Chip Shots by Chip Griffin

The Digg Mob Reveals Childish, Wild West Side of the Internet

The blogosphere and the rest of the Internet offer tremendous opportunities for people to live, learn, and work better.  Great information resources exist.  Communications tools facilitate interaction.  And an entire infrastructure exists to enable creation of content, products, businesses, and more.  I thrive in this arena both personally and professionally.  I’m a blogger, podcaster, and CEO of a company that monitors traditional and new media online.  In short, I’m an advocate of the Internet and the promise it represents.

Unfortunately, there’s also a childish, Wild West side to it all.  A vocal minority would have you believe that the Internet should exist without any rules except the ones that they choose to impose on others.  Like a spoiled child, they revert to tantrums when they don’t get their way.

Yesterday, a company hardly known for its stodgy, traditional ways found itself at the center of a firestorm.  Digg removed a link to a post containing information on how to hack an HD-DVD copy protection scheme.  Some debate exists over whether the DMCA takedown notice delivered to Digg would hold up legally, but there’s no doubt that sharing a copy protection code represents bad behavior. 

You may not like copy protection — and this is a debate that has been ongoing since at least the 1980s — but the fact of the matter is that companies have the right to sell their products in this way.  If you don’t like it, there’s nothing compelling you to buy it.  I’ve had my issues with copy protection and licensing schemes over the years.  It’s often inconvenient and sometimes costly.  But it’s a fact.  And the fact is also that piracy represents a serious issue for content producers and distributors. 

Unfortunately, a significant number of Digg users chose to engage in a digital temper tantrum in which they flooded the site with references to this copy protection code.  Digg surrendered.  Mike Arrington over at TechCrunch questions whether they really had much choice but to give in to the mob:

The users had taken control of the site, and unless Digg went into wholesale deletion mode and suspended a large portion of their users, there was absolutely nothing they could do to stop it.

I think Mike’s right.  But that doesn’t make the Digg Mob right.  Part of the reason why large companies and mainstream consumers remain leery of the Internet is the perception that it’s the Wild West where anything goes.  Unfortunately, a significant number of Digg users decided to reinforce this image.

Because Digg capitulated, they have effectively reinforced the bad behavior.  Just as giving into your child when he’s having a temper tantrum means that there will be more in the future, so too does this now effectively wrest control of Digg away from Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson and puts it into the hands of the Digg Mob.  Andy Beal does a nice job of describing this, as well, and discussing its implications.

Kevin tries to paint their capitulation as a principled stand against injustice: “You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company.”  That’s good spin, but it’s not the truth.  The principled position would have been to stand up against the Digg Mob and accept the consequences. 

Where does this bad behavior end?  If the Digg Mob decides it doesn’t like paying taxes and some user figures out how to hack the IRS computer system, is it fair game to post that?  And who likes paying tolls? — perhaps we can post a hack to fool the EZ-Pass system.  Or perhaps a tutorial on how to create a fake credit card that fools the movie theater machines into printing tickets for free? After all, why should a movie cost $15?

It’s time to stand up against this kind of insanity.  The Internet promises freedom, not anarchy.

[For more reading on this point see Tom Peters from PC World who addresses the mob justice angle and Jeff Nolan who says you can’t just ignore laws you don’t like.]

UPDATE: Richard Koman over at SiliconValleyWatcher offers up an excellent post touching on many of the same themes that I did.

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