Above Top Secret
|Type of site||Mainstream News Commentary/Discussion Board|
|Registration||Optional (required for contributing content and posting on the message boards)|
|Owner||The Above Network, LLC
Incorporated in Delaware, United States
|Created by||Christopher Hansen|
Above Top Secret is a news discussion forum created by Simon Gray in 1999 as a discussion board for conspiracy, and a site for general information about conspiracy topics. Today, Above Top Secret is more commonly used to discuss current news articles as the Breaking News forum makes up the largest percentage of content, and a site for general information about conspiracy topics. Currently under the ownership of The Above Network, LLC (Incorporated in Delaware, United States). ATS has been used by some popular conspiracy writers such as Jim Marrs, John Lear (banned from making new posts or threads on ATS since 2008 ) and Scott Creighton. As of January 2010, ATS claims it has almost 10 million posts with over 4 million visits to the site a month. As of August 2010 it is ranked 2,546 in the U.S. by Alexa. It is now mostly run by Mark "Springer" Allin and William "Skeptic Overlord" Irvine. Administrators maintain that Simon Gray is very much still involved with Above Top Secret but no longer publicly posts in the forum. Mark "Springer" Allin does promotional activities such as going on the radio show Coast to Coast AM to promote the site while William Irvine tailors ATS to appeal to the public. William Irvine was brought on to Above Top Secret for his background in developing web technologies for larger business.
ATS members exchange and debate their Above Top Secret approved ideas and theories on a variety of "alternative topics", including UFOs and extraterrestrial life, political scandals, New World Order, the 2012 phenomenon, cryptozoology, and secret societies. Though members contribute a lot of original content, ATS relies heavily on external content which members find, post, and discuss.
Above Top Secret started as a small graphic image page by Simon Gray in early 1999. Receiving a boom of members following the attacks on September 11th, 2001 the site quickly grew to accommodate the influx. Since its inception it has rapidly expanded, featuring a media portal for user-created podcasts and flash-based videos.
Besides the discussion board, ATS has grown to accommodate a larger range of new multimedia, in particular ATS LIVE - a radio show broadcast on AM stations KCKN (Roswell, New Mexico) and WLVJ (Miami Florida) and via internet streaming every week. The site also hosts a number of online only radio shows - ATS UK& Euro (covering topics from the European arena), Above Politics (discussing global and regional political issues), After Midnight (Podsafe music and off-topic chat) and ATS Unleashed : Music to Conspire To (Podsafe music and off topic chat).
The site also retains a video portal for its own generated content, in particular Conspiracy Chicks (a video news show) and Street View (Public opinions on ATS Topics).
The website continues to grow as a hub of discussions on a variety of topics, occasionally forming new forum sections for large news stories, such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
Off Topic Discussion
This is the relaxed/non-conspiracy side of the website with accounts registered to either domain working on the other. Forums on the Off Topic Discussion section vary and can range from topics on music to travel and General chit-chat to literature for example. As of early 2010, the Off topic discussions forums can be reached through the Above Top Secret home page.
In the news
George Knapp of Coast To Coast AM welcomed Above Top Secret's Mark Allin as a guest on Friday May 28, 2010 to discuss alternative news and conspiracies from the Above Top Secret website. Dr. Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic Magazine refers to Above Top Secret in an article for Scientific American entitled "Fahrenheit 2777", listing it as an example of a source of "easily refuted" 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Wired Magazine www.Wired.com links to and quotes AboveTopSecret.com linking to a thread wherein the site's membership has proven a video of claimed UFOs is nothing more than airplanes approaching an airport and therefor a hoax. There's another story in Wired that mentions ATS here:
The Above Network, LLC, which owns Above Top Secret, is currently fighting copyright infringement allegations from Righthaven LLC over content copied by a user from a Las Vegas Review-Journal article on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, on the basis that because of the user-generated nature of ATS's content, a DMCA notice should have been filed.
Some members of ATS have strongly criticized the site for their personal perception of overtly censoring content though a large number of moderation staff who actively police to uphold its terms and conditions. Users point out that although this may be necessary for the smooth running of the site, censorship can be perceived as being ironic for a site that is user generated. Also, the notion of censorship is a prominent feature in conspiracy literature and this adds to the problems of ATS censorship. Real life activities can also lead to removal from Above Top Secret. When it was discovered that Jared Loughner was posting on ATS as "erad3" he was banned.
Members have also been critical of Above Top Secret moderators for not following the terms and conditions while actively making others do so. Their Terms and conditions and rules posting rules made by the owners state that members cannot use the site for recruitment to any causes whatsoever. Moderators have broken this rule  while censoring members for doing the same.
Other users have pointed out that a tradition of always siding with the conspiracy theory can lead to misinformation being posted on the site. The practice of deleting any post that is inadvertently advertising any of ATS’s rival and smaller conspiracy sites is treated with suspicion. Critics would point out that this is ATS taking advantage of its internet monopoly on internet conspiracy literature for corporate gain and reduces the ability to cooperate with other sites to build on knowledge. One claim made by ATS is that news is reported before it is reported in the mainstream media. This occurs rarely, however, as nearly all "alternative news" on ATS comes from mainstream media sources.
Some have even gone so far as to accuse ATS of being controlled opposition, reminiscent of the former COINTELPRO operation of the United States. This is a recurrent theme in many ATS posts and one which the owners of the site deny, such as author and commentator Laura Knight Jadczyk who has openly criticized Above Top Secret after she published an article on her alternative news website Signs of the Times. This led to a dispute between her and the owners of ATS who claimed that the article had breached ATS’s “creative commons deed”.
Within the discussion boards, topics are still moderated. Members individual posts are often altered, edited out, and/or removed by moderators if the member breaks the site's terms and conditions. Banning members who persistently do not adhere to the site terms and conditions is a commonly used option. Topics that discuss the Galactic confederation of light are removed from the UFO section and put in an off topic forum. 9/11 Conspiracy theories about Holographic planes being used are prohibited.
Any conversations of pertinence to the subject matter of cannabis, whether it be contextually of relevance to the recreational use, the medicinal use, the legalization of use or the economic benefits of production of the said compound, is strictly prohibited and resultantly censored. Contrary to the current uncompromising enforcement of censorship, residual evidence of a time when such discussion was permitted, can be found on the website's main forum index (a directory listing of the composite fora of the website). The aforesaid evidence is in the fashion of an untitled link to the now absconded original forum board and respective discussions. The link currently directs to the website's default 404 page as per all censored discussions of any subject matter. In lieu of a forum title, the link is graphically represented by a monotone icon depicting a male smoking what is colloquially referred to as a "joint" or a "blunt". Ancillary information adjacent to the link denotes the cumulative topic total and the last date of active and therefore uncensored discussion September 30, 2011. Springer, one of website's owners, formally declared a "zero tolerance" ban on conversations concerned with illicit drugs and even legal, psychoactive substances on February 25, 2008. The ban was invoked on the basis of stereotyping members with an interest in discussing the subject matter. According to Springer, such members are idiosyncratically "immature", "snide", uncivil and disruptive and despite the demonstrative sincerity of legalization advocates, Springer described such advocates as "a type of user that is simply not wanted here". Such policies, in terms of the enforcement practices of moderators, are indicative of a double standard; by merit of their own definition of "mind altering" substances, discussions regarding alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical drugs are still permitted.
Ownership of user generated content calls the motive of the media portal into question. Above Top Secret provides a media portal for users to upload self made pictures and videos. While members still have the option to upload videos to sites like YouTube and then post them on ATS they can no longer post any images to ATS unless they are uploaded to the media portal.
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