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A Very Angry Digg Nation

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Update: Digg just took their site down. Kevin Rose on the company blog gives his response:

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

Nerd anarchy? An e-Rebellion? Or just mob justice… which ever way you look at it social news site, Digg is facing the greatest crisis of its young life. The front page of Digg has been taken over by stories about and related to a hacked HD-DVD key.

To recap, someone has posted a link to a story about the said key getting cracked, and included the key in the title and description of the story. Digg staff took down the story, fearing that it would get sued by MPAA, as outlined in this blog post by CEO Jay Adelson.

This resulted in a proverbial take-to-the-streets riot, and now most of Digg front page stories are either related to the key-story, or are variants of the original deleted story. Ryan Block of Engadget is not alone in wondering, “How did such a loyal userbase as Digg’s so quickly divert its all-consuming energy to defying — even damaging — the company to which it was so loyal?”

One of my readers (hi Jon) sums it up nicely, “I think the real story here is user-generated content biting back when it’s actively censored by the site generating revenue from it.” Another dear friend is wondering if this is going to lead to traditional media wrinkling their nose at the social media and its ills.

It is hard for me to form an opinion on this right now – for I am watching this drama unfold in near real time with morbid fascination.

The questions on my mind now (but no answers)

1. Is it legally liable for the actions of its community which was initially pointing to a story published by an independent publications? If that is the case, then YouTube-Viacom drama becomes even more intriguing.
2. If not, then did Digg act rashly?
3. Can Digg recover from this set back?

Thanks Jon, Brian and everyone else who sent this in.

39 Responses to “A Very Angry Digg Nation”

  1. Daniel, how can you build a business model on a business that is breaking the law? If there are enough grounds on Diggs pages for the MPAA to sue, how can advertisers or investors work with Digg?

    The interesting thing with the Viacom/YouTube suit is that everyone thought the only thing protecting YouTube was the fact they didn’t have any money, because they knew they would get sued. Once deep pockets (Google) stepped in that changed.

    I would say that if YouTube were to lose to Viacom then all sites with business models built around questionable legal activities will really take a hit, because investors will stay away. Course, one would think that Google did some legal due diligence here.

  2. I think that Digg’s handling of situation has been the only proper way. They demonstraded goodwill in deleting link. They took user’s opinion and restored site back to normality. They got huge publicity and established precedent that will be quoted for years to come.

    Risk of legal suit is part of Digg’s line of business – when you deal with UGC, that should be expected. I’m sure that if MPAA will decide to sue Digg, they will find enough grounds on digg’s pages.

  3. @RandomThoughts

    Actually sir, I and all the other Digg users combined DID in fact “bring Digg into this world” as we are the content creators. Mr. Rose and company are all multi-millionaires now, solely because of our labor.

    Digg does not ask for personal information, nor does YouTube. My email address is readily available on both my Digg and YouTube user pages.

    I welcome any attempt by the MPAA, DMCA and the RIAA to sue me for typing my opinion into the comment section of Digg.

    Here’s is a recent legal precedent for you to consider:

    Thank you.

  4. Todd, you didn’t bring Digg to life, someone else did. I know the users are the power behind the site, but you are asking Digg to bear responsibility for possible illegal activity.

    Would you do that? Would you be ok with Digg turning over your personal information to someone with a court order? Would you be willing to face a jury over your account?

    If not, you just don’t want to be responsible for your actions and in fact want others to be.

  5. Is it legally liable for the actions of its community which was initially pointing to a story published by an independent publications?

    PH: Probably. So it’s better to edit and apologize than it is to ignore and spend the day in court.

    If that is the case, then YouTube-Viacom drama becomes even more intriguing.
    If not, then did Digg act rashly?

    PH: It’s their site. They can choose what they want to post and what they want to avoid. You get what you pay for.

    Can Digg recover from this set back?

    PH: Who cares? Does anyone get their news from Digg?

  6. I think Jafa hit the nail on the head … by editing/moderating/removing Digg thereby clearly signalled its ability and willingness to do so.

    They cannot now say … we host user content and will only remove it if it’s clearly shown to be in breach of the law. Which, to my mind, would have been a much more credible position.

    OK, so I’m biased, since this is the policy we (coComment) apply … we don’t own the copyright to what we store and therefore have minimal rights to it. It’s therefore, aside from the legal caveat, up to the user what to do with it.

    I’m very interested to see what will now happen … particularly since Kevin (therefore Digg itself) has actually posted the allegedly IP breaching content himself.

  7. As a long time Digg user I would rather see the site shut down and go out fighting – because I will not tolerate being bullied or censored.

    As my Dad used to say:

    “…I brought you in this world, I’ll take you out!”

  8. Illegal activity is illegal activity and should not be tolerated just because the law is difficult to enforce. If a site becomes seen as “facilitating” illegal activities it will eventually be shut down. This happened to Napster and it can happen to other sites if copyright issues can’t be controlled. It happens to bars where customers buy and sell drugs, it has happened to hotels that offer illegal entertainment and it can happen to sites like Digg and YouTube.

    I think the main issue is that a good number of people (not all, but a lot) just don’t want to pay anything for the music, the movies or pretty much anything else. We will see how Apple’s DRM free at a premium download service goes. Personally I think it will flop. Once that happens then one more argument for the pirating side goes out the window, because they won’t be able to say “I would buy the music (or movies or software) if I could only use it on any of my devices.

  9. That which makes you can also break you.

    The psychology behind this type of activity is absolutely fascinating to me. In an environment that promotes absolute power (power in this case equaling the “mob”), the outcome is ultimately pre-determined by the capability of humans to turn on each other for control.

    In this case, absolute power is given to the “Mob” which is easily turned when they have not financial risk in the decision to turn.

    Given the demographic makeup of Digg users, I think Kevin is doing the right thing- however let’s see what his investors have to say in the end.

  10. Christ man, can you be any more melodramatic? It’s a freakin’ wanna be news website for 12-17 year olds. It’s a demo that doesn’t even have Credit Cards. Who really gives a rats ass? Sheesh.

  11. To me, this unfortunate episode reveals a lot of things.

    The first thing it reveals is the utter hatred for the MPAA. People would rather kill something they love (Digg) then let something they hate exist (AACS). The movie industry should be very afraid. They will probably suffer the same fate as the recording industry. Probably, the only reason they haven’t suffered as much (at least to this point), is because of the difference in the content’s file sizes (movies vs. music). However, as bandwidth continue to grow at about 40% per year, the file size issue will continue to decrease in importance, and the movie industry’s problems will most likely continue to increase.

    Its also interesting that this kind of thing hasn’t happened to other web 2.0 sites. Namely, MySpace. You would think a site full of angry teenagers would revolt before a site full of geeks, but I guess it just shows you that us geeks are more emotionally unstable and more unyielding than a bunch of teenagers (this is one of the reasons why I always roll my eyes whenever anyone says that geeks are now cool).

    And I guess this episode shows a fundamental problem with web 2.0. When your users create your website’s content, they feel like they own the site. But, of course, they don’t. If your users ever realize that, you will most likely have a revolt on your hands, which could destroy your site.

    It’s kind of a sad day for me. Digg is one of my favorite sites. I’m going to be really sad if it goes down.

  12. Jafafa Hots

    Its one thing to remove due to a cease and desist, but what I’ve heard is that they didn’t actually get one, but rather removed it because they feared receiving one.

    Which is moderation. And once you actively moderate, you are then responsible for infringing posts even if you haven’t received a cease and desist.

    Boneheaded move. Digg may have dugg their own grave.

  13. This is extremely selfish and childish behavior by the digg community — which doesn’t help what little credibility-standing social news has to begin with.

    It’s kind of like throwing a temper tantrum at the grocery store when you are told you can’t get the chocolate frosted sugar bombs. Rational discussion is out of the question for foaming-at-the-mouth toddlers.

  14. My take: it’s not a crisis and it’s not a setback at all. Digg properly responded to the original DMCA complaint so they are in the clear on that one. Now that the genie’s out of the bottle, any further action by them really wouldn’t do any good. So instead, they did the smart thing and took the side of the users which will effectively counter any temporary badwill they may have built up today. Furthermore, by positioning themselves as “willing to fight in court” over this, they are setting themselves up for another huge windfall of PR if and when it ever gets that far (it won’t).

    It’s a big net-positive in my book but I do agree that this will cause nose wrinkling by traditional media at social media, as you say.

  15. Conspiracy theory tip: this may have a relation with the Google – Viacom story. Google lawyers somehow should prove that user-generated content is unstoppable. And they need some example cases to show to the court. Otherwise, I can’t believe Kevin making such an explanation on their blog – not acceptable, this is definitely illegal, they should have stopped serving for a while.

  16. i’m confident kevin rose just salvaged digg. although i question whether it would have really been killed. i’d imagine they’d rally on its side….. eventually.

    i mean where would the diggers go? netscape? hahahahhahahh

  17. With size comes all sorts of issues that you simply don’t expect when you’re small.

    Given the value of digg & the rampant changes they’ve been forced to make, and the “closed” way of moderating things…eg, they don’t generally come out & admit that they moderate stuff, same as any other community…it’s kind of like “mob justice” at this point.

    Disturbing, interesting, and amazing, all at the same time.

  18. The site is now back up, though momentarily it had a “We’ll be back shortly after making some changes.” I’m surprised they didn’t leave it down longer to let things cool down. The front page and RSS feed is worthless at the moment…