It’s an old-media adage that if you can find three things that are similar, you have a trend on your hands, and can therefore write a big feature on the rise of the “hand-washing” trend or the “shoe-tying” trend. Well, after the Loren-Israel grudge match and the Jakob Lodwick flame war, we recently got the third in a spate of blogosphere bitchmemes: BoingBoing, the counter-cultural tour de force blog run by Cory Doctorow, Xeni Jardin and the rest of the Happy Mutant gang, came under fire recently for deleting any trace of the sex blogger Violet Blue.
Why did the Boingers do this? No one is saying. Violet doesn’t seem to have any clue, unless she’s being coy. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with something she wrote, or anything she can remember doing, although theories abound about personal relationships getting in the way of a continued relationship with BoingBoing. So what, you might ask? Well, one of the things that makes this spat a bit more interesting is the fact that Cory Doctorow is a prominent free-speech advocate and former Electronic Frontier Foundation staffer. And the site didn’t just remove some posts about or by Violet — it went back through the archives and deleted any reference to her whatsoever.
As more than one blogger has pointed out, this is more than a little at odds with Cory’s views on speech, and the BoingBoingers’ response that “it’s our blog and we get to do what we want” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement filled with logical consistency. Even some of the BoingBoing gang seem to have come to the conclusion that they may have erred badly in the way they approached the issue, although it’s still not clear whether they feel that the error was in deleting Violet or in talking about it and allowing people to comment on the post.
In any case, it’s true that BoingBoing isn’t the New York Times, and doesn’t have any legal or (arguably) moral duty to abide by any media rules. At the same time, however, what they have done does smack of censorship, and that’s not something we’ve come to associate BoingBoing with — or blogs in general for that matter. The BoingBoing team talks with the LA Times about what it has learned from the ordeal, and the central question is an interesting one: to what extent does a blog (or publication) like BoingBoing owe something to its users or readers or “community” when something like this happens?
The New York Times has a piece looking at the Violet Blue affair, and has some comments from Violet and Xeni Jardin.