1 July 2008

Because LJ drama just doesn’t pique my interest any more

Boing Boing went back and quietly deleted everything they had ever posted about Violet Blue, a sex columnist who has written for WIRED, the SF Chronicle web site, and other places. At some point, somebody noticed.

Various people got irate. Violet Blue said she had no idea why all the posts were removed.

Boing Boing initially tried to ride out the storm by ignoring it, but eventually too many people wrote about it. So today, they posted a response. It states that they decided to delete the posts silently in order to avoid giving unnecessary attention to some mysterious drama that went on between Violet Blue and Boing Boing:

Violet behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her. […] We hope you’ll respect our choice to keep the reasons behind this private. We do understand the confusion this caused for some, especially since we fight hard for openness and transparency. We were trying to do the right thing quietly and respectfully, without embarrassing the parties involved.

Let’s skate over the faintly preposterous idea that a link from Boing Boing lends someone credibility. If they’re willing to link to the Time Cube guy, I’m pretty sure that lending credibility is not really the concern.

So, it’s about association. Violet Blue presumably did something to annoy someone at Boing Boing enough that they’d consider deleting everything about her. They say they’re trying not to embarrass the parties involved. I’m guessing they’re not referring to Violet Blue as the person whose feelings they are trying to spare. So the obvious question is, what was the alleged crime committed by Violet Blue, and against whom?

I’ve seen a number of hypotheses. I have no knowledge which is correct, if any.

  • Did advertisers asked Boing Boing to remove the links? That seems pretty unlikely, given that there’s still plenty of stuff being posted that could use a unicorn chaser.
  • Did a Violet Blue article about Amanda Congdon, drawing attention to her side jobs, get that woman fired? Supposedly Amanda Congdon is a close friend of people at Boing Boing. (I say “supposedly” because I don’t know any of these people, I’m just repeating some speculation I found.) Would Boing Boing take their ball home and cause drama because someone wrote something true but inconvenient about a friend?
  • Do they object to Violet Blue’s attempt to apply for a US PTO trademark on her name, or her lawsuit against a porn star who was using the same name?I don’t know, but I’ve a hunch the gossip isn’t going to cease until Boing Boing come clean and tell everyone why they did what they did.

Oh, sure, nothing Violet Blue wrote was deleted; just links to her stuff. It’s hardly censorship if Boing Boing don’t want to link to her, that’s their decision and I’m not complaining about it. What I find interesting–amusing, even–is the incredibly inept way the whole thing has been handled.

When you run a web site that regularly criticizes government and corporate media when they attempt to quietly unpublish or modify things, it might occur to you that if you do the same thing yourself, it will be controversial, or at least liable to incite comment and speculation.

Still, a quick post saying (to pick a hypothetical cause) “Violet Blue said mean things about Xeni Jardin, so we’re removing all links to her,” and everyone would have probably skipped on to the next article about open source papercraft models of Disney World. But instead, Boing Boing decided to do the deletions on the sly, and then when that blew up they had a moderator post about mysterious conflicts that nobody is allowed to know about. The deletion is perhaps understandable, but the vague followup comment is like spraying the web site with ddrama llama pheromones.

It’s something I learned a long time ago, on a bulletin board system far far away: on a multi-author system, never delete something silently and invisibly. You’ll get more than enough drama if you annotate the deletion and provide the reason. If the reason isn’t something you want to state, you probably shouldn’t be doing the deletion.

It’s not that deleting one’s own links and comments is objectionable; everyone does that, when the comment is no longer relevant (“I’m going to be in Florida next week”) or the link is broken. What makes it smell wrong in this case is that it was the deletion of all links and comments about a particular person, based not on content decisions, but on some apparent personal slight or misbehavior on that person’s part. That’s not site maintenance, that’s moderation, perhaps even spite.

As one comment on Boing Boing eloquently put it:

If Violet Blue did something so reprehensible that you think she should be publicly condemned, do so. If not, ignore it.

The thread of comments naturally has a great deal of spuriosity too, with gems of argumentation like:

“I don’t care, so you’re an idiot to be talking about it.”

“You’ve never registered to post comments before, therefore I can dismiss what you are saying.”

“It all happened a year ago, so it’s too late to talk about it now.”

“You know who else unpublished things? Stalin, that’s who.”

“Oh my god, you’re saying this is literally a Stalinist purge? You lack perspective, and can therefore be ignored.”

“Too many people have mentioned George Orwell, so I refuse to read any more clichéd whining. I’m going back to my copy of Little Brother.”

“There aren’t any rules for blogging, so they can do what they like.”

And of course, the perennial favorite:

“It’s not censorship because the government isn’t doing it.”

There, I just saved you 20 minutes.

© mathew 2017