The Summer of Blogospheric Meltdown
This has been some month: a month that, far in the future, bloggers will clink tumblers of scotch over while shuddering in horror at the recollection. While live-posting to their blogs via direct, wireless connections from their brains.
Yes, the month of July, 2006, may rank with October, 1929, in the annals of History with No Sense of Proportion. The month everything changed: the month of innocence lost, of reality biting back, of lawyers gaining a long-sought-for toehold and of chickens coming home to do what they do best.
If you are over 40: Do you remember when you realized that hitchhiking was absolutely insane? Our society has just crossed a similar turning point.
Blogging ain't what it used to be.
Having been at this hobby in various guises for over three years and seeing a lot of good ones come and go and mutate, I know everything in the blogosphere changes. (It would be an interesting project to write an obit-list with "cause of death" for all the departed). But July of '06 may well be the time we look back to and say, "Do you remember how it was before that?"
First, I'll note a passing change, one like many others before - a blogger who has switched media. Regnum Crucis is no longer a blog. This was - in my opinion - the best Web site on terrorism and the War. The writer was a youngster but extremely plugged-in. He has managed to have his blogging history expunged from google's cache as well as the Wayback Machine, which seems no small task, so if you want to learn about him you will need to do some serious digging, including clicking that link and reading Italian.
This one is not a scandal of any type, but it does signal the end of an era. His flow of inside information has moved to a private group. Posting everything one knows for all the world to see may be becoming a thing of the past.
Next, the meatier stuff.
The Greenwald affair in itself is a bit of a chuckler. On one level you want to say: "Sock puppets. What a doofus."
When you read the whole story, though, you realize there's quite a lot to it. You can spend some time digging down through that link. Very enjoyable time, I might add.
The fallout, moreover, has been impressive. More here. Ace is a seriously good blogger, smart dude and wonderful writer. Wizbang is one of the blogfathers at very least. The dirty bomb of this controversy has poisoned the landscape and it will be interesting to see how/if all the affected parties manage to climb back into their chairs.
(You can read some of the lead-up to that mess here.)
Finally, the Frisch-Goldstein imbroglio took the penultimate turn by jumping from the funny papers to the front page. Some background here from Ace - although I will not even attempt to collate this story because I do not have an attorney on retainer. You're going to have to research that one for yourself.
The upshot is, some folks have been forced to lay low in real life because of communications that took place on the Web. There's a lesson in all of this, and while I can't formulate it with total accuracy just yet, I can say it has to do with treating everything you say on the Web just like you'd treat a speech before a town council meeting. That goes for posts as well as comments on blogs.
Here's why this represents a major change: From the 1980s on, computer-based discussion has enjoyed a near-impermeable cloak of radical secrecy. Anonymity is a big part of the deal. Whether on a BBS or Compuserve message board or newsgroup or chat room or IRC channel or forum or blog, an Internet person has always been able to don an incognito. You can say all kinds of crap and get away with it on the Internet: That's one of the coolest things about the Internet. This unique, identity-masked arena of completely coherent communication has no parallel in the real world.
And now, our little boy-in-the-Web-bubble conceit has been unmasked. When we sit at the keyboard and type, we may well need to assume our photo will accompany every message and our every message will be displayed on the 100-foot screen overlooking Times Square. Our cool little secret geek world has been uncovered.
It's no longer just a boy (or girl) and his (or her) keyboard.
Wherefore, then, the incognito? I still believe there is a place for it. I still intend to practice it: though not here, obviously.
I know people who contribute great things to the Internet only because they can do so anonymously.
But a simple rule arises: Watch, very carefully, the personal attacks on people whose lives are otherwise private. If you hit someone, they have a right to hit back. If you, anonymously or incognito, launch a personal attack against a real person by name, said person might get a wild hair and decide to track you down. If you're blogging or commenting on a blog, think of yourself as George Will. You're a commenter, but you must be a responsible commenter. Don't enter into areas that George Will wouldn't enter.
For example: If I call myself Joe Shmoe, and criticize Jonathan or David or the head of the ACLU on their statements about some issue related to gay marriage, we can probably have a civilized debate. But if I start to criticize their personal lives, they may feel impelled to find out who this Shmoe character is.
I may go on other blogs and make up a name and trash politicians or celebrities or terrorists, and that's ok. They're already public figures and getting hammered in the press. But I'd hesitate to hammer the guy who lives down the street or some other blogger on the basis of personal information I might have, unless I was willing to stand behind the statement 100%.
For this reason, I don't think a blog is a great medium for national-enquirer-type exposes unless the blogger is either fully disclosed, willing to be disclosed, or EXTREMELY well-hidden. The latter condition can be met, but those who attempt it need to really cover their tracks.
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