A Few Quick Thoughts on Fair Game
I have too much work to do, but there's some matters about the Xanga affair that are preying upon my mind. There has been a lot of triumphalism in the news lately about the 'power' of blogs--and skepticism about this is fitting--but it does raise some questions about how we treat each other.
As it's now panned out, it looks like the Xanga site in question, Misled Youth, wasn't secured correctly to begin with. What Modern Vertebrate and then chillinois posted seems to have been publicly accessible, whether it was meant to be or not.
On the other hand, what I was surprised to find when I sent an instant message to the author this morning was that no one had contacted her yet. This put me in the embarassing position of pointing out the existence of the Kos article, being the bearer of ill news. And this surprised me. Tracking her down wasn't hard: her blog had almost half a dozen contact methods listed.
Now, besides an 'abortion is murder' style post at the top of the page, very little of her blog was political. It looked like a diary/community blog page that she kept for friends, and a Technorati search for the blog shows few incoming links. (Of course, she does link to it in a Yahoo profile and link to it off bulletin boards, which somewhat tempers the criticism.) The work didn't seem to be a serious attempt to enter a political fray. It's mostly just a diary of a young woman.
And yet neither MV nor chillinois nor Kos seems to have given her a bit of warning, a chance to take down any of the 'personal' areas of the site, as she has done now. (UPDATE: Please see the comments. 'Chillinois' claims to have written an email to an address on the blog on Sunday but received no reply. As I explain in the comments, this doesn't really change the following analysis.)
Now, I certainly don't think they should have a legal obligation to do so. Indeed, if you read my technical discussion in the preceding piece, I advocate putting the legal burden for securing information mostly on the owner of the information and the operator of the server. But legal obligations don't cover the whole scope of one's duties.
Had I not read about this in Kos--in which case, as I've said, keeping quiet about it is wholly ridiculous--I would have at least paused to consider the consequences of my actions. For instance, chillinois posted a copy of a picture of the young lady posted on her girlfriend's gay.com site. Now suppose that the image was there without the consent or permission of Misled Youth: this is the kind of thing that might put strain on a couple, if there were legitimate concerns over privacy. And that would be outside of whatever this might do to the relationship between the young lady and her (supposed--remembering this may still be a hoax) father. That would at least give me pause: do I really want such a thing on my conscience?
Evidently, this matters not at all to some of Kos's readers. A selection from his comments, not untypical of one side of the debate:
This is a war. A deadly war; remember Argentina, remember Chile. The disappeared could very easily become our reality.
We must use, every tool we have short of violence to win. These people are utterly ruthless. If we fight fair and they fight with no rules, we will lose.
Keyes attacked Cheney's daughter becasue she is gay. Keyes daughter is an adult, so she is fair game. And, if you read her blog Maya shares her father's twisted, derranged ideas about abortion, Kerry and more. She campaigns with her father. In their words she is a "politcal operative." They would not hesitate to destroy our "political operatives."
Or, less lucidly if more briefly:
fuck all you losers~!!!!!
i wonder how many of those wailing & gnashing their teeth are actually paid operstives ...."she is but a CHILD! cmon KOS, we dont do this!!! we are The Noble Failures!!!!"
well if being noble leads to failure let me dish some fuckin dirt & WIN!!!!!!
(Though again, to be fair to Kos, a very sizeable proportion, if not half, of his commentors are against the post.)
Whatever Kos's right to publish, I have to wonder that he didn't find some kind of moral duty to notify. "I, the mighty Kos, have a readership that reaches to the skies and blots out the moon on clear nights. I'm about to cast my mighty eye upon you, and I suspect [incorrectly, as it turns out] that I'm about to expose you due to a security glitch. You might fancy taking down the posts." If he were writing about myself, or Brian Leiter, or Crescat Sententia--blogs that are large enough in the ecosystem, have been obviously beaten about a bit--I'd think differently. But if you're about to expose someone's personal life, particularly if you think they might have meant to keep it private... that just seems a bit dubious.