Sony announced that along with the PRS 300 (the 5″ screen at $199) and the PRS 600 (the 6″ touchscreen at $299) it will release Sony Daily Edition at $399. Sony Daily Edition comes equipped with 3G wireless capabilities, a 7″ touchscreen, and is powered by the ATT Network. You can see pictures of the weird looking device here. I’m tempted but would need to see one in person. I would want to be able to access my Calibre folder and if it is possible to do that, then I would be interested in the Sony 3G.
In other eReading news, iRex and Barnes and Noble have partnered to bring a touchscreen wireless device to the US (and possibly others). iRex has been in the eink business from the beginning and my guess is that the device that is coming out will be excellent given its long learning curve. It will be tethered to the BN store, however, and despite BN’s claims otherwise, it is still lacking in selection. I am guessing that the iRex device will be aimed toward the consumer reading crowd and the Plastic Logic device that will be directed at the business crowd.
NetGalley has announced that its egalleys can now be downloaded onto the Sony Reader.
Jane Friedman, the former CEO of HarperCollins who saw the publisher to 10 years of record profit and then got shown the door, has been raising money for a new venture. It looks like Friedman’s project will be to find books and turn them into movies.
We consumers are buying less and being more sensitive to prices of books. Given this it seems strange that companies like Pocket, EOS books, St. Martin’s Press continue to try to sell their ebooks at premium prices.
In blogging news, an anonymous blogger called a model a skank and the model got Google to divulge the information of the anonymous blogger. The anon blogger is now suing Google for violating her privacy.
Apple’s 5th Avenue store brings in approximately $35,000 per square foot making it possibly the highest grossing retail space on 5th Avenue.
If you or a loved one is addicted to the internet, rehab is now available at the low low cost of $14,500.
Pseudononymous writing has been part of our culture for as long as the written word existed. Text by “anonymous” existed even in Ancient Greece. A detective in Britain lost a suit wherein he tried to stop a newspaper from revealing his true identity. The blogger wrote about the local police department and won a prestigious reporting prize for political writing. Since his outing, the blogger deleted his blog and was subject to a written reprimand from his superiors.
My understanding is that British and US laws are very different on this subject but I doubt that even a US blogger could get an injunction to prevent a newspaper from revealing a blogger’s identity. There have been cases which prevent ISPs from giving up identifying information, however; and there is a long history of US caselaw supporting anonymous speech.
(Thanks to Anion the Evil for bringing this to my attention).
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
With all the discussion lately about the rights and wrongs of online speech and conduct, I recently discovered a 2003 piece by Clay Shirky, appropriately titled “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy” (someone posted it in reference to the ginormous Brockmann brouhaha). Shirky’s insightful analysis of online communities tracks what he (borrowing partly from psychologist W.R. Bion) sees as a consistent pattern of group development and dissolution: a group forms and solidifies around a common purpose and the establishment of external enemies around which the group rallies. However, over time, the very thing that initially formed and grew the group starts to work against it, especially if the group does not have a constitution that establishes a shared set of rules:
So these are human patterns that have shown up on the Internet, not because of the software, but because it’s being used by humans. Bion has identified this possibility of groups sandbagging their sophisticated goals with these basic urges. And what he finally came to, in analyzing this tension, is that group structure is necessary. Robert’s Rules of Order are necessary. Constitutions are necessary. Norms, rituals, laws, the whole list of ways that we say, out of the universe of possible behaviors, we’re going to draw a relatively small circle around the acceptable ones.
He said the group structure is necessary to defend the group from itself. Group structure exists to keep a group on target, on track, on message, on charter, whatever. To keep a group focused on its own sophisticated goals and to keep a group from sliding into these basic patterns. Group structure defends the group from the action of its own members.
Constitutions are especially important in free speech environments, Shirky argues, because groups inevitably tend to revolt against themselves (isn’t this an ingrained political truth by now, too?), and the more freedom people have, the more potential chaos and rebellion.
I am not certain I agree with Shirky’s insistence on formal community constitutions, but I do think he’s right that groups can easily dissolve on the very foundations that built them, especially if they do not have something important or compelling enough to redirect the more destructive patterns of group behavior. I hadn’t thought a lot past this point until last week’s excellent discussion on internet anonymity, and more particularly after Jessica’s thoughtful question about the difference between Will Shetterly’s “outing” of a fellow blogger and the Maryland court’s ruling to protect online anonymity:
But isn’t this exactly what the justices did in the decision Jane discussed? Extend anonymity to online individuals on the same basis it is protected for physically embodied individuals?
I knew instinctively that the answer was “no,” that the Maryland court and Will Shetterly’s positions were not identical. But it took a while for me to discern that while both were focused on rules and on rule-making (and breaking), Shetterly’s argument was essentially ethical and the court’s was, obviously, legal.
And the difference is as important, even though it’s hard to distinguish law and ethics sometimes, because we tend to compress them so often in our discussions of online speech and conduct. Take the Shetterly incident, for example. When Will Shetterly got angry at a fellow blogger, he posted her full legal name online as part of his response to her, even though she blogged and participated online under a pseudonym. He later defended himself by pointing out that her legal name was already attached to her online LiveJournal account, and therefore he wasn’t “outing” her as people charged, ultimately writing a post on Internet anonymity in which he argued that
In the world Behind The Keyboard, nicknames are connected to faces or voices or mailing addresses-they’re ultimately legally verifiable, though you may need detectives if someone you only know by a nickname shafts you.
But in Life Online? A pseudonym is just a pseudonym, not a nickname. Log out of gmail, make a new account, and you’re a new person, walking free from all the shit you’ve made.
The post seems to turn on this whole notion of having a name that is “legally verifiable” as a way to be accountable online and in real life for what you say and do. Which, besides providing a convenient rationale for Shetterly’s own actions, also tries to tie the notion of anonymous speech online to legal responsibility.
In some cases – defamation, for example – that tie is explicit. Although even then, an accusation of defamation does not prove defamation, which was the whole point of the Maryland decision Jane discussed; in that case, the court held that someone could not force an online outlet to release someone’s “legally verifiable” identity based on an accusation of defamation. Legally speaking, people are entitled to a certain protection of anonymity, ironically, for the same reason Shetterly ultimately changed his mind and tried to wipe clean all references he made to the opposing blogger’s legal identity: he was publicly shamed into doing it by the online community. In and of itself, public shaming is not unlawful; however, there are things that flow from the loss of anonymity that can be, like harassment, stalking, defamation, etc.
And at some point speech can be chilled in an environment that does not appear to welcome diverse opinions. DA gets charged with this sometimes, and I can certainly see how some of these conversations would seem intimidating and not particularly diverse to people whose views do not mesh with whatever majority emerges at any particular point. There are times I wish there was more dissent in our threads, that we could have more extended debate, with people on different sides of an issue arguing strongly and passionately – and fairly — for their different positions. The problem is that no one can be guaranteed that her view won’t be challenged, and not everyone likes to argue as much as I, uh, as some of us do.
In any case, most of the issues we have with online speech and conduct are not legal in nature but rather ethical – that is, they are not covered by legal principles but rather by codes of conduct that emerge from and are tacitly or explicitly agreed upon by the members of any identifiable community. Here’s the thing about the law: it’s a narrow, artificial, and sometimes bizarre paradigm. There are many wrongs and hurts people endure every day that have absolutely no legal remedy. Just because someone is an a-hole toward you does not make them legally liable for your offense, even though every one of your friends, family, and casual acquaintance and commenters think they’re out of line.
And based on Shirky’s argument, I would argue that we should not underestimate the importance or urgency of paying more conscious attention to shared ethical codes. Because as things stand now, when people get pissed, they sometimes invoke some type of legally-inflected threat or language, which can easily have the effect of inflaming or chilling conversation. And the vast majority of the time, there is no legal issue at stake, and the ethical issues get quickly reduced to mutual charges of what basically boils down to ‘you’re a poopy head and you don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Ideally, we rely on people, especially grown-ups, to regulate and moderate their own behavior, a basic notion of some ubiquitous social contract informing expectations for online behavior. So even if Will Shetterly did not do a legal wrong in publicly posting information that is publicly available, as one of his commenters explained,
. . . you were angry enough so that you would have deliberately revealed her private information if it had actually been private in the first place. Which is, from their viewpoint, basically the same thing. It’s the principle that matters. Not the petty details. Heh.
In other words, it’s not the fact that the information was already public that matters; it’s the fact that Shetterly was mad enough not to care, because his intention was to call this person out and take away something he thought she did not deserve: her relative anonymity, as fragile as it may have been. That Shetterly wants to invoke pseudo-legal language to “explain” his reasons behind what he did does not make that language applicable. In fact, if you think about his argument that it’s easier to find out people’s legal identity in real life, it’s completely belied by the ease with which he got a hold of and published the identity of the blogger whom he opposed.
More generally, though, what I find most objectionable about Shetterly’s actions is that because he has decided not to claim a certain right (the right to speak anonymously), he decided it was okay to deny that right to someone else. In the same way he had a right to make the choice for himself, so should the other blogger. If Shetterly did not like the other blogger’s choice, he does not have to interact with and/or read her. But to take away a right he also had strikes me as Shetterly exercising his own rights twice simply because he could, or because he didn’t think through the implications of his actions, or because he was pissed.
I think what Shetterly did was ill-considered, and I think it’s an important ethical issue because it does not just impact the individuals involved; it sets a community standard and identifies a boundary across which certain speech and behavior are not okay for the ongoing welfare of the community. Some communities will thrive on wider boundaries, some on more narrow ones. Some communities will prefer a broad tolerance for speech but a narrower approval of behavior. It will depend on the purpose, make-up, and structure of the community, and on the contexts in which various speech and behavior occur.
Two fundamental questions are what ethical rules should apply, and how should they be applied? This is the problem with ethics: compared to how people perceive the law, ethics can seem soft and slippery. I would argue that in this sense they’re not much different from the law, but that’s an unnecessary tangent. More importantly, I would argue that it’s the softness, the difficulty in discerning and applying ethical rules, that makes them so valuable. Because they require thoughtful generation and application. They require reflection, comparison, context, conversation. They require community participation. In fact, I would argue that it’s not the rules, per se, that are of utmost importance; rather, I would argue that it’s the process of working toward the rules that counts, because it’s that process that engages the community as a community. And that, consequently, the rules will always likely be a work in progress, as long as the process of the work is taking place.
Another key, in my opinion, is to recognize that many of our recognized communities will have members that also belong simultaneously to other communities. And further, that people who are members of the same community may have different roles in that community. I believe that much confusion and conflict emerges from the elision of differences inherent to distinct roles. For example, authors and readers occupy different roles. Authors profit economically from their writing, and the name under which they write is identified with and connected to that economic profit. Consequently, they may have a narrower margin for speaking out under that name. Readers, by contrast, may have more freedom in speaking out, but they also do not gain an economic benefit from doing so. The roles are different. Which means that the standards of conduct are going to be somewhat different.
That does not necessarily mean, as some believe, that readers are/should be held to a lower standard of conduct; it simply means that they are/should be held to a different standard, but one, hopefully, that is at the same level of ethical conduct, taking account of the different roles. The trick, of course, is identifying these different roles and expectations and applying appropriate standards of conduct.
The issue gets a little more complicated, I believe, when it comes to strongly connected or overlapping communities like readers and bloggers, where many readers are themselves bloggers. The more overlap you have, the more confusing it can get, because it becomes more difficult to distinguish the elements that go into determining different standards of conduct. Should the blogger be held to a higher standard than the reader, and if so, what and why? And what about when authors are speaking out as readers? If they do so under their author name, does that automatically connect their words to the economic consequences of their work?
If you’ve been following the larger RaceFail ’09 controversy, you know that it’s been going on since January. I do not believe that the conversation will ever resolve, in part because there are too many individuals with valid, competing interests who have a stake in the debate. But is that such a bad thing? We are, perhaps, too hungry for resolution and unreasonably intolerant of the natural flux of dynamic organic systems. In an ideal world, there might be a perfect balance of priorities and expectations, but in the “real life” of the Internet, a fixed community is a comments closed, defunct community.
Still, if you could construct your ideal community online, what would it look like? Would there be explicit rules and what would its foundation be? Free speech or not? What’s the most important rule you would want to see implemented and why?
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Since January, there has been a discussion of race percolating within the online science fiction community. With all discussions of race, this one got heated. Will Shetterly, a pillar of the science fiction community, part of what I would term the old guard, outed a livejournal member who argued critically against him, sometimes with heated rhetoric. This outing is inexplainable, but Shetterly attempts to defend himself by likening pseudonymous individuals as con artists and suggesting that everyone is entitled to know the legal name of a person because “would you want to defend a klansman’s identity.”
The issue of anonymity on the internet is an important one and I thought it was particularly topical given that the Maryland Court of Appeals handed down a decision protecting internet anonymity. The case is Independent Newspapers, Inc. v. Zebulon J. Brodie and is available directly from the Maryland Courts website (pdf).
Zebulon Brodie filed suit to identify the legal names of individuals participating on an online forum. Independent Newspapers refused to provide the information. The initial ruling was in Brodie’s favor, ordering the release. Independent Newspapers appealed the decision and the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that in balancing First Amendment rights with right to seek redress for defamation, Brodie had failed to make a showing that he would be successful in a defamation act.
The court set up a five factor test in which trial courts should employ when faced with a defamation action involving anonymous persons. The court must:
- require the plaintiff to undertake efforts to notify the anonymous posters that they are the subject of a subpoena or application for an order of disclosure, including posting a message of notification of the identity discovery request on the message board;
- withhold action to afford the anonymous posters a reasonable opportunity to file and serve opposition to the application; require the plaintiff to identify and set forth the exact statements purportedly made by each anonymous poster, alleged to constitute actionable speech;
- determine whether the complaint has set forth a prima facie defamation per se or per quod action against the anonymous posters; and,
- if all else is satisfied, balance the anonymous poster’s First Amendment right of free speech against the strength of the prima facie case of defamation presented by the plaintiff and the necessity for disclosure of the anonymous defendant’s identity, prior to ordering disclosure.
The text of the court decision is fascinating in its detailed accounting of various internet forms of communication (from email to blog commenting to message boards) and the history of internet communication. "Since the early 1990’s, when Internet communication became available to the American public, anonymity or pseudonymity has been a part of the Internet culture," says the Brodie court. The Brodie court noted that it is one’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously and quoted Justice John Paul Stevens at length:
Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Great works of literature have frequently been produced by authors writing under assumed names. Despite readers’ curiosity and the public’s interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author generally is free to decide whether or not to disclose his or her true identity. The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one’s privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be, at least in the field of literary endeavor, the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. Accordingly, an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.
There is a limit to anonymous speech and that is the same limit as on any speech. In the Brodie case, the limitation being discussed was defamation but there are other limits to free speech such as pornography, obscenity, fighting words, and the like.
In the Will Shetterly instance, however, he was purportedly fighting back because he had a) been banned from someone’s livejournal and b) after the ban, the same someone proceeded to pointedly address Shetterly’s claims that class trumps race in all circumstances. None of the statements appeared to be defamatory and even if they were defamatory, Shetterly’s actions in "outing" this person was not to seek redress for the alleged defamation (indeed, I think he made no such claim, instead he just wanted to show the world who the "hypocrite" was). Instead, the reason for the outing was exactly the outcome that anonymity seeks to prevent: the chill of free speech.
Shetterly’s argument is that false identities are too easily created on the internet and no one is accountable or authentic behind an anonymous or pseudonymous name. Shetterly says, “a pseudonym is only an identity that can be put on and taken off with ease. Con artists love pseudonyms.” The truth is, though, that internet identities can’t be sloughed off so easily and reborn. if one leaves an identity behind, one leaves behind built up social currency, relationships, peer recognition. When one is reborn, the slate is fresh but not without cost.
Given that Shetterly is a writer, it’s hard to see how one can make the claim that pseudonyms have no value or are somehow the work of "con artists." Authors routinely write under more than one name and publishers intentionally obfuscate the real source of the writing in an effort to recreate a new brand for a particular author. Unless Shetterly has posts standing up against this practice, it seems disingenuous to say that pseudonymity is only used by internetizens who plan to engage in rapscallious activity. An author that chooses to use a different pen name both loses the original audience she has built up and has the potential to gain a new one, but the new pen name is treated with correspondingly “new author” print runs, new author marketing budgets, and so forth. This has its positives and negatives, just as changing an online identity.
Pseudonymity, as the Brodie court observed, has been a part of internet culture from the very beginning. Pseudonymity does not yield way to lawlessness because of the concept of social capital. Every person with a livejournal account builds up social capital through discourse. An individual can become a respected herald even with a name like humpmydick or two_left_toes (I made those names up and apologize in advance if these users exist and I am using their handles profanely). In some ways, the pseudonymous nature of internet connections provides a level playing field. Each individual must prove their online worth through their words and deeds and not through any phenotypical characteristic (although backstories have a way of wending themselves in one’s narrative).
Even beyond the inherent double sided nature of an author speaking out against pseudonyms is the false argument that there is no accountability for those who use pseudonyms. The voice behind the pseudonym is well known. I think if I shut down Dear Author today and started up another blog, it wouldn’t be but a few weeks before someone would figure out the voice behind the other blog.
I don’t think it can be argued that the voices behind the handles can be so lacking in distinction that new identities can be created in a heartbeat. If this were true, then outing would have no purpose. Why silence one non distinct voice only to face a dozen more?The reason to out someone is because their distinctive voice carries weight, a weight that can only be gained through social capital.
I use anonymity and psuedonymity almost interchangeably and that’s because if you argue that the voice is the most powerful indicator of identity then those two terms are interchangeable. It is not the identity with which a person identifies, but rather the voice.
It is true that pseudonyms and anonymity can be abused. Everything can, even real legal identities. Simply because there are those that abuse those does not mean that everyone who chooses anonymity on the internet is without courage, morals or ethics or conversely those who choose anonymity intend to harm, debase, and defraud others. Because the concepts are so ingrained in Internet culture, the community has found ways to police itself through loss of social capital, banning, and loss of community privileges. Being anonymous or pseudonymous does not equal unfettered behavior. There is accountability, albeit different than legal accountability. But legal accountability can only be applied to some corresponding legal wrong and it is clear that even the highest court of the land deems the right to be anonymous part of a citizen’s First Amendment freedom of speech.