A reader at The Robert Gordon University in Scotland tried to access my site from campus and received this message.
Now, presuming this is not a mistake, I am very proud of this achievement. It is my first distinction in what I hope will be a long and lasting line of them.
But then it’s probably a mistake. That’s statistics for you. Doing as much harm as good.
RGU apparently uses the firm Bloxx to filter webpages, and it’s probably their “Tru-View technology” (well, they have to call it something) which locked me out. I’m hedging because I don’t know for sure.
It could be that somebody at the university flagged me as dangerously violent, or that yet another statistical algorithm has gone off the rails. I’m hoping for the former, because that would make me a kind of celebrity, but I’m guessing it’s the latter, because I know how dicey classification algorithms are.
In this case, one of four things can happen: (1) the software can correctly let a benign site be displayed to the sensitive RGU readers; (2) it can properly block sites university administrators deem unacceptable; (3) it can improperly block harmless sites like mine; and (4) it can accidentally let a horrible site (say, the New York Time) slip by.
Generally, modern enlightened peoples being what they are, the costs of (4) are thought to be much higher than the costs of (3). Think of the line of “shocked” and “offended” students out the president’s door if the Scottish equivalent of (for example) HotAir were let in. But if somebody can’t see a site? Well, out of sight, out of mind.
Thus, the knobs in these algorithms are often tuned to the Better-Safe-Than-Sorry setting. Plus, add to that the impossibility—as in impossibility—of designing any statistical algorithm that can classify perfectly, and lots of mistakes will happen.
I wrote Bloxx and asked them to remove me from the stern eye of their filter. I’m sure they will if this was merely a bad algorithm. Of course, if somebody reported my site as violent, then that’s something very different. Stay tuned for updates.