China Blocks Gravatar and WordPress.com: How to Adjust WordPress Settings

beware

Automattic is making waves today in the fight against censorship, filing two lawsuits against those who are abusing the DMCA by misrepresenting copyright infringement. The company is taking a stand against the fraudulent misuse of copyright law in order to protect WordPress.com users from censorship.

Meanwhile, the other dark side of censorship – the one that simply turns the lights off and cuts off access to information – is still alive and well. State control over every form of media and communication outlet keeps citizens from coming in contact with new ideas. Policing access to websites deemed as subversive is fairly high on the state’s list of priorities. Sites like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are entirely blocked.

Unfortunately, the Great Firewall of China also intermittently blocks both WordPress.com and Gravatar. Automattic has a long history of dealing with censorship in China, Turkey and other parts of the world. The WordPress mission to democratize publishing is far more radical than many political movements. Those of us who enjoy freedom of speech often take it for granted. In addition to protesting and standing against censorship, another thing you can do is help out on the technical details for users in blocked countries.

How to Turn Off Gravatar Support

Here are a few practical tips for working with websites that will be viewed by users who intermittently have Gravatar and WordPress.com blocked. The other day I saw that @rarst jumped in on a conversation on wordpress.stackexchange.com where a user was experiencing a lag in page load times due to the Great Chinese Firewall blocking Gravatar. He suggested several solutions. The easiest one is to turn of Gravatar support in WordPress’ discussion settings:

Settings > Discussion > Avatar Display

Unfortunately, this setting removes support for avatars entirely. If you’d like to add that back in, you might consider using a plugin such as WP User Avatar or Simple Local Avatars.

Hacking WordPress to remove every trace of Gravatar is not a good idea. @rarst suggests overriding the get_avatar() function, which is pluggable. Ordinarily, it doesn’t make much sense to remove Gravatar, but if you have to for whatever reason, please do not attempt to hack the core.

Jetpack Modules to Avoid for the Chinese Firewall

Jetpack LogoIf your site is being viewed behind the Chinese firewall, you’ll want to avoid any modules that directly interface with WordPress.com. Jeremy Herve, Happiness Engenieer for Jetpack, outlined a few in a recent support thread:

  • Photon: Serves your images from the WordPress.com cloud preventing Chinese readers from seeing them.
  • Tiled Galleries: Depends on Photon, so you won’t be able to use it.
  • Jetpack Comments: Replaces your comment form by a custom form hosted at WordPress.com. Don’t activate this module if you want readers to be able to leave comments.
  • Jetpack Subscriptions: While the Subscription widget would work, subscribers are required to click a confirmation link leading to a WordPress.com page.
  • Gravatar Hovercards: Shows a pop-up business card of your users’ Gravatar profiles in comments.

Most of Jetpack functionality should work just fine. For the modules that interact with WordPress.com in your admin area, Jeremy suggests using a VPN to administrate your site. If you need alternatives to the WordPress.com and Gravatar-powered modules, check out Jeff’s recent post: 15+ Plugins To Get Jetpack Functionality Without Using Jetpack.

Hopefully, someday we won’t have to worry about oppressive regimes restricting WordPress.com, Gravatar and other sites that support freedom of speech. In the meantime, these practical tips should help you work around China’s firewall. Anyone else have anything to add for adjusting WordPress sites to prevent problems with firewalls?

photo credit: florian.b via photopin cc

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