Digg: Mob Rule or Democracy?

Digg

The image above can either be taken as the final nail in the coffin for those who seek to control the use and content on social networking sites (or social media sites), or as a harbinger of the manic mob rule that will overwhelm sober reflection on the web. It’s a screenshot from RSSOwl displaying the homepage of Digg.com recently, on a day in which thousands of users, in response to efforts of the site to shut them out for putting on it a code to unlock High Definition DVD’s, put up the code and flooded the site with so many posts that the owners had to retract and admit that they had been overwhelmed by the power of the commons.

As the New York Times stated:

The broader distribution of the code may not pose a serious threat to the studios, because it requires some technical expertise and specialized software to use it to defeat the copy protection on Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. But its relentless spread has already become a lesson in mob power on the Internet and the futility of censorship in the digital world.

An online uproar came in response to a series of cease-and-desist letters from lawyers for a group of companies that use the copy protection system, demanding that the code be removed from several Web sites.

The advent of the likes of YouTube, Flickr and Digg have necessitated a shift in the manner in which we look at content on the interweb. As the Guardian Unlimited avers:

I’m no fan of the ludicrous digital rights invoked by Hollywood on DVDs, but it isn’t that hard to find the information you need on the web. Digg’s a user-led site, but nobody has the inalienable right the post there. Some users are concerned that the approach has been affected by the fact that HD DVD took out some advertising on the site. Well, it might, but they were still abiding by the letter of the law. And while the law might suck, but – unfortunately – it’s still the law.

There’s a fine line between freedom of speech and foolishness. I wonder how many of the users involved would be happy to post the encryption key on their own site, and then ignore a cease and desist order?

There’s in my mind a clear difference between the freedom of expression and the rule of the mob. The issue here is in a sense trivial – a HD DVD code – but I’ve yet to see the same mob mobilising itself to support something that’s more important to humanity than salivating over the possibility of committed an illegal act – pirating a High Definition DVD. When for instance will there be the same interest in Darfur? Digg is a site that I frequent, but it’s nowhere near a site that will replace, much less complement, the news, analysis and opinion I get from other websites (including blogs) such as Ars Technica, PCR Project, LifeHacker, Newsvine, Google News and even NY Times.

Clearly, social media is here to stay and yes, it’s revolutionising the manner in which we create and consume information. But to me, the Digg story is more about what social media should not be.

One comment on “Digg: Mob Rule or Democracy?

  1. n#
    May 11, 2007 at 3:33 pm #

    Sanjana

    The image does not zoom up but I gather it is about the HD-DVD fiasco.

    Digg administration banned people from posting the offending HD key, so users decided to post that key in every way possible and flood the site with stories containing it.

    Most of those people were not “salivating about copying HD-DVD’s” (the key has been revoked, and is no longer valid, also by itself, is generally worthless without the software which doesnt yet exist in a stable useable form), rather they were challenging the right of MPAA to copyright an alphanumeric sequence (similar to the scenario that arose when the original DVD encryption system was cracked).

    Eventually Kevin Rose (founder:digg) backed down on his stance of deleting posts (and posts containing the key automatically died down).

    Basically, this was democracy, gone right (where the masses had their say, and were actually heard).

    As for focusing on events in Dafur, digg is a tech site, so most stories are tech related (though some of the content is general interest).

    Perhaps you should consider setting up a social site which deals with news / human rights related stores, here in Sri Lanka (where users could up / down vote stories).

    The technology used to set up such a site is easily available in open source and it would be an interesting and useful experiment IMO.

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