The Daily Kos web site has always been an open sewer of the internet, but ever since John McCain chose Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, it’s become a sewer that’s overflowing and dumping its bile all over the place. It seems that every single nasty, vile, and false story put out about Palin has its origins at the Daily Kos – or, at least, was picked up and spread all over the place from there.
Palin’s fifth son is secretly her oldest daughter’s, and Palin faked her own pregnancy to cover for her? Check.
Palin slashed funding for teenage mothers? Check.
Palin had an affair with her husband’s business partner, breaking up his marriage? Check.
Palin slashed funding for special needs students in Alaska? Check.
(Yes, I know there are no links to any of those. That’s part of a later point; I’ll get back to it,)
So, why does all this all happen at Kos? While I rarely espouse conspiracy theories, I’d have to say that I suspect it’s largely by design.
Daily Kos is not a blog, in the traditional sense. It’s a “community,” where literally anyone can sign up and start blogging. (Hell, I have an account over there. I needed it when one of their diarists was spreading lies about Wizbang. That same diarist was later banned when he published a completely fictional “report” that the US military was gearing up to attack Iran in a matter of weeks, if not sooner, replete with “details” that were laughably false on their face.)
As I understand it, that community is “policed” largely by its members, with Kos and a few trusted others occasionally intervening. Largely, it’s the audience that votes what stories get promoted to the main page, and what ones get “troll-ranked” and deleted.
The same principle holds for comments – the group can, collectively, remove comments they feel are inappropriate.
Thus, this has become a classic case of “the tragedy of the commons,” where almost no one has any stake in accuracy or fairness or truth or common decency.
Well, Kos himself does, but his interest seems more in amassing money and power and influence than in a quality product.
So there are some standards, some mechanisms for correcting things. How is it applied?
I’m no Kos-ologist, but it seems to me that the most deadly sin for a Kos diarist is “embarrassing the community.” The only time the community descends to punish an author is when they embarrass the site, usually by posting something that is not just offensive as hell, not just completely and horribly inaccurate, not just hateful and venomous, but also is drawing negative attention to the site as a whole.
And that penalty? Deletion.
That’s right, the articles that cause such embarrassment are deleted. Right down the old memory hole. No explanations, no apologies, no clarifications, no corrections, it’s like they never existed. The only trace of them is to be found on other sites, where they were quoted or screen-shot before they were disappeared.
They end up like how we used to search for black holes – you can’t prove their existence directly, you can only infer them from their effect on other bodies.
To me, this is one of the more serious offenses in the blogosphere. I have long believed in the truth of the statement from The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam:
“The moving finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”
Now, with the internet, it’s actually pretty darned easy to try to unwrite. It’s easy to delete a comment, an article, an entire web site. Caches such as those maintained by Google and Yahoo! and others make it difficult, but not impossible to completely eradicate something once it’s been published.
That’s partly why I don’t ever delete articles or comments that I later find embarrassing. I know that my web fu is inadequate to do it completely, and I would suck at covering my tracks.
The other reason is more principled and less pragmatic. I “own” everything I ever written. (Perhaps not in a strict legal sense, as “Wizbang LLC” holds the copyright to the entire site, and I have no idea who owns “Wizbang LLC” besides Kevin – it sure ain’t me.) I stand behind everything I have ever written – even the wrong things.
What I mean by that is that I have meant everything I have ever written. They have all been sincere. (Albeit sometimes sincere expressions of sarcasm and insincerity.)
And when I have been wrong, I “own” those, too.
I don’t like being wrong. No one does. But when I am wrong, I see it as a moral obligation to admit it and correct my mistake. I also try to make sure I thank the person who caught my mistake for doing so – whether they are polite or a real snot about it.
It’s not just a moral thing, it’s a strategic thing. Most people who try to deny ever making mistakes live in fear of the argument “well, you were wrong about X, why should I trust you now?”
I have my own answer to that: “Yeah, I was wrong about X. And I admitted it. I got no problem admitting when I’m wrong. But I’m not wrong this time. When was the last time you were wrong, and admitted it? Are you saying you’ve never been wrong in your life? Are you saying you’re utterly infallible?”
Over at Kos, they don’t take that approach. If they’re wrong, so what? Just delete it. Toss it down the aforementioned black hole. Pretend it never happened. Refuse to acknowledge that it ever existed.
But that’s their choice, that’s their right. I have no right to demand that they live up to my ethical standards and principles when it comes to blogging. So what’s the big deal?
Because of the power Daily Kos wields.
It is the 5,000-pound gorilla of the left end of the blogosphere. It has the highest readership. It has the most members. It gets the most traffic. And it draws the most influential policy makers.
Barack Obama has posted to Kos. So has Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, just to name some of the big stars.
At their annual convention (“Yearly Kos”) last year, eight of the nine leading Democratic presidential candidates attended and participated in a debate moderated by the Kossacks.
Kos also took a personal hand in trying to get Joe Lieberman out of the Senate. He threw all his energies behind Ned Lamont, who beat Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Unfortunately for Kos and Lamont, Lieberman then ran as an independent and trounced both Lamont and the Republican sacrificial lamb.
Daily Kos wields tremendous power, both within the blogosphere and in the world of politics in general, but has no accountability.
Or, rather, a sense of accountability. A notion that they should hold themselves responsible for their actions, that they should “own” what they say and do.
The argument most often tossed back is that Daily Kos is just too big to be properly overseen. That they simply don’t have the resources to police their site, and instead have to rely on their readers to take care of things.
Back before my blogging days, I was fascinated with the world of the spam-fighters. I read the n.a.n.a.e. newsgroup, I knew who people like Afterburner, Nyarlathotep, Neurotoxin, Torquemada, Sanford Wallace, and Ronnie Scelson were. I knew the meanings of mainsleaze, opt-out, and both definitions of LART. I remember MAPS RBL, ORBS, and SPEWS.
One of the most common defenses that internet service providers offered when they were caught tolerating spammers was that “we have so many customers, we can’t keep track of everything.”
The response to that argument was so stunning in its simplicity, so elegant, that it has stuck with me and found application in myriad ways:
“If you’re too big to act responsibly, you’re too big.”
If the people who run Daily Kos (and, presumably, make a pretty penny off of it) can’t manage to keep their contributors from acting irresponsibly, then the site is too damned big. They need to find a way to act responsibly, especially in light of the sheer havoc and chaos they have caused by spreading their lies.
Sadly, Barack Obama’s campaign has chosen to follow the Kos model for its own site. Mybarackobama.com carries a disclaimer at the bottom of every page: Content on blogs in My.BarackObama represents the opinions of community members and in no way should be interpreted as endorsed or approved by the campaign.
They still take some responsibility for the site; the most vile stuff does get deleted. But the standard seems to be, again, “embarrassing to the owners.” Currently, the site is currently hosting the “Sarah Palin said about Obama and Hillary Clinton, ‘Sambo beat the bitch'” smear.
I’ll admit I have a bit of a personal grievance here. Twice this week friends of mine who, for some reason, consider me their “expert” on political matters, contacted me about stories being spread about Sarah Palin. In both cases, those stories were completely and utterly false, deliberate lies intended to smear her and persuade people to not vote for her and McCain. And in both cases, my friends had been forwarded an article from Daily Kos touting the lies as indisputable facts.
To be perfectly blunt, I got better things to do than to clean up the shit the Kossacks spray around so freely. And the shovel I have is nowhere near big enough.
It’d be a lot simpler to just cork it up at the source. Or, at least, try to persuade the Kossacks to potty-train themselves.
But that ain’t about to happen any time soon. They’ve found a working model for success – politically and economically. The only thing I can do is try to shame them, to appeal to their consciences.
But as they’ve made it abundantly clear, they have no shame and no conscience.
So… anyone else want to grab a shovel and join in?