Friday, July 07, 2017

07-Jul-17: Symantec's classification tool now calls our blog a hate site

Silencing unwanted voices in a previous generation [Wikipedia: Nazis burn
[Five updates appear at the foot of this post.]

Elder of Ziyon has just posted an alarming piece [Symantec categorizes numerous pro-Israel blogs as "hate", July 4, 2017] which reports on what appears to be the systematic mis-characterization of certain websites with a pro-Israel orientation as "hate" sites.

This classification means some major Internet Service Providers (who use server-based filtering supplied by Symantec Corporation) will prevent access to those sites, effectively silencing them. The indications till now are that the gag applies principally or only to British ISPs. But it's not hard to see this malicious craziness spreading more widely.

It's a censoring process that has no clear published rules as far as we know. Symantec, the US supplier that provides this service to ISPs, allows for the classification of websites by reference to a long list of categories defined in an on-line document called "URL filtering categories" dated June 8, 2011. You can inspect it online at But you can't know from there what logic goes into the classification itself.

That Symantec document defines a filtering category called "Hate" as
"Sites that promote hostility against particular individual or group on the basis of race, religion, color, gender, and origin."
If you are defined this way, large numbers of unsuspecting Internet customers of those ISPs will not be able to get access to your site. It's a serious issue.

Yesterday, thanks to a tweet [here] from a British source, we discovered that our blog is now classed by that Symantec filter, and its many ISP and corporate users, as a hate site:

Click for the source tweet (and an archived version)
(We appreciate very much the leg-work and the tip-off which made us aware. His longer analysis is here:

Here's the little we know about Symantec's "classification" service. It's called RuleSpace and in Symantec's market-speak it
incorporates proven and globally respected URL Web categorization databases with real-time analysis to multiple markets. RuleSpace offers a unique combination of database lookups and real-time analysis for accurate categorization of unknown or dynamic web sites, especially useful in dealing with sites containing user generated content. Symantec provides superior service quality with a dedicated engineering and technical support team, powering dozens of 3rd party web filtering solutions, serving more than 350 million end-users worldwide.
Elder of Ziyon mentions several others that have gotten the same treatment: his own Elder of Ziyon site, Israellycool, Israel Matzav and Abu Yehuda. The website of the British gentleman we mentioned above, called Confronting antisemitism and Israel hatred is also ridiculously classed as a hate site.

There are bound to be others.

To be sure, we checked our site's status (using this address:, since the problem seems to be focused on the UK) with Symantec's online classifier and confirmed that the report is right: ThisOngoingWar: A Blog is now, in its British address version, indeed classed as a hate site by the Symantec classification commissars:

Screen shot of Symantec's online classification tool [here] and the result we got: "Hate, English"
We clicked the "submit" button to request what Symantec calls a "review" and we're waiting for that dark and unexplained process to run its course.

We plan to dig further to try to understand how easily a malicious individual (a "lone wolf"?) or an organized gang of haters ("cognitive warriors"?) can have voices unfriendly to their viewpoints silenced and essentially removed from public discourse.

From what we see so far, it's chillingly easy.

Is the gagging of our site connected to our recent efforts to have Twitter shut down the account of an undoubted hater/bigot, the murderer of our daughter, as we wrote here ["25-Jun-17: A voice of lethal, bigoted hatred is silenced... for a while"] a few days ago?

We might find out. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 10:45 am July 7, 2017: A few additional insights to share.
  1. We Googled for lists of self-avowed hate sites, antisemitic sites and Holocaust-denial sites. (Sadly, they're not hard to find.) We fed those names into the Symantec tool and roughly half of them came up classified as "hate". The other half from Symantec's stand-point are fine. (Interested to know which hate sites we found that Symantec approves? Glad to answer you by email.)
  2. Symantec comes up with a "hate" label for the British URL of our blog, meaning, every time we checked this morning. However if you enter the same site via its US or Australian or German or any non-UK version of its address (again, the very same site but via a slightly different Blogspot URL), Symantec classifies it as "Dynamic Site" and/or "Blogging, English". If the stakes weren't so high - and they surely are - this would be funny.
  3. The only thing for which we express hate in our blog is terrorism and those who do it. So we're not at all interested in a discussion about "well, maybe you really are hateful". We're not and the blog is not. Which leads us to say, with all the respect and understanding we have for complex technological challenges and algorithm-based solutions - after a long career managing serious tech companies on three continents - that if we held stock in Symantec Corporation (NASDAQ: SYMC), we would certainly be wondering about the quality of its technology and be thinking about calling our broker right about now. 
UPDATE 10:15 am July 11, 2017: With no word of explanation, apology or notification to us of any sort from them, we have just discovered - by going online and once checking once again via Symantec's online classification tool [here] - that the site you are currently reading is now re-classified by Symantec. It's no longer a "hate" site. (Of course, it never was a hate site at any stage.)

Our treatment at the hands of this major public company with a global reputation has been shabby and unacceptable. We intend to learn more about what goes on under their sheets.

UPDATE 10:00 pm July 17, 2017: Not one word from anyone at Symantec Corporation (NASDAQ SYMC) - not before they called us a "hate" site; not during; and not after they removed the classification and disappeared. Does this say something about how their management runs the company? Possibly.

UPDATE 3:30 pm July 30, 2017: No one from Symantec Corporation (NASDAQ SYMC) has bothered to make contact with us since we became aware that they were absurdly branding our blog a "hate" site. They silently removed the gag (being branded a hate site means millions of users cannot access it) with no explanation after receiving numerous complaints from our readers. What sort of process or algorithm or polling or black-magic do they use to come up with their "hate" site calculations? Does it stand the test of being reviewed by intelligent and objective outsiders? It's a tremendous amount of power - the power to silence - for a non-regulated Internet services provider. Perhaps government offices ought to be looking into this.

UPDATE 12 noon August 7, 2017: Not a word from Symantec Corporation (NASDAQ SYMC), though we did get two Tweets from a Norton support account identifying itself as"Steffi", offering to do something incoherent on our behalf. In any event, nothing was done, the Symantec stonewalling continues and the cloud over Symantec's hate-classifying business grows ever darker. We do believe the authorities ought to be looking into the unregulated power this company has to gag voices in the social media with zero explanation and zero transparency. Meanwhile we're pleased to note that the post you are reading at this moment has remained the most read of all our posts for thirty consecutive days. We sincerely hope it continues to hold people's attention.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Using the "ncr" (No Country Redirect) in the URL could bypass the block?