The Blair Hippo Project (blairhippo) wrote,
The Blair Hippo Project

It's Like Watching Your Parents Calling Your Teachers A Bunch of Doody-Heads

I found the damnedest thing on-line today.

There's this blog I (and vast swathes of other people) like called Boing Boing. It bills itself as "A Directory of Wonderful Things," and is a reliable source for fun links and the incredibly Internet-savvy writings of author Cory Doctorow.

There's this writer who goes by the name Violet Blue who I (and vast swathes of other people) like who has a (not-remotely-work-safe) blog called Tiny Nibbles, a podcast called "Open Source Sex", and a bunch of nifty books. If you like intelligent sex-positive writing, Violet rules.

And there's this site called Making Light that I (and vast swathes of other people) like. It's run by a couple of Tor editors, and not only are a bunch of the articles pretty much required reading for any aspiring writer, it's also the most perfect discussion environment you're going to see this side of Paradise. The community is generally articulate, considerate, and well-informed, and moderator Teresa Nielsen Hayden may be the world's leading expert on how you encourage discussion without taking any shit from trolls.

So, what happens when you combine the three?

Would you believe a high-drama Internet clusterfuck?

Boing Boing used to have a whole bunch of articles very favorably mentioning Violet Blue -- it's how I found about her in the first place. Boing Boing is also very strongly anti-censorship and tends to act as a media watchdog, calling attention to various dodgy actions by powerful folks who ought to know better. For reasons known only to their core contributors, Boing Boing took the (for them) unprecedented move of removing almost all articles mentioning Violet Blue from their archives. They did it without any sort of fanfare about a year ago, and Violet herself only just noticed.

Violet noticed it here (NSFW ads, article on a very NSFW site) and talks about it in more depth here (ditto). Tomorrow Museum (a blog I only discovered as a result of this kerfluffle) wrote an article that was a leeeetle bit hot under the collar about it here. And Eric Burns-White, a blogger/essayist I enjoy very much and wish was as prolific as he used to be, wrote an oblique but very insightful article about it here.

So, we start of with something ... weird. Not sinister, not worthy of outrage, but definitely very strange. Boing Boing are usually the Good Guys -- there's a reason XKCD typically depicts Cory Doctorow as a kind of blogger superhero, after all. They've called other media outlets to the carpet for this kind of behavior in the past; hypocrisy is hardly the biggest sin in the world, but surely now that people have noticed, some kind of explanation is going to be forthcoming, right?

Uhm, no. Thus far the only explanation has been offered by Boing Boing's forum moderator Teresa Nielsen Hayden here. Not only is it unsatisfying, not only does it fail to acknowledge the fairly obvious hypocrisy that raised peoples' hackles in the first place, it's actually a tad misleading. Consider this sentence:

"Bottom line is that those posts (not "more than 100 posts," as erroneously claimed elsewhere) were removed from public view a year ago."

So, how many posts do you think were removed? Obviously, she doesn't specify, but to me, the tone is unmistakable -- it was just a handful. Silly internets, always blowing everything out of proportion!

Except ... it wasn't a handful. According to the LA Times blog, it was somewhere in the ballpark of 70.

Now, did Teresa lie? Hell no. It was, indeed, NOT more than 100 posts, as she claimed. But 70 is nothing to sneeze at, and is a stark contrast to her very dismissive tone.

It gets ... not "better," not by any sensible definition of the word. But it gets stranger. Teresa's husband Patrick made a post about it over at Making Light. "Aha!" one familiar with Making Light and the Nielsen Haydens might think. "Now we'll get some sensible perspective on this! Surely this will be the most informed and level-headed discussion one is liable to find in any of the internet's many tubes!"

Except ... it really wasn't. Oh, some very good posts were made, some excellent points raised, but the level of discourse fell well below what I normally expect from ML.

It wasn't a flamewar -- it was still on the whole quite civilized, particularly compared to the wretched cesspit that is most on-line discussion. But ... people were talking past each other to a degree that made my head spin. Guys like Patrick, guys like John Scalzi, were getting bogged-down in bickering over semantics, bickering over whether an LLC is a corporation, bickering over ad-hominum attacks and whether people had been indulging in them, rather than addressing the central issue: Boing Boing acted in a way that was starkly counter to its publicly-declared sense of ethics and that inspired an internet-wide "WTF?" from everybody who noticed.

And the thing was, when people tried to put them back onto the real topic, they ignored it.

The discussion is over now. Patrick shut it down. He did so in response to one poster (Zota) pretending to be Boing Boing contributor Xeni Jardin in order to make a point. Which again strikes me as very strange.

Now, I'm not going to defend Zota. Faking a post under Xeni's name was a blockheaded move and deserved a response. But the thing is, it's a move I understand on some level. It's something I've done in the past, actually -- at a baseball discussion forum I used to hang out at, I made a few very tongue-in-cheek posts under the name of former pitcher Jaret Wright as part of a point I was trying to make. It was actually considered standard practice on that board and nobody took it seriously -- c'mon, why would honest-t'-gawd major-league ballplayers give a shit about what we're babbling about over here? (Needless to say, this was years before Curt Schilling became a blogger.)

I got a similar feel from Zota's "Xeni" post -- off the cuff, trying to make a point, not meant to be taken seriously. Problem is, 1) faking the name of somebody famous is not standard practice at ML because 2) moderately-famous writer-types (like Xeni) do indeed drop in all the time. Zota fucked-up, no question, but it didn't strike me as malicious; it just struck me as stupid.

So when Patrick's response was to shut down the thread and hand Zota a lifetime ban from the site's forums ... dude. I mean ... seriously. Dude.

As internet outrages go, the whole thing is pretty weak sauce. But a whole bunch of people I admire and respect are behaving in ways that run 180-degrees counter to why I admire and respect them in the first place. It's not upsetting, it's just damned perplexing. I have to assume there's a reason folks are being so evasive, obfuscatory, and short-tempered about the whole thing, but if they're not going to say what that reason is -- or even cop to being evasive, obfuscatory, and short-tempered in the first place -- then the internet will, as it is inclined to do, start trying to make up its own answers.

Boing Boing, Violet Blue, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Patrick Nielsen Hayden ... these are the good guys, goddammitalltohell. Seriously, WTF?

Teresa herself made a concise and very insightful post about the proper way to handle on-line scandals and other such PR disasters here. I sincerely hope that, in private, she's giving the Boing Boing crew a royal ass-chewing for not only ignoring her excellent advice but for putting her in a position where she has to ignore it, too.
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