Hard News by Russell Brown

Not Being Evil

I feel a tiny bit sorry for Google as it faces growing criticism over its decision to bend to a Chinese government demand to censor results in that country - or be simply shut out of China altogether - because it's hardly the first company to roll over in this way. And in this Slashdot thread earlier in the week, a number of posters resident in China declared that they'd rather have a clearly censored Google than no Google at all. But when you talk about your motto being "Don't Be Evil", you are in no position to complain if that comes back to bite you.

In some ways, this constitutes an argument against monoculture, even a monoculture as appealing as Google. If you can make something disappear from the overwhelmingly dominant search engine, you're on the way to making it disappear altogether. Example: someone sent me links to two Google Images searches on "Tiananmen Square": one from Google.com, the other from Google China. Spot the difference.

Thanks to dim for the heads-up on this fascinating interview with Stephen Colbert about what he's doing with the Colbert Report.

And to Matt Nippert in New York for noting Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds' explanation of what's wrong with blog comments in a discussion about the Washington Post's decision to suspend comments after feedback on a column on the paper's website turned septic with "personal attacks, profanity and hate speech":

Some examples of good user communities are Slate's "The Fray" (where I started) and Slashdot. Both, however, are moderated.

My own sense is that it's very hard to preserve civility -- or even a good ratio of interestingness to flaming -- on sites that have high traffic without a fair degree [of] moderation. There's some sort of a threshold after which things tend to break down into USENET-style flamewars, which some people like, but which I'm tired of. I find the comments on Atrios, Kos, or for that matter Little Green Footballs, to be tiresome …

I love open comments, just as I love free beer, free pizza, and other giveaway goods. But I'm not entitled to them. And those who partake, I think, owe a certain degree of civility to their hosts. In an age where there's less control, I think that such informal measures matter more, not less ...

I've never had comments. I get about 1000 emails a day, and I don't have time to look at those, post on my blog, AND moderate comments. And unmoderated comments raise a risk of the kind of thing I mention above, as well as possible libel and copyright issues. I've actually considered bringing someone in to do that, but that seems too impersonal.

There's an Editor & Publisher story with highlights, and the full discussion on 'Ethics and Interactivity" is here. National Review Online's Media Blog has more.

Of course, well-worked vitriol does have its place. Case in point: the sheer comic savagery of The Beast's list of the 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2005.

Ad, finally (hat tip: James Green), you may have been surprised to read in the Sunday Star Times a claim that: "In another study of thousands of Kiwi primary and secondary children, she [sex abuse researcher Freda Briggs] found 44% of boys had been sexually abused, 10% by babysitters, who were mostly women."

Doesn't sound right, does it? That's because it's not. The survey referred to was covered more than two years ago in the Dominion Post. That story said: "Australian child-sex abuse expert Freda Briggs found 44 per cent of New Zealand boys and girls with learning disabilities, including attention deficit disorder, were sexually abused."

Quite a difference, no? Leaving aside any questions about Briggs' methodology, this is some of the most careless use of source material I've seen in a very long time. There's further sorting-out of the SST's wild style in, of all places, the forums at NZMusic.com.