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FAQ -- Disappearing articles in alt.religion.scientology

Lovingly crafted by Frank Copeland <fjc@thingy.apana.org.au>.
Last modified 3 June 1997.

Note: Frank Copeland died in 2006, and his site no longer exists, sadly; but I found this copy in Cornelius Krasel's archive. Tilman

It is a regular occurrence on alt.religion.scientology for someone to post that they suspect that someone else is removing their articles from the newsgroup. Claims like this have to be taken seriously, because it does happen. However, in most cases the explanation for the apparent disappearance of an article is much more mundane.

This document has three aims:

Questions Answered

In the time-honoured tradition of Usenet FAQs, this document takes the form of answers to questions that have been frequently asked in the newsgroup, or which the FAQ-maintainer thinks people should have asked.

Here is a list of the questions answered:

  1. I posted an article, and now I cannot find it in the newsgroup. What has happened to it?
  2. I posted an article x days ago, why hasn't anyone responded to it?
  3. How can I tell if my article has reached the rest of the world?
  4. Does the Church of Scientology cancel articles it doesn't like?
  5. Who or what is the CancelBunny?
  6. How can I tell if one of my articles has been cancelled?
  7. What should I do if I find someone has cancelled one of my articles?
  8. I can't find a cancel, but I still suspect someone is interfering with my articles. What should I do?

There is usually more than one answer to each question.

Here is a list of Appendices treating some subjects in greater depth:

Question: I posted an article, and now I cannot find it in the newsgroup. What has happened to it?

Answer #1: It wasn't posted successfully

It isn't always obvious when you post an article that the news server has accepted it for posting. It's a common beginner's mistake to post the same article several times because the feedback from the news server wasn't understood, or was outright misleading. In the same way it is possible to be tricked into believing that an article has been posted when it wasn't. Pay attention to all the feedback you get from your news reader and news server, and if you don't understand something ask someone who does.

To check that an article has been successfully posted, get your newsreader to reload the newsgroup and show any new articles. If your article doesn't appear straight away it may be that your ISP's news server is busy or down. Try again later. If the article still does not appear, contact your news admin or help desk.

Answer #2: Your news reader has marked it as read

Newsreaders keep track of articles you have read so that they can avoid displaying them the next time you read the newsgroup. Some newsreaders apparently mark your articles as read when you post them, on the grounds that you already know what's in them. When checking the newsgroup for your articles, tell the newsreader to show all read articles as well as unread ones.

Answer #3: Your ISP's news server has expired (deleted) it

Until someone invents a storage device with infinite capacity, news servers must periodically delete old news articles to make way for new ones. How often this occurs depends on how many news groups your ISP carries and how much disk space it commits to storing news. Each news article is kept for a set number of days, depending on the news groups it is posted to. When an article reaches its time limit, it is expired (deleted). For busy groups like alt.religion.scientology, the time limit for expiry may be as little as two or three days.

It is highly likely that other articles posted at the same time as yours will still be around when yours has been expired. This is due to the fact that the time limit for expiry is usually based on how long the article has been stored on the news server, *not* on how old the article is. If an article from another ISP takes a few days to reach your news server, it will be expired later than one of your articles posted at the same time.

If your articles seem to disappear after a relatively short period (say a couple of days), ask your news admin or help desk what the expiry period is for the newsgroup.

Answer #4: Someone has cancelled (deleted) it

An article can be deleted by sending out a special news article called a cancel message. A cancel message is a request to delete a specific news article.

In theory, an article should only be cancelled by its author, or by the author's ISP. There is no way of enforcing this, although most news servers at least attempt to verify that the From: address on the cancel matches that on the original article. Unfortunately forging the necessary headers is trivial and anyone with half a clue and a bad attitude can cancel any article they wish. It's as simple as lying to Netscape about who you are.

Certain types of article, including spam and Make Money Fast chain letters, are by general agreement cancelled on sight by people who clean up this sort of trash in the newsgroups as a public service. If you've posted the same article, or a very similar one, to multiple newsgroups, or have posted an article promoting a get-rich-quick scheme, chances are it will be cancelled and no-one will show you the slightest sympathy.

For more information see the Net Abuse FAQ at <URL: http://www.cybernothing.org/faqs/net-abuse-faq.html>.

Question: I posted an article x days ago, why hasn't anyone responded to it?

Answer #1: You haven't given it enough time to propagate

It takes a finite amount of time for a news article to travel from your ISP to the rest of the world. Depending on how well your ISP is connected, it may take several days. It is not unusual for overloaded news servers to develop massive backlogs that take days to clear. While it would be normal to start receiving replies within a day or so of posting an article, delays of two or three days should not cause you any concern.

See Appendix ?? for an explanation of how news propagates.

Answer #2: No-one thought it was worth responding to

You should always be prepared to entertain the possibility that your article isn't as interesting to the other newsgroup participants as it is to you. Especially if it is off-topic, or on an obscure subject, or one that has been hashed out many times already.

Question: How can I tell if my article has reached the rest of the world?

Answer #1: Ask someone to look out for it

If you've developed contacts with other newsgroup readers, they will usually be happy to keep an eye open for your article if you ask them nicely.

Answer #2: Look for it in one of the Usenet archives or search engines

Deja News <URL:http://www.dejanews.com/> aims to archive all of Usenet (except for the naughty bits, apparently). It has a searchable database of articles going back to March 1995. Other search engines such as AltaVista also let you search Usenet, but don't keep articles forever. See Appendix ?? for tips on using the search engines to find your articles.

Remember, give your article time to propagate. You shouldn't declare it AWOL until it has been missing for two or three days at least.

Question: Does the Church of Scientology cancel articles it doesn't like?

Answer: In general no, but it is suspected of cancelling particular kinds of articles

Scientology lawyer Helena Kobrin once attempted to have the entire alt.religion.scientology newsgroup deleted. This was a miserable failure and she was voted Usenet Kook of the Month for her troubles. Since then there has been no attempt to cancel articles that were merely critical of scientology; there would be nothing left in alt.religion.scientology if that were the case.

However, articles have been cancelled if they contain what scientology considers to be part of its 'secret' 'advanced technology'. These cancels continue to this day, and they are believed to be performed under the direction of the scientology organisation. If you do post this kind of material, having the articles cancelled will be the least of your worries. People have been sued over such posts, and others have had their Internet access threatened or curtailed.

Question: Who or what is the CancelBunny?

Answer: A person or persons suspected of cancelling articles on behalf of the Church of Scientology

A person or persons unknown, using false ID's and throwaway accounts, has been cancelling articles containing scientology's 'secret' 'advanced technology' for at least two years. The CancelBunny has been hounded out of several ISPs, but now seems to be securely based at a minor ISP called artnet.net. This ISP has its office only a few blocks away from the Scientology complex in Los Angeles, and its sysadmins have not been very co-operative.

Question: How can I tell if one of my articles has been cancelled?

Answer #1: The cancel message will appear in the control or control.cancel newsgroup

Because cancel messages are so numerous, and of little interest to the readers of most newsgroups, they are stored in special a newsgroup called 'control' (or 'control.cancel' on many news servers). You can subscribe to control[.cancel] like any other newsgroup, and search for cancels posted in your name. Be warned, this group will contain many thousands of articles, and is known to crash some newsreaders. It will likely take a very long time to download over a modem link.

Answer #2: The cancel will be reported in the daily Lazarus Cancel Summary

Due to the activities of the CancelBunny, Homer Smith <homer@lightlink.com> operates a software robot that posts a daily summary of all articles cancelled in alt.religion.scientology. Summaries are posted in the name of 'Lazarus', with the subject 'Cancel Summary'. The Lazarus reports are archived at <URL: ftp://ftp.lightlink.com/pub/remailer/lazarus/>.

Answer #3: One or more ARS cancel watchers will let you know

Chances are that you will find out that one of your articles has been cancelled when someone mails the cancel message to you.

Answer #4: The cancel message may appear in a Usenet archive or search engine

Cancel messages get archived and indexed just like any other news article. A clever canceller can add a header to try to prevent it being archived, but apparently only Deja News honours the header at the moment. See Appendix ?? for tips on finding cancel messages using the search engines.

Question: What should I do if I find someone has cancelled one of my articles?

Answer: Scream your tits off

Well actually, if your article was cancelled because it was spam or a chain letter, print it out, pin it to your clothing, go to the nearest freeway and throw yourself under the first truck that comes along.

Otherwise, if you are one of the good guys and you have the smoking gun in the form a verified cancel for one of your articles, give those old lungs a good workout. Post a copy of the cancel message to alt.religion.scientology and crosspost it to news.admin.net-abuse.usenet. If you can work out where the cancel message was posted from, mail a copy to postmaster@ and/or abuse@ that site. See Appendix ?? for tips on interpreting cancel messages.

You should consider reposting the cancelled article, although if it was done by the CancelBunny the cancel may well be accompanied by legal threats from the Church of Scientology. In that case you would be better getting legal advice before doing something that might get you sued. Resist the temptation to get into a cancel war with someone. Reposting the article once will usually be enough to get your point across.

Question: I can't find a cancel, but I still suspect someone is interfering with my articles. What should I do?

Answer: Ask for help

But before you do, please at least consider the possibility that you are mistaken. If you can't find a cancel message after a diligent search, chances are there isn't one. Knowledgeable people watch the newsgroup constantly and cancels are usually spotted and dealt with very quickly. If there is no cancel message it is highly likely that no-one has molested your article. Usenet is not a reliable medium. Articles go missing all the time for a variety of mundane technical reasons. In the majority of cases the best thing to do is simply to repost the article after 3 or 4 days, with a little note to the effect that you didn't get any response the first time.

If you are still convinced something is happening, post your suspicions to the newsgroup, along with any evidence you have come up with. If you prefer not to draw attention to yourself, the FAQ maintainer is always happy to help out. He can be contacted by sending mail to <fjc@thingy.apana.org.au>.