Monday, April 20, 2009

sound of silence

This past weekend, my whole family was closely watching a blog because of a scandalous post involving someone we know really well. Some of us barely slept, staring at our RSS feed to read the latest comment - usually nasty and admittedly, pretty darn juicy. Truth is, the blog post itself wasn't so horrible - it didn't reveal any names or facts, just an alleged scandal and a couple of initials. Nothing very risky. But people's comments? Well, they were something wicked.

It was like "Mean Girls" on steroids. Anonymous comments uncovered the real names behind initials (including a mother's maiden name), nasty rumors (sex, money, infamy), and other really dreadful dandelions I'd rather not say. As a voyeur I started to feel really guilty - perhaps I wasn't any better than the people posting comments. After all, the more they posted, the more I read.

But by Sunday the blog post was silent. The post and all comments had been taken down entirely. My guess is the blogger was threatened with a lawsuit. Which got me thinking...

What is the extent of our responsibility for dandelions that we post or get posted on our blogs? Bloggers might be ethically obliged to remove libelous comments, especially when anonymous, but I wonder whether leaving them would be considered illegal. I also wonder about all the dandelions that bloggers post unknowingly - at what point are those considered crimes?

Well, apparently when they're written with the intent to harm others. At least in South Korea.

Yesterday, a famous South Korean blogger Park Dae-Sung, better known as Minerva, was acquitted on charges that he posted false information about the South Korean economy which inadvertently sunk the foreign currency market costing the government billions of dollars. Minerva was acquitted because the judge found that he posted his statement unknowingly and therefore did not intend to harm the public. This, of course, after spending 100 days in jail.

So what of the anonymous mean commenters? In that case, perhaps the blogger is responsible because he's hosting the forum that allows the harm to take place. But rather than leave it to the law (and who knows what rights they'll take away), it should be our responsibility as readers to weed out the dandelions from the daisies. That to me sounds better than the sound of silence.

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