LGF Banned List Update: Lizard Genocide
I know it goes without saying around here, but in case we get some visitors who are unfamiliar, we should note that, for quite some time, Charles Johnson has had a growing reputation of cold indifference and (oftentimes) bizarre reactions towards the commenters who frequent his Little Green Footballs website. In fact, a couple of years ago, even the NYT took notice, as author Jonathan Dee states (emphasis mine):
THE QUESTIONING OF Johnson’s tactics started to come not just from without L.G.F. but also from within. Readers both casual and loyal spoke up in the comment threads to ask, sometimes diplomatically and sometimes not, whether all this casual flinging of epithets like “fascist” wasn’t maybe an overreaction. Johnson’s response, in thousands of cases, was to block their accounts and ban some of them from viewing the blog. “Get off my Web site” was a common farewell. (Johnson insists that this is not true — that no one has ever been banned from L.G.F. merely for disagreeing with him — but the anecdotal evidence to the contrary is voluminous, and the fact that the offending comments were instantly and permanently deleted makes it impossible to check others’ records against his.)
The total number and identities of banned members aren’t statistics that are compiled for viewing on Charles’ site, but in recent years the subject has generated a substantial amount of curiosity. There were certainly enough lizards outcast to sustain several spin-off websites, but it was pretty difficult to get a hard estimate on just how many. Back in 2009, ex-LGFer Kirly used her blog to start a list of exiled members called “The Book of the Banned“. The list grew as netizens stopped by to report the tales of their banishment, and their handles were added accordingly. Over time, she compiled well over a thousand usernames, but eventually, Kirly grew tired of continuously updating the page, and at about the same time that our DoD website got up and running, the updates had ceased.
The end of Kirly’s updates didn’t mark the end of the bannings (of course), so a year ago, we decided to take the torch and compile a list of our own. We were impressed with Kirly’s work, but we figured that there could be a more efficient and independently verifiable method of compiling a list. Engineer No. 2 took it upon himself to use the information we’d gathered about the LGF archives and known usernames, grabbed a sockpuppet account, and started checking account statuses. In the end, he compiled a list of 4,252 names that he confirmed as blocked, and put them into a spreadsheet along with their stats gleaned from their profile pages (we’ve kept it under the “Get off my Website” page in the banner; last updated 3/15/11). It’s been a year, and since we’ve been receiving hints that it was deserving an update, and since we still have that open question to Johnson sitting out there unanswered, we thought it might be a good time to dive back in and see what we can find…
In order to do this, one basically needs a healthy LGF account (to view statuses on user profile pages), and a comprehensive list of known usernames. The former has been relatively easy to get these days, and the latter can be gleaned from user comments (and mentions) in the archives. The info for each account is there for the grabbing. The real trick is figuring out a way to gather it efficiently and put it all together while remaining under Johnson’s radar.
Now, when we previously sifted through it, the archives gave Engineer no. 2 a little over 20K individual usernames to check. This time around, we turned to Engineer no. 5. He was able to find a few more, and then sent our sockpuppet account (henceforth affectionately referred to as “Patches”) into the Lizard Kingdom to confirm the status on a total of 22,422 known LGF usernames (we should remind everyone that the total registered accounts on the site was ~35,600 as of a month or so ago, which means there are ~13,000 unknown usernames out there. These accounts either haven’t ever commented, or we’ve missed their mention by another lizard).
So, “Patches” got busy…very busy. It’s hard to imagine how this brave sockpuppet was able to peek at the statuses of 22,422 user accounts without dying of exhaustion, but when it did, it reported back to Engineer no. 5 with all the individual stats for comments, links, karma, registration dates, as well as a tally of 6642 active accounts, and 15,780 blocked accounts.
Yep, you read that right. There are at least…
15,780 BLOCKED ACCOUNTS ON LGF
Here is the new, updated list:
MasterBlockedList 3-13-12 (xlsx spreadsheet)
I have to admit that, when first presented with that number, my first reaction was to insist that we make sure that there wasn’t a flaw in our methods. I mean, even for the ban-happy Johnson, such a large number almost seemed absurd. After days of double-checking, however, the results were the same.
Considering that the sample of known accounts was largely the same as what we took a year ago, we had the inkling that what we had stumbled upon here was evidence of a major policy shift on Charles’ part, and of course we were inclined to dig a little further. First, we wanted to determine how many of the accounts we could confirm were banned in the past year (in other words, those now banned were confirmed as “active” a year ago). From Engineer no 5:
There are now 15,780 confirmed blocked accounts. No 2′s last spreadsheet showed 4,252, i.e. 11,528 more blocked accounts than we knew of 1 year ago. However, my data includes 2100 accounts that No. 2 never statused, and 1074 of those are blocked (but we don’t know when). So we can safely say that that CJ pressed the block button at least 11,528-1074=10,454 times since 15 Mar 2011.
We’ll return to that 10,454 number in a minute, but next we wanted to try to wrap our minds around the rationale here. We couldn’t imagine that over 10K usernames had even been active in the last year, or had otherwise done something to warrant a banishment. Indeed, what we found is that a great number of these newly banned folks hadn’t commented in quite a while:
So, we can confirm that Johnson has been banning thousands of folks based on something other than anything they’ve posted on his website. This was beginning to point toward some sort of “cleansing” of dormant accounts or “lurkers” in CJ’s account database, whereas he was intentionally blocking nics that hadn’t commented in a certain amount of time. We were beginning to envision an extinction event, where thousands of lizards cried out in a last gasp as they died by the motion of a single mouse click. Assuming that most of these weren’t case-by-case, what were Johnson’s parameters? And do we dare speculate…why?
Well, as we looked at our data further, we discover that, contrary to the “dormant lizard” theory, we find that 75% of the unblocked accounts haven’t commented on the site since 2006:
Looking at both of those, we start to ponder if we’re looking for a combination of factors. It could be that CJ was targeting dormant posters from certain eras of LGF history. So, we decided to look at the data another way, comparing our 2011 list with the new one, and factoring in the registration dates for the entire sample. What we found was very interesting (wait for the throb):
As you can see, lizards of all ages got banned in large numbers, but the lizards registered from ’07-’09 were hit extremely hard, to the point that the “class of 2008″ appears to be virtually extinct. Still, this isn’t conclusive, and it is possible that the mass banning had other factors (like number of comments, for example). The answer might be in the data somewhere, so we’ll continue to poke at it a bit, and provide an update if/when we find something.
Ok…back to that 10,454 number. As in, we confirm that Johnson has banned at least 10,454 accounts in the last 12 months. It’s a staggering number, equivalent to 28.7 accounts per day. More than one per hour.
It also brings up another interesting point of comparison. Remember our big thread about LGF’s declining registration levels? A year ago, on 3/15/11, lizard “RanchTooth” registered, becoming LGF account #35,043. Two days ago, we registered a sock account “127 Bart Ave”, which was #35,621. See where we’re going with this? In 12 months, Charles has banned at least 10,454 accounts, while gaining only 579. It’s a ratio of roughly 18:1. And assuming that the bulk of the ~13,000 unknown usernames are also blocked, it means that, if the pace kept up, Johnson would find himself completely out of commenters by this time next year.
As a corollary, we can return to the open question of “banning level” (referring to the comment CJ made back in ’07, the sole time he revealed how many accounts were banned). In that comment, he miscalculated and said that 0.02% of the total accounts were blocked (381/~15,000 = 2%, actually). With our update, we can state that this level is now at least (15,780/35,621 = 44.3%). The fate of over 1/3 of the accounts are unknown, but with what we know now, I think we can speculate that the real number is much higher (the “banning level” of known accounts is 15,780/22,422 = 70.4%, which is probably a more meaningful number anyway).
Finally, one last way to look at this is from the perspective of the millions of comments in the archives that span a decade, and their authors. There are now so many people banned at the site that we’ve crossed a sort of grim threshold. If you were to randomly pull up any of the 9.5 million comments in the archives, chances are that the author of that comment is now blocked. Or if you compare it to last year’s figures:
If there were bragging rights for this sort of thing, Johnson would undoubtedly be the undisputed champion. A league of his own. It’s really pretty mind-boggling, and hard to imagine what kind of a logical explanation one might come up with for it.
I think Jonathan Dee would be pretty interested to see where Johnson has gone since the aforementioned article he wrote on him two years ago. It’s obviously gone beyond being banned for disruptions, hate speech, calls for violence, or petty disagreements. Charles appears to have unconditionally taken out the bulk of his active accounts, without any explanation. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to determine with certainty if this was done in one swoop, or one at a time (the sheer numbers involved seems to necessitate an emphasis on the former, but who knows), but we’ll keep working on the data to learn more and see if there was more of a common association within the banned.
Regardless, the overriding question again is…why?
It’s hard to believe that Johnson would try to explain it away with some convoluted excuse about the threat of “spambots”, but he might. Engineer no. 5 speculates that “Somehow CJ uncovered the thousands of sleeper agents planted years ago by racist homophobes and dispatched them with ruthless efficiency“. Heh. Possibly.
My theory? Frustrated by years of getting pwned by current and former lizards to the point of rampant paranoia over the intent of all his account holders, Johnson decides to nuke his own blog with mass indiscriminate bannings. Unfortunately for Mr. @lizardoid, our revelation is just another pwnage to add to the list. (To add insult to injury, he never did catch “Patches”!)