Ever since I started this blog, I’ve been trying to stress the importance of dealing prudently with the Three Is of Information: Identity, Intellectual Property Rights and the Internet.Â Recent events have only served to highlight why.
Most of you are aware of the tragic time that Kathy Sierra has had, her response, the polarised debate that ensued, the continuing firestorm, culminating, at least for the time being, in Alan Herrell’s e-mail to Doc. The blogosphere is a small world; you have seen me refer to Kathy’s writings many times; I have, and continue to have, enormous respect for her and her writings; and I know many of the people involved in the debate (at both extremes!), and count quite a few as my friends. Much has been said in the heat of the moment, and much emotion expressed. These are sad times.
Nobody should have to put up with the perverseness, hate, misogyny and bullying that was directed at Kathy. It cannot be defended or condoned. Full stop. So how are we going to prevent this from happening?
Not by knee-jerk attempts at “governing” what happens on the web; personal empowerment is a key attribute of the web, and should remain so. Let us be careful about introducing cyberlaw sledgehammers.
Not by McCarthyist hounding of people judged by innuendo and insinuation either; the presumption of innocence is not something the web can take away. If we do this, all we do is bring the worst of journalism into the digital world rather than the best, which we are still in a position to do.
Not by polarised emotion and blamestorming and flaming either; I am saddened to see just how many friends I have on both sides of the arguments right now, people I will continue to call my friends. I prefer to take the beam out of my own eye rather than look for motes in my friends’ eyes.
We live in a world that has a lot of evil in it, and the Web gets its share.Â While I have seen many attempts to legislate ethics, I have also seen them fail. The community space that is the Web can only be “governed” by community ethics and community values. Civility and common sense are more important than legalism and legislation.
If we get Identity right, we can go a long way towards preventing the recurrence of what Kathy faced. Bullies, especially cyber-bullies, tend to be cowards.
If we get Identity right, we can also go a long way towards preventing Digital McCarthyism as well.
Getting Identity right will help ensure that the Web is a safer place for our children, at home or at school; that Web tools can be used more effectively to teach and communicate.
Getting Identity right will help us ensure that the Web is a safer place for us, as we get and spend and lay waste our powers.
Getting Identity right will allow us to ensure that the Knowledge Commons doesn’t become another Tragedy of the Commons, as we use Identity to push back against mindless DRM and IPR legislation.
It’s all about Identity, and the trust that is engendered when Identity is real. And the things that can happen when trust does not exist, or when Identity is not real.
The entire Kathy Sierra incident is a tragedy, one we can and should learn from. Maybe it’s time we became passionate about Identity. I have enjoyed reading Kathy’s blog; I have also enjoyed reading the blogs of many others scattered right across the spectrum of anger and argument engendered by what happened to Kathy. If we want to continue to enjoy reading such conversations, then we have to do something.
And Identity is where I would begin.