February 9, 2006

Bad for Bloggers, Bad for Everybody:

I lived out the Stone Age of the Internet "blind as a cave fish" in the depths of that prototype of all subsequent online communities, The WELL. I was there for over 10 years during the time when it was more balanced than unbalanced.

One of the characteristics of THE WELL was the tendency of any discussion to strike a spark and resulting flame war to hit DefCon 1 in about two hours. It was toasty in there, I tell you.

Still, during those years when you could say almost anything about your "worthy opponent" and have somebody on your side, the one thing that could make the entire WELL descend upon you like Alice's pack of cards was to threaten somebody else's rice bowl. ("How would you like it if I just gave a print-out of that to your boss?")

Taking action against the employment of other members of The WELL was widely viewed as the mortal sin of online conferencing. This was wise because, seeing that it was a free-wheeling space, there was probably something written by anyone on The WELL that could be used against them at their job.

It was a variation of the adage, "If our secret thoughts were known, who among us would escape hanging?"

That's why this entire blogswarm on the Edwards bloggers fills me with inertia and loathing. Not for what they said or they covered up. That's beside the point because you'll line up on that depending on your political religion. Its not the crime or the coverup, its the precedent.

As a friend said the other day, "Online thoughts and writings are the most indelible ink we've ever written in."

Without referencing the Edwards bloggers, I would note that over time people change and at certain moments people online write things they later regret out of passion or ignorance. Over time, people's situations change as do their needs and views.

It seems to me that we use past opinions to dump on future aspirations in our political squabbles at our peril. Getting people sacked in real life by using online life as a club is always a bad idea.

If you think it isn't, you're next.

Posted by Vanderleun at February 9, 2006 8:13 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I think this situation is different for two reasons:

1) The job these two were hired for is the same as the cited writings. It is not unrelated to their new job, it is precisely their new job, political online writing. To say one can't examine that record is the same as saying you can't look at any of my previous code libraries when you hire me as a programmer.

2) People do change, and had these two come out with "yes, we wrote very inflammatory and intemperate things, but we're older and wiser now", I doubt there would have been nearly as much traction. But they didn't — they tried airbrushing and transparently false excuses ("satire").

That said, I find it bizarre that people still don't realize that public writing is, well, public. I first started participating in online communities back in 1974 or so, and even then I was careful to avoid writing anything I wasn't willing to take public responsiblity for.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at February 9, 2007 10:02 AM

I remember one friend of the family who kept getting "outed" by online discussion groups as "a waste of taxpayer money." He worked for a state college.

The kicker is that he worked as a computer programmer, and would get on Usenet while the programs were compiling. So he wasn't wasting time on the taxpayer's dime at all; he was just annoying people while using obstreperous language, usually maligning their illiteracy and inability to carry an argument. But THIS MEANT WAR and so they'd do his best to harass him— sometimes physically, which is why he used a pseudonym in the first place.

And the topic under discussion? Science fiction. He'd sometimes get death threats over what he posted. So much fuss over so little...

Posted by: B. Durbin at February 9, 2007 2:55 PM

Well, having said all that, Vanderleun, you still have to admit that Iowahawk's parodies of the Edbotte is healthfully cathartic.

Posted by: Jewel, Mirthful Infidel at February 10, 2007 6:12 PM

You have it exactly. Iowahawk is one of the great living treasures of America.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at February 10, 2007 8:39 PM

What would really be bad, is if they, meaning the all-pervasive, somewhat meaningless, but all-powerful THEY...start removing posts and videos from the internet which poke fun at current sacred cows and prophets...then a black car with tinted black windows and a government license plate shows up at your house at 3 o'dark, and without a warrant hauls you off to be questioned, while your existence is erased from the public record...that would suck.

Posted by: Jewel, Mirthful Infidel at February 11, 2007 3:31 PM