In May, the Connecticut political blogosphere had a month that ranged from excellent to troubling. Excellent, in that many bloggers attended the Democratic and Republican state conventions, and delivered interesting, thoughtful and up-to-the-minute coverage of those events. We faced a test of our mettle as citizen journalists, and I believe we did quite well. New technologies have allowed the easy upload of picture and, most importantly, video to our sites, which greatly enhances the quality and interest level of blogs and Web-based news organizations. Many of Connecticut's political blogs found national attention for their coverage of the Lamont campaign and Lamont's strong showing at the convention.
More troubling, of course, was the series of pro-Lieberman postings made to this blog under the names of prominent Democrats Harry Reid and Barack Obama, which began on May 4th and continued through May 7th, which, at the behest of another poster, has apparently triggered an FBI investigation.
Although the postings themselves were ultimately harmless and easily forgotten, and I find it unlikely that anyone from the Lieberman campaign was involved or that any laws were violated, we need to consider how to deal with this sort of thing.
Firstly, I have received several requests from posters to contact Blogger and ask them to divulge the identities of posters, or to trace them through IP addresses. I will not do this, unless compelled by law. There is a certain level of privacy and anonymity expected by users of the Web, and, while that privacy is largely an illusion, I will do whatever I can to protect it here.
Secondly, if you suspect that a particular posting is out of line, offensive or possibly illegal, please report it to me and I will consider whether or not to delete it. You can "report" by emailing me or simply by posting. I try to read every comment posted, especially those addressed to me. If I decide that the posting is offensive or violates campaign laws, I will remove it. I have been a lax moderator in the past. I will be more mindful of possible ethical breaches in the future.
Thirdly, it shouldn't have to be said that posting as someone you are not is wrong, and Web communities have long frowned on this practice. A derivation of a popular figure's name is acceptable, but the name with no embellishments, additions or substantive and visible alterations is not (i.e., "Mmmm Jodi Rell" is fine, "Barak Obama," misspelled as it is, is not). We are usually very good at policing ourselves and at shunning or dismissing those who don't comply with the rules of the Web-based society we have created. Again, if this happens, please report it to me and I will delete the offending posts and re-issue this statement about identity stealing. The problem can also be reported to Blogger, who can take more concrete action such as revoking memberships.
I believe that these less extreme actions are more effective in discouraging this sort of behavior while still keeping this blog and others viable forums than what took place. I am deeply concerned about the ramifications of those actions, and by the possible precedents set. How long will it be before we start siccing the law on one another, and not just on potential violators of campaign laws?
Make no mistake: if I suspect for a moment that this sort of nightmare will happen, I will shut this site down and delete its archive.
What's done is done, and we are left to deal with the consequences. Somewhere, the FBI may be either knocking at the door of a frightened kid who posted something stupid, reading the words we type on this site, or, more likely, throwing this whole investigation into the trash. We can't stop what has been set in motion.
We can, however, decide not to let paranoia, political zeal and anger allow us to undermine and possibly destroy all the remarkable progress this medium has made over the past year.
As of now, I consider the matter closed. The investigation may bear fruit, at which point we will deal with it. However, it is my hope that we can move on from this. We have an exciting and historic campaign season ahead of us, and I believe that blogs will play a crucial role in shaping it. Let's take what we can from this incident, without recrimination, blame or anger, and then move forward together into our future.