while the timing tells you how far being on the news i am, imagine my surprise when, as i was sifting through my rss reader late last Sunday night working on a project due on Monday, my sleepy eyes stumbled across these four words:
death threats against bloggers
what the.....? of course, i immediately clicked through to kathy sierra's creating passionate users to see what this was about. no, it wasn't another odd marketing technique from kathy. it was a post announcing that she feels compelled to stop blogging because of the death threats and other heinous comments being made both to her blog and in posts on other blogs about her.
as i read the post, which she has moved off of creating passionate users and links to from there, i was in total shock. shock that kathy has been enduring this hell for months. shock that the outrage hasn't been louder (after all, i'm just now seeing it). shock that one of the very best blogs in the blogosphere has been swallowed by the black hole of puerile pranks, at best, or a sociopathic stalkers in the worst case.
as i've previously written (see The Future of Media, Part 2 on Learning Circuits Blog) there are those who are predicting some dark times ahead for the internet. perhaps, if they are correct, and i wouldn't bet against them, the anonymous threats against kathy are likely just the tip of a much larger iceberg to come. why might i feel this way?
throughout history, whenever society was presented with new technologies, there was a ramp up time in which scammers and folks with other nefarious intentions were able to take advantage of a public yet unaware of how to identify the authentic from the fake or otherwise protect themselves. when paper money was introduced, counterfeiters had a field day exchanging fake bills for real. when i was a teen, the newly introduced, credit card-sized driver licenses were a snap to fake. postal scams and telephone scams both were prevalent as those services spread to every household. atm's and public phones had their dangers until we learned to silence the beep-boop-beep's that told the sharp eared scammer standing just out of sight that you pin is 3-2-3.
why would we think the advance of the internet isn't going to be the same or worse. most of the innovations i mention above were regulated as they were introduced. but the internet we've created is regulated by no one. and we're proud of that. we should be. but let's not be naive and believe there won't be a downside to that freedom. currently there is no way to truly verify that someone is who they say they are on the internet. even those cryptographic "words" we have to decipher to enter a comment on this and many other blogs and websites don't keep out the spammer's robots (just look at the recent comments over there in the right sidebar and you'll see what i mean). in the discussion of tim o'reilly's blogging code of conduct, several people point out that requiring an e-mail address means nothing because there are numerous ways to get an email that doesn't identify you nor can be linked to you. is it more anonymous for me to be "anonymous" or to be "diane armstrong"? (even kathy suggests in her last post to her blog that she might create a fake persona to continue her blogging under.)
maybe we thought the blogosphere was a different part of the internet. a safe haven from the ills of the world due to our collective commitment to authentic discourse and honest disagreement. in many ways it is true. the rallying behind kathy has been much like a neighborhood watch being formed. the blogosphere has shown it's compassion and willingness to protect it's turf. but even neighborhood watches often can't do it all. fortunately, organizations like sxip, openid, lid, oasis/saml, pingidentity, and others are working on solutions. the question is, will they be just in time or a little to late to avert widespread scams?
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