Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Rumor-Mill?

One effective means to destroy the confidence among corrupt partners is to encourage whistleblowing. This includes advising citizens on how to make a complaint, and establishing institutions that will handle the resulting cases, An effective system of whistleblowing lowers the confidence among corrupt partners, cuts through secrecy and makes corrupt transactions arduous to arrange. -- Lambsdorff and Nell (2007)

This web site is a place where users post, debate and vote on rumors related to public life. That means it is directed at whistleblowers, not gossips. The main goal is to lower corruption, i.e., the misuse of public power for private benefit.

Because RM users are anonymous, they should feel free to post and discuss more importance/dangerous/interesting rumors without fear of recognition and/or retribution; see How does anonymity work?

For more background, see the original whitepaper or powerpoint shows 1, 2 or 3.

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How does RM work?

What Is a Rumor? 

A rumor is known to be true or false to some people, but not to others. At RM, a rumor becomes a fact when it is proven to be true and acknowledged in at least two reputable outlets. A rumor is not a prediction. The rumor mill is about relevant rumors concerning ideas, people, and/or organizations that affect the public. For example:

What should you write?

Users posting rumors should define criteria that will confirm the rumor as fact. Hints of where to find these criteria are welcome but DO NOT reveal your identity explicitly, implicitly or accidentally when posting!

How Does a Rumor Flow through the RM?

All visitors can see all pages on the Rumor-Mill web site without having an account or logging in. Nobody can post, vote or comment on a rumor without logging in, which requires a user account

  1. A logged-in user can post a new rumor, which has status 1: submitted.
  2. A Moderator decides if the rumor is clear. If so, the rumor is given status 2: active. If not, the rumor is given status 3: rejected. The moderator gives reasons for status 3, i.e., why the rumor is unclear.
  3. Users vote on the active rumors. Users cannot comment without voting, but they can vote without commenting.
  4. When a user thinks that evidence exists showing that the rumor is true or false, he nominates the rumor for status 4: judgment, where the rumor is still active for voting and/or comments, but votes received after nomination for judgment will be canceled if the nomination is valid. Moderators decide whether to move the rumor from status 4 in the same way as they do in status 1. If the nomination is valid, the nominating user receives positive reputation points; if it is not, the user receives negative reputation points.
  5. If the rumor is true, it is given status 5: true; if it is false, it is given status 6: false. Submitting and voting users' reputation points are adjusted when the rumor enters status 5 or 6.
    A submitter gets +20 points for submitting a true rumor and loses 20 points for a false rumor. (20 points is perhaps too harsh. If we want to encourage submissions, do we need to give a bonus for taking a chance? Lose 15 points if false?)
    Voters get +1 point if they voted true for a rumor that turns out to be true, but loses a point if it's false. (The opposite happens for false votes.)
    If the submitter and/or user is in the minority (i.e., when a majority of votes are for ``false" when the rumor turns out to be false, points gained/lost are doubled. Since all rumors are structured as ``true" in a clear submission, only "false" voters get a bonus if they are in the minority for a rumor that turns out to be false.

Rumors in status 1-6 are visible to all visitors to RM.

What about Liars?

...the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of the journals in the world would stand the test? But who would stop those that are useless? And who should be the judge? The useful and useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice. -- Gandhi, An Autobiography: the Story of My Experiments with Truth (1927 -- 29)

All visitors to RM should remember that users may submit rumors that are true or false, intentionally or not. Besides maintaining a perspective of skepticism (i.e., do not believe everything you read), visitors can look at the reputation of the user who submits a rumor. The higher the reputation, the more likely it is that the rumor will eventually be proven true. This, of course, does not mean that it will be proven true, so do not be gullible.

In the beginning of operations, it will be hard to distinguish between users, since they all will have similar, low reputation scores. Over time, reputations will diverge, providing more information to visitors.

The bottom line is that nothing is true or false until it enters status 5 or 6. Numerous votes and/or persuasive comments do not make a rumor true or false. The purpose of RM is to facilitate the revelation of truth or fiction. In the end, it is the reputable organization that RM relies upon for verification. We hope that these organizations (and others) find useful material for investigation among the active rumors in status 2. 

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How does anonymity work?

RM does not send cookies to your computer; RM is not maintaining website statistics of visitors' IP addresses, but that doesn't mean that RM's host does not keep a record somewhere. Your server (at home or work) is probably keeping logs of sites you visit. Read more on Internet privacy

We STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you visit RM from a computer you trust, using anonymous web-surfing software or proxies (here and here). Internet cafes and/or free-wireless connections are good. Visiting RM from work is a BAD idea, due to the many types of monitoring software employers use.

Tor is a more robust means of visiting RM but it requires users to install software.

We plan to ask the hacker/cracker community to test our security and anonymity.

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How does RM compare to site XYZ?

Other whistleblowing sites are less anonymous and sometimes want proof. On RM, anyone can say anything. Rumors will be confirmed as true or false elsewhere. 

Whistleblowing

Business Keeper sells software to companies and governments that want "facilitated" anonymous whistleblowing without public disclosure.
Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) reveals injustice
Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame) has a truth-telling project -- apparently to advocate that others blow the whistle.
Government Accountability Project (GAP) investigates government corruption and misconduct. They welcome anonymous reports.
National Whistleblower Center requires whistleblowers to disclose their identities.
Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is similar to GAP.
Who's a Rat is the ``largest online database of informants and agents". This site is the opposite of RM; they are trying to expose informers. 
wikileaks (WL) is " an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis." WL is a complement to RM.

Free Press, Free Speech, and Transparency in Government

California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC): freedom of speech and transparency
Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT): free speech and privacy
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): free speech and privacy
Free Expression Network (FEN): many organizations supporting free speech and transparency
Internews: supports journalists
National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC): free speech and transparency
Open the Government: transparency
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: supports journalists
Sunlight Foundation: transparency

Anonymous Posting and Gossip

eBossWatch allows people to anonymously rate bosses.
GORB allows people to "evaluate people anonymously using their email address"
Pick-a-Prof and Rate-a-Prof allow anyone (with an account) to post ratings on professors.
Truemor allows people to post in many categories. Very similar to RM but requires an email address.

Prediction Markets

Betocracy allows anyone to create a prediction market.
Hollywood Stock Exchange
allows people to bet on entertainment outcomes.
Iowa Electronic Markets allows people to bet on political (and other) outcomes -- with money.
Washington Stock Exchange is another political market but without money and with more races. 

Direct Democracy

Kitchen Democracy is testing direct participation in four California cities.
PICOLA is testing direct participation and deliberation. 

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Who runs RM?

This website is owned and operated by Rumor-Mill Inc. (RMI), a California nonprofit public-benefit corporation. RMI was incorporated in January 2007 (incorporation papers 1 2 3). As a nonprofit, RMI has no shares and cannot be sold, i.e., "the property this corporation is irrevocably dedicated charitable purposes and no part of the net income or assets of this corporation shall ever inure to the benefit of any director, officer or member thereof or to the benefit of any private person."

RMI's Board of Directors is responsible for its mission: "to own and operate a web site (www.rumor-mill.org) facilitating transparency in government and other organizations." Currently David Zetland is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors. Other members of the board are Henry An, Sue Barrett, Christopher Gustafson, and Darius Roberts.

RMI's Federal Employer Identification Number is 20-8291066. RMI  has IRS approval as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization (approval letter 1 2). This means that donations to RMI are tax-deductable.

Rumor-Mill Inc. 421-6 Russell Park Davis, CA 95616 USA (rumormill.org@gmail.com)

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How do I support RM?

  1. Tell your friends and colleagues about RM. The more users, rumors, votes and comments RM has, the better RM serves its purpose.
  2. Participate with your votes and comments. If you can submit a rumor, please do. Rejected rumors do not affect your karma or reputation
  3. Send money. If and when RM gets popular, we will need money to operate. RM will post annual financial statements as well as quarterly cash balances.

How to Donate (from least to most anonymous...)

  1. Donate with a credit card or paypal account (click donate button below). Although you can donate as "anonymous", an electronic record will still exist of the transfer between your pay pal account and Rumor-Mill Inc. (discussion on anonymous Internet transactions).
  2. Send a check to "Rumor-Mill Inc." at 421-6 Russell Park Davis, CA 95616 USA. 
  3. A slightly less convenient but more secure way of donating money is to deposit it directly into our bank account. Go to any branch of Washington Mutual, fill in a deposit slip with our account number (492-308558-7) and deposit as much cash as you like. Note that this transaction may be recorded on video cameras 
  4. The only sure way to donate anonymously is to send cash in an unmarked envelope, making sure to use a stamp (not a postal meter) and gloves. Do not lick the envelope or the stamp, as saliva contains DNA and can be traced back to you. Unnumbered gold ingots welcome!

For both 1 and 2, if you want to deduct your donation for U.S. tax purposes, include your name and address, and we will send you a letter acknowledging your donation. 

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How will RM evolve?

Now (Beta 0.8)

Users can create accounts, login, submit rumors, comment and vote on existing rumors. Moderation is manual. 

Live (Beta 0.9)

Large scale (Beta 1.0)

Stable (2.0)

Website is running smoothly with anonymous, peer-moderation. Translate site into other languages.

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Glossary of Terms

Affect The Public: For something to affect public life, it must have an influence outside of the organization in which it originates. For example:

Clear: For a rumor to be clear, it is necessary and sufficient that it fulfill these five conditions:

  1. The rumor must be a rumor. Among other things, this requires that the rumor is not known to be true or false via a reputable outlet, that the rumor affect the public, and that the rumor be falsifiable
  2. The rumor cannot already be submitted to RM in a similar form.
  3. The rumor must address a single, noncontingent fact.
  4. The rumor must be immutable.
  5. The rumor must be stated as if it is true, e.g., ``Mr. X did do this."

Fact: Acknowledged in at least two reputable outlets.

Falsifiable:  Something that can proven false; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiable

Hashed:  May not be secure, but RM is more vulnerable to attacks on the host account or admin account.

Immutable: If a rumor can change from true to false to true, it is not immutable. ``Mr. X likes chocolate" can be true or false, depending on Mr.  X's tastes. ``Mr. X ate chocolate yesterday" is immutable.

Judgement: A single user can suggest that a rumor in active status be judged as true or false by RM moderators. The user must supply a link to a reputable outlet for this request be valid. If the request for judgment is valid, all user votes submitted after suggestion of judgment are cancelled.

Karma (from Slashdot): The user's score with respect to commenting on rumors. Users with high karma scores are allowed to moderate comments. These same users will be allowed to moderate (approve or reject rumors in status 1) at some future point.

Moderator: RM will begin with appointed moderators; a single moderator will be able to decide if the rumor should have status 2 or status 3. When there are sufficient users with sufficient karma, RM will extend moderator privilege to users with the highest karma. Three moderators will make independent, simultaneous decisions on whether the rumor is clear or not. A decision of two out of three is necessary to decide status. Moderators will receive positive karma if they are in the majority and negative karma if they are in the minority.

Reputable Outlets: Media that maintain archives available to the public as well as a policy of correcting factual mistakes. This list will grow as we receive requests for judgment. For example, the Congressional Record, Economist, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal.

Reputation: The user's score with respect to submitting and voting on rumors. A positive score implies that the user is perceptive; a negative score implies that the user is gullible. The user with the highest positive score is known as Deep Throat

Single, Noncontingent Fact: If a rumor depends upon another rumor to be true, it is not a single fact. Users should submit sequential rumors one at a time. If a rumor combines two different rumors, it is not a single fact. Users should submit simultaneous rumors separately. 

Slashdot: The source of our software.

User Accounts: Anyone can create a user account for free. Since RM wants to protect user anonymity, RM collects no information when the user account is created. A user account consists of a randomly-generated account name and randomly-generated password. (Users can change their passwords.) It is the user's job to remember and secure this information. RM cannot retrieve password information, since passwords are hashed. A user's account is associated with all of the rumors that the user has submitted, voted and/or commented on. The user account also has scores for Karma and Reputation.

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Revised May 25, 2010 by David Zetland ~ Copyright 2007 Rumor-Mill, Inc. All rights reserved