Abovetopsecret: Ethics and Google Bombs
I know I said "nuff said" about abovetopsecret.com, but so many people have been writing to me to ask for more information that I will try to answer some of the questions by way of publishing a post I received recently. I have changed the text slightly to remove any identifiers of the individual who wrote it.
I have gathered a bunch of information for analysis and have archived it. For now, I'll just give a general report of my observations about AboveTopSecret.com
First of all, from what I can see these ATS guys think a lot of themselves. They are trying to twist the Flying Fish article into a legal and ethical issue, claiming that the main purpose of the article is for commercial use to promote the 911 book on SOTT and that this is not ETHICAL. Additionally, they accuse SOTT of using the article, using blogs or whatever, to "google bomb."
So, let's get into it. First of all, a careful review of the site indicates that the entire abovetopsecret.com operation is a marketing campaign. The question is: what are they really marketing? I'll come to that.
The fact is, abovetopsecret.com is one of the most revolting sites I have ever seen for advertising and commercialism and annoyances. It seems they have one set of rules for themselves, and an entirely different set of rules for everyone else. Better yet, they think that THEY get to make up the rules! They can be as commercial as they want; they can build articles and compilations out of the authentic work of other people, and then they claim ownership rights! In many cases, when they do this, their use of other people's material really adds no new or original content. The cherry on this cake is that they then demand that no one can use the material they have aggregated by the labor of others if the site is commercial like them, or uses advertising like them; you get the picture.
As I said, their big push in the last couple of weeks is to brainwash their members and Netizens that this is all about ETHICS. It would be hilarious if I just heard the story as a joke, but it is for real and seeing the behavior and what passes for logical thinking over there is like studying a disease.
And FYI, there is no AboveTopSecret.com, LLP. It is bogus, Simon Gray says so in a post on ATS. All money goes to Simon or SkepticOverlord.
Simon Gray posted on 19-6-2004 at 08:59 PMSo much for “ethics” and legality. Wonder if the tax authorities where these guys live know that they think they can run an operation this size without having a legally incorporated or registered business? That's one ethics issue. Another is that THEY can use everybody else’s work to make money but demand that nothing from their site can be used on any site that has any commercial or even non-profit commercial interests! Sounds about ethical to me. Not! More interesting than that, however, is the fact that their license insists that anyone quoting anything from their site must credit a misleading, fictitious company name and second, that crediting must be done to non-legal entities such as internet monikers!!
I am the owner of this site. It is not part of a company, limited, incorporated or otherwise. I am a sole practitioner with colleagues throughout the world who help operate AboveTopSecret.com. All monetary payments which maintain the continued service of our server are made to myself or SkepticOverlord. This is through funding created by advertising campaigns. You could carry out a business search but it would prove pointless. Myself and SkepticOverlord own the numerous domain names among the ATS universe. It is not a necessity to become a limited company to operate such a community as ours....
Another observation: In the past couple of weeks, the 3 Amigos have been in high gear, dumping threads, changing threads, getting pissed at their members for not joining the "Pentagon - Fine Focus" thread and generally employing all kinds of obvious psychological manipulation tactics. They are propagandizing hard and heavy to their members about Ethics, even doing podcasts on Ethics! Go figure!
Now, a few items about this so-called “ethical issue” - what they consider “copyright infringement.”
A couple years ago the licensing displayed on the sit was Copyright. Then they joined up with Creative Commons: Attribution, No Commercial, No Derivative.
What they have changed since the publication of the Flying Fish article is that now you don't have to point to the exact Post ID in the URI link, you only have to point to the first page of the thread. They still demand that you give thread name, member name, say ATS are owners, blah, blah..
The way abovetopsecret.com is attempting to use Creative Commons seems to be a clear abuse of the intent or spirit of the licensing. It looks to me as if it is all part of one single devious plan: to swamp Google and other search engines with as many ATS pages and as many ATS links as possible.
For example, what they demand of anyone who quotes anything from their site to do is that for every single post you have to mention Above Top Secret twice, you have to give the named title of the thread, the name of the person posting and then the URL. This means that if I wanted to quote just one page of a discussion with say 15 posters on it, I would have to say Above Top Secret 30 times, and provide 30 linkable URL's . That is 15 links and 30 mentions of their name for the search engines to hit. It is free advertising. It is designed to force anyone who wants to quote threads or discussions to do advertising for AboveTopSecret.
There are some interesting corollary questions. One of these is: how the Commercial for-profit, mega-billion dollar search engine Google can be allowed to display their information in search results without displaying any CC information or licensing? One might think that abovetopsecret.com’s – and every other website, for that matter - content certainly helps Google earn money. Are search engines implicitly exempt? In any event, studying this Creative Commons issue has raised this question: search engines get the use of everyone's material scot-free.
Getting back to ATS: My overview indicates that everything abovetopsecret.com - including their "ethical" use of Creative Commons - does is designed explicitly to spam the search engines. They rant on and on about fair use, but – and this is the thing that smells bad about this Creative Commons thing - if copyright laws work, and copyright contains fair use clauses already, then Creative Commons is just making things a mess. As Creative Commons is worded, the owner can list their 'requirements' for attribution. Who determines what is fair and reasonable in what an owner is allowed to require? Bottom line is, none of it is legal. It is simply a tool for intimidation.
Another very disturbing thing about abovetopsecret.com’s Creative Commons “requirements” is the Non-Commercial clause.
ATS says: "Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. This includes display on any website that contains advertising, accepts member donations, or any other form of monetary compensation."
That is almost like saying that only THEY have the right to sell anything and collect any money! A site that has adsense for charitable donations is also excluded, though I am sure they wouldn't try to intimidate such a site if that site posted something that they agreed with. Bottom line is, they assert that no one – except them - can do anything commercial at all. You can’t advertise your grandmother's potholders; you cannot accept member donations; if a charity has member donations link, NIX.
But that is not even the best part. The best part is the last part "or any other form of monetary compensation". What in the heck is that? How broad and how vague is that? Contributing your time to a charitable organization can in some cases be considered as a charitable tax deduction under certain guidelines and in those cases it is considered a form of monetary compensation (because you get a tax benefit). This is a form of monetary compensation. They could use that last phrase to attempt to intimidate just about anyone they wanted, most especially if that other individual or site published something they didn’t agree with.
So on the one side, abovetopsecret.com uses their CC “requirements” to require the spreading of their name and links throughout the Internet and on the other side, they leave the Non-commercial clause so ambiguous that they could try to use it to intimidate anyone, anytime, for any reason they wanted. And obviously, they are arrogant enough to think they can get away with this stuff.
My impression is that the abovetopsecret.com gang is downright psychotic. I am flabbergasted at what they say officially on the site and what they are actually doing with the site that can be uncovered by anyone with a modicum of technical skills and a little time. They talk out both sides of their mouths at once and it is plainly visible to anyone with, as Laura says, two neurons firing. But they also have a group of Renfield types (see Dracula) who strut around like “Cool Cats”, swallowing whole almost everything the owners and admins feed them.
Now, as I said, abovetopsecret.com has been its own “google bomb” from its inception. What is even more curious, based on a bit of data collecting and analysis is that google seems to actually HELP them. Things that ATS does, if other sites did them, they would be penalized by the search engines if not entirely erased. That is an interesting observation all by itself and will require more data collection over a period of time.
But for the moment, let me try to explain what I mean: It seems that the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) rules don't apply to AboveTopSecret. Not only do they have adverts posted to Google groups but also all over the Internet in bookmark resources, business directories, you name it. Their very own Forum Tagging system should act against them, but instead, for abovetopsecret.com, it only seems to help put more searchable hits into google! They have changed servers 4 times in three years which is a big negative according to search engine criteria. They have content cached under IPS and domain names. There are plausible explanations for many of these things (website owners change servers, websites have mirrors, etc.), but the enormity of it all put together with the obvious favors that google bestows upon them is significant.
Every action the owners take for what Simon calls "User Experience" is actually designed for one reason and one reason only, and that is to fill Google and search engines with pages and pages and pages.
By utilizing the psychological dependency that they have induced in their members, (it's almost cult like!) they get free labor to accomplish any marketing strategies that they come up with. They go on and on about poor ATS and how well-meaning and benevolent they are and have been and want to be, so now everyone must come out and show the world all the great work they do by putting the greatest threads in this new thread. Then, like robots, everyone comes obeys. In fact, that is what their whole COINTELPRO thread is about: it is designed to shove SOTT out of the search results, lure people to their site, and then present them with this great advertising page where they can slurp up more money.
What is sick is observing that the owners clearly know what they are doing. They know how they can manipulate the members to do whatever they want to accomplish as a business and marketing strategy. They know what they are doing in a fully conscious and evil way, from how they create and manage threads, to how they manipulate and use the forum members as tools to create more pages which are indexed in google, which in turn, by “thread targeting”, they seek to attract more users to control, who they manipulate to create more indexed pages, to get more people, to make more money, and around it goes.
Their thread management as stated by Simon Gray, is designed for the same purpose as everything else - pages. Pages and pages and more pages.
It's also obvious that they don't really care what is in the pages. Content is not the issue as it is to SOTT. The ATS directive is - PAGES. If a thread is not going anywhere - kill it. Get people to look at something else. If a thread is steaming along and gets too long, find a way to split it up into additional threads (many people get pissed off) so as to make more PAGES; add features to the site touting them as 'User Experience", when it is really just for pages for the search engines and that is all it is. It is obviously a full time job. No wonder the Amigos hide behind Monikers. If anybody found out where they really live and checked on them in their own towns, it might be very interesting.
Not all the members appear to be fooled, but most of them are so into it psychologically that they could never see it if it was put right before them. As I mentioned, it is more like a cult than an internet discussion. Only thing is, the members don't even realize that. There is no "teaching" nothing to really "believe in," but most definitely, Simon Gray is being subtly promoted as some kind of cultic object of adulation.
For example: To build prestige in self and allegiance to Simon, for abovetopsecret.com, the point system has been created. The Point System is used for reward and Punishment. They have contests to earn points and reinforce their self worth within the forum community. If Simon or the other owners approve, they get points. If they don't approve, they lose points. Can you imagine it? An internet discussion where people are lining up like little children in nursery school to get gold star stickers?
Recently, in early January, ATS turned on a new feature they call member tags. Member tags immediately added 37,000 pages to Google.
Coincidentally, this was right after the publication of Joe Quinn's article on SOTT, Dec. 31st.
What we notice about these 37,000 pages is that they are worthless as far as I can tell. No content. All the tag pages are basically just another form of indexing and advertising thread names. So they added 37,000 pages to Google with thousands of words, all pointing just to a set of intermediate pages listing thread names in categorizations (whether meaningful or not).
It looks as if they may have hundreds of thousands of pages in Google that all they are different presentations of index pages whose endpoint are all the same threads and posts. They self-reference voluminously. They may have ten pages or more all pointing to the same thread link, each one just sorted a different way. And the members think it is all real cool, but they haven't got a clue (most of them anyway). The owners currently are rewarding points for creating new member tags all the time.
They have a another new feature recently that lists last threads posted in by user. Click on a member name now and you get another type of index page all pointing to the same end points again! These things do not have to be indexed by Google and other search engines - it's basically search engine spam. The webmaster could be ETHICAL and use robots.txt to prevent all the garbage from getting into Google, but it appears to be all a part of the ATS marketing strategy. And Google does not seem to penalize them one bit for having 10 or 20 or 30 or more self-referencing pages all with the same internal endpoints! Figure that one out!
Just one user on their forum that does a moderate amount of posting can generate dozens of pages in Google just by their presence because of all the auto-generating self-referencing indexes created by their system. Some may even call this clever. I am sure many of their members would think so. It just builds pride in those members who are being manipulated (reminds me of the Nazis and their “pride building” programs) and if the owners arrogance could possibly go any higher, I am sure they would be proud of all their cleverness that they think no one can see, especially their utilization of the free labor. Bottom line is, it is not ETHICAL. No part of it.
Abovetopsecret.com is quite simply using its members as a free labor force to do work for them: Get more pages in Google which will draw more people to the site which will increase the labor force which will create more pages to get more people, to make more money.
Despite its claims about ETHICS, the bottom line is that Abovetopsecret.com is its own Google Bomb. ATS is an example of everything self-serving in our current reality - it is a microcosm of the Free market system, of corrupt government, democracy, business, almost everything that is wrong with this reality; all this is expressed in how abovetopsecret.com operates.
If the site is not directly handled by COINTELPRO, if the Abovetopsecret.com "Amigos" are not conscious COINTELPRO agents, then they are by default; it serves the same purpose because the infection of pathological elements reigns supreme there.
The 3 Amigos (Owners) manipulate everything about this site. They have figured out a way to manipulate google (that is why they put a thread link called "CoIntelPro" in the banner of every thread page, to push any search results for cointelpro and abovetopsecret deep into the google search pages behind them).
They do much behind closed doors but they show their arrogance freely throughout the site. They push their rules right and left, but they, as owners and moderators break them freely and regularly, seemingly as they please.
In short, it is all one giant marketing manipulation and the owners do not give a flip about the members or what is actually produced as a public consumable, so as long as it serves what is obviously their targeted purpose : To suck in more members to post which creates more indexed pages, to attract more readers, to vector their thinking and make money, and around and around it goes. It is rather amazing how the entire thing is designed and how most posters there haven't got a clue.