In a blog post written late Tuesday night, David Karp, the founder of the blogging platform Tumblr, sought to better explain the company’s sudden change in its content policy and its decision to shut down five blogs on Monday for violating its new ban on blogs dedicated to making fun of other bloggers.
While Tumblr has “absolutely no interest in censoring users,” Mr. Karp wrote, and in fact had “rushed into enforcing this policy” somewhat by mistake, he stood by the move to root out the use of Tumblr blogs for “harassment,” which the new policy describes this way:
Accounts with the sole or primary purpose of repeatedly harassing or abusing specific members or groups within the Tumblr community will be suspended.
Not surprisingly, the move disturbed some bloggers who use Tumblr and others who wondered about its impact on Web culture. According to Owen Thomas of Valleywag, all five of the suspended blogs were devoted to criticism of the same person, a blogger Mr. Thomas describes as “microcelebrity egoblogger Julia Allison.”
Ms. Allison, who found her way on to the cover of Wired magazine last July beside the headline “Get Internet Famous! (Even If You’re Nobody)” and has been profiled in The New York Times, is featured on the blog, “Non Society,” which is devoted to the near-constant multimedia-enhanced documentation of her life and that of two of her friends on what they call their “lifecasts.”
The offending Tumblr blogs used a feature of the blog platform that makes it very easy for Tumblr users to “reblog,” or automatically quote from blogs they enjoy, or enjoy hating, on their own blogs. (As Tumblr itself explains in an introduction to the platform: “If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.”) The most well-known of the blogs shut down by Tumblr this week is, or was, called “Reblogging Julia“; it now appears to be available only in the snapshot form stored in Google’s cache.
As Jason Tanz explained in his Wired article on Ms. Allison’s blog-driven celebrity:
Allison may not be famous by the traditional definition. [...] But to a devoted niche of online fans — and an even more devoted niche of detractors — she is a bona fide celebrity.
Last year, Fred Wilson explained how Tumblr’s reblog button works, and Eric Krangel of Silicon Alley Insider wrote about how that reblogging tool’s ease of use (it eliminates the need even to copy and paste) had bred “a new type of griefer uniquely adapted to Tumblr’s system of ‘reblogging’: the anonyblogger.”
Last September, Mr. Krangel explained the problem that Tumblr took steps to address this week:
Here’s how anonyblogging works: let’s say johndoe.tumblr.com is your target. You create a free account [...], then “follow” John’s blog. Obsessively “reblog” every post John makes, adding snarky, mean, or outright profane commentary. Tumblr’s “dashboard” system means that people [who] follow John will likely see the nasty comments. It’s the equivalent of watching someone shout at your pal as he walks down the street. But what makes the attack so unpleasant is that there’s no way for John to shake a malicious anonyblogger. [...]
The favored targets of anonybloggers are Tumblr personalities whose “Internet fame” is felt to exceed their merit. Wired cover girl Julia Allison has multiple anonyblogger critics, and persistent harassment from anonyblogger griefers led Vimeo co-founder Jakob Lodwick to quit Tumblr altogether. But the anonyblogging phenomena is metastasizing through Tumblr so quickly even small fish are finding themselves under attack.
On his Tumblr blog, Bryan McKay cut to the heart of the matter yesterday, writing that “Censorship on a blogging platform is uniformly a bad thing, but Tumblr is trying to be a community as well as a platform.” In his post, Mr. McKay lays out some interesting questions raised by Tumblr’s new enforced manners policy — questions that apply to many sites across the Web that seek to foster community:Good questions. Any bloggers out there care to take a stab at some answers?
Should digital communities be structured as “safe spaces” or left relatively untouched? And if we are going to start creating safe spaces, who are we creating them for? Are we creating them for every user, or only those that fit a certain profile? Are we looking to protect against sexism, racism, classism, and other forms of derogatory hate speech?
Can we protect the free speech and expression of the majority without curtailing that of others?
The idea of community management is still a relatively new concept, and I understand that these are difficult questions, but when you’re trying to maintain the positive spirit of a community, transparency is the best way to start. To what extent should the community itself take part in decisions about community management?
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Oh, look, The Times is on it now.
Thanks to a tipster for sending the link to this Times piece in its blog The Lede (it's a good thing the writer cites Owen Thomas when he says all the shut down blogs were directed at NS; they weren't):
Posted by RBNS at 1:13 PM