had then that post would have been the first one I made private.

    If we had been told in advance what was happening, we could’ve had the time to make our really personal posts totally “Private” so they wouldn’t be picked up by Sphere.

    This whole thing has been one lesson in how not to communicate effectively or fairly with your users/content generators.

    Anyway… if you’re interested, I wrote a follow-up. I think that’ll be it though… I don’t plan on doing any more reporting about this.

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