in Ramblings, Tech

The dark side of the community

As I write this, is out of service. Slashdot has a bit of info on the situation.

Digg built its brand as a site where users get to pick the top tech news stories, vote, and the leaders get posted on the front page. It’s been very popular, with a user base growing by leaps and bounds.

Earlier today, someone released a string of hexadecimal code online that enables decryption of HD-DVDs. This opens the door for widespread piracy of the films, in the same way that CDs and DVDs are affected now. Naturally, a number of tech-focused sites posted about this, and many were served takedown notices from the MPAA on the grounds that this code violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Digg administrators complied, and removed a story or two about the code from their site.

Users instantly rioted, and the site descended into mob rule. New story submissions were spammed with links and jokes involving the code, reposting it as many times as possible. The site became unusable for casual readers like myself, with absolutely nothing else getting highlighted. Digg admins eventually gave in, saying they wouldn’t take down any more code references. But that didn’t placate the angry users, and now the whole site is down.

I’m not going to go into the right or wrong of Digg giving in to the takedown notice or the original release of the cracked code. That issue aside, I’m still very bothered by this whole scenario. Digg was built on radical trust of users, and today they tore the site apart. There is a fine line to walk when giving average people access to such power. At an earlier date I would have pointed to Digg as a pretty good (but admittedly not perfect) example of this trust in action. But suddenly the site serves equally well as an example of mob rule horribly exploiting this trust. Users could have handled the controversy in a much more civil fashion and had a fascinating discussion of the issues with admins. But instead of sitting down and figuring out where to go from here, the groupthink mob instinct kicked in.

I’m not yet sure what lesson can be taken from all this or what point I’m making, but I do know I certainly need to think about it a lot more.