Wednesday, January 10

Learning From Social Media: Spocko

Much has already been written about Spocko vs. ABC/Disney so I almost passed by this page in social media history. But then I scanned the various posts and saw something missing from most of them. With all the backlash aimed at ABC/Disney, the missing link seems to be 1&1, an Internet provider.

Sure, Disney had sent a cease and desist letter to 1&1 about Spocko's Brain, but 1&1 took action, not Disney. And that's not good for anyone, with consequences that reach much further than Disney's misguided attempt to silence a critic. (It's not the first time they've failed at it.)

You see, for a long time now, most Internet providers have been extremely careful to label themselves as distributors, which, simply put, provides them a certain amount of legal protection to avoid getting caught in any content crossfires. It can be likened to the United States Postal Service, which cannot be sued for the magazine that arrives in your mailbox, or your cable company if you prefer.

Of all people, Andreas Gauger, 1&1 chairman of the board, Ralph Dommermuth (now CEO of United Internet, the public parent company of 1&1), and Achim Weiss (now CTO of 1&1) should know this, given that they handle about 5.87 million customers and 7.2 million domain names worldwide (minus 1). Or maybe they don't, given that they are a relatively new player to the United States, crossing over from Europe.

As a provider, the allure of 1&1 is relatively cheap Web hosting services and its big break into the US market by offering three years of service for free in 2004. I guess the old adage "you get what you pay for" is true. Despite a significant net worth and global presence, 1&1 barely blinked before buckling to ABC/Disney, potentially damaging every other Internet provider in the world by making them unnecessarily responsible for content.

Look, I am not saying it was prudent of ABC/Disney to send the letter to begin with, but I also appreciate that companies and public figures do it all the time. They send letters to various publishers and editors, sometimes from their lawyers, saying cease this and desist that and "oogie boogie no advertising dollars for you."

To that end, Spocko and other bloggers could learn a lot from print publishers, who are a bit more familiar with fair use and whatnot. As a blogger, always be prepared to face the reality of blogging: you're a publisher with much less overhead, but not necessarily much less risk.

Any time you critique people, someone is going to try to shut you down. In fact, when you get down to it, that is what Spocko was trying to do in the first place: shut down KSFO's morning talk show because he didn't like what they were saying. In some ways, ABC/Disney just followed suit by shutting Spocko down, temporarily, sort of, not really.

I suppose I might clarify that I'm talking about "what is" and my personal take on the situation is a bit different, but not much. You see, I believe very strongly in the First Amendment and have been an activist on that front more times than I care to talk about.

But as a First Amendment advocate, I think of this mess a bit differently. First and foremost, I don't particularly care for what I heard listening to clips from these so-called "right-wing" talk radio hosts, but then again, I don't begrudge anyone their right to act like idiots as these drive-time hosts obviously do. It's a shame that listeners support the show by driving up the numbers, but I don't pick what people play on their radios.

I also believe very strongly that Spocko had every right to critique the show in the court of public opinion, even by using clips to illustrate the point. And given what Spocko wrote, I think that advertisers had a right to buy or pull their ads based on that, because frankly, most just buy the numbers until someone tells them what they are buying. I don't agree with forcing people to be "PC" — and that is a personal choice.

Anyway, given Spocko was targeting advertisers in an attempt to censor KSFO, I suppose ABC/Disney had every right to try to take action too, even as ill-advised as that action was (because it led to suicide by public relations in what is being labeled "David vs. Goliath" as opposed to "Will the real censor please stand up...").

So that leaves us with 1&1. If 1&1 wants to continue to increase its presence in the United States, it needs to learn not to knuckle under the pressure of a legal letter.

While I am not an attorney and appreciate this is still being sorted out in some sectors, I believe Internet providers in this country owe it to themselves and their customers to be carriers, with each blogger solely responsible for his or her content. Shame on 1&1 for not sticking by what seems to me to be the single most important definition of Internet content in the last decade.

Likewise, kudos for "The Daily Kos," along with YouTube, Blogintegrity, Firedoglake, and others for trying to teach Mr. Gauger that he is not a publisher. His customers are publishers. Let's keep it that way.

As for ABC/Disney, I'm tracking this as a living case study to see how it handles the fallout. That's more telling than a legal letter that worked, temporarily, sort of, maybe.

Then again, at the end of the day, I think ABC/Disney would have been better off limiting any legal letters to only Spocko so Spocko could have it framed and then blogged about it. Better yet, the radio hosts that went crying to their bosses might have used the airwaves to talk about Spocko's plight to make the world PC. Had that happened, this might have remained a regional story instead of potentially impacting us all.

3 comments:

Rich on 1/10/07, 5:51 PM said...

Famous Headlines:
"Forget Spy Vs Spy; Here's Left Vs Right." the perfect header from Pajamas Media, which in turn links to Media Matters, which provides additional details into the story worth tracking.

Rich on 1/10/07, 11:21 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

“I wanted to do something to stop this nutball from spreading his insidious views.” Spocko, Jan. 2005, one of dozens upon dozens of comments that prove Spocko isn't for Freedom of Speech. He is only for Freedom of His Speech.

Rich on 1/15/07, 2:28 PM said...

Famous Last Words from 1&1 to The New York Times:

"The decision was made to remove the copyrighted material from our servers until the matter is resolved, whether by the parties involved or the judicial system.” — spokesperson, which is different from their earliest statements to various members of the press.

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