joho the blog

at berkman yesterday ran into david weinberger in the kitchen and happened to have my recorder still on. we talked about a range of subjects including the teaching of norms. he told me the story of kathy sierra and his being quoted in a story in the new york times about cyberbullying. i told him about a panel autoadmit/xoxohth.

we deny ourselves useful space because we cannot handle ourselves well enough in the space to preserve it. this is ethics of the net.

imagine yourself to be a young woman in a first-year harvard law school class. imagine that you have been named and pictured and ridiculed and projected as a sexual object on an open internet discussion board by multiple anonymous contributors. you know that the people who are doing this to you are among your classmates, and that all your classmates are aware of it, some sympathetic, some tittering, some who may themselves be your slanders offering you plastic smiles. you are embarrassed, mortified. your law school experience has become a torture. your present is ruined. your future is google stained. you will never get away.

get a thick skin is not an empathic response. instead it gives evidence of callousness in the person offering it. nor are crocodile tears.

i am a law teacher. both victim and victimizer are my students. i teach ethics. are we capable of governing ourselves. am i capable of doing my part to be a citizen of the net. am i able to teach to young users of the net the fragility of its open spaces. can i teach young boys respect who feel adolescent joy in would-be manly incivility?

ethics describes what guides you in the domain of behavior between what you know to be true and what can be proved against you, a domain in which you have no need to answer to anyone but yourself, a domain in which, for better or worse, you are free, a domain in which you express your true identity even if only you can see it and know it’s you. ethics is the bedrock of the essence of the privilege of the legal profession which our students have come to law school to learn and join.

i read the ugly autoadmit/xoxohth threads. i see locker room talk by adolescent boys seeking affirmation from others like them that they are male and strong. you are my students. i want to teach you that you are wrong. in being wrong you will spoil open internet anonymous discourse space and deny it to us all. yet i know that to talk down to you from a position of authority may well only drive you deeper into self-doubting wise-guy bravado. constraint imposed on your freedom to abuse will challenge you to get out from under the constraint to find and reform again in another unconstrained space in which you can be funny and laugh at the expense of others and leave yourselves the feeling of time well spent in a community of friends and peers, rebels all.

true ethics grounded in the sense of the individual about what is right is undermined when articulated by rule and enforced by sanction. true ethical behavior is not a calculated fear response.

we are challenged in cyberspace to guide our behavior with norms and code. within formed cyber communities rule and saction can be made to work. bad actors can be banned. but that will not stop, indeed it will stimulate the excluded bad actors to form again a freer space they think beyond the jurisdiction of the rule.

at the panel discussion i moderated addressing the issue of hurtful anonymous speech i called a suggestion by michael fertig, ceo of reputation defender inc., “stupid” that we solve the problem by adopting a rule against lawyers and law students behaving badly and have bar associations enforce it. stupid because it misunderstands the problem, converting it to one of authority, be it school or bar association or “law”, doing something, anything, even something stupid in response to the problem so as not to be faulted for not trying; stupid because it deflects from the real challenge of teaching and modeling genuine respect.

still, “stupid” is a harsh word for a moderator to speak to a panelist. i shouldn’t have used it. sorry michael. but then i’d been informed just moments before the panel bagan that fertig had objected to the guys who run autoadmit/xoxohth being on the panel, which had resulted in them being disinvited!. (michael contests this.) moderating an unbalanced panel was the problem i was talking with weinberger about at berkman. got that? so anyway, i had my recorder still running from an earlier session because i forgot i had the hold button on when i hit the stop button to turn the recorder off. the result is like a blog, just what happens to come out. who knows. maybe it’s a format. alas you cannot hear.

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