A bunch of the folks who were instrumental in the SOPA/PIPA fight have been working together over the last few months to build The Internet Defense League, which is launching today. Techdirt is a founding member, along with a number of other organizations and sites, including Reddit, Mozilla, Cheezburger, EFF, Fark, Imgur and more. The process is being driven by the awesome folks at Fight for the Future, who were the ones behind the American Censorship Day effort during the SOPA fight. The launch is today, in part because today is also the day that the new Batman movie opens -- and part of the IDL's concept is that when the internet is at risk, it can shine a "cat signal" to alert the internet to jump in and do something:
Believe it or not, they've actually put together a few of these cat signals in real life, so look around tonight in a few cities and you might see one.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the Hacking Society gathering, put on by Union Square Ventures. During that discussion, Clay Shirky brought up the idea of an "Internet Volunteer Fire Department" and Tiffiniy Cheng, from Fight for the Future, explained the IDL and how they were already working on it. You can watch that discussion to get a sense of the thinking behind this effort:
We're proud and excited to be a part of this effort. We, like many, hope that the IDL is actually a wasted effort and is never actually needed. But, given what we see happening all the time, it seems unlikely that the IDL will never need to be called into action.
Here's an odd one. Yesterday, I saw that a top story in the technology subreddit was a claim that Facebook was blocking Imgur, the popular image hosting service (especially popular with Redditors, but which we use here as well). This screenshot was shown (hosted on Imgur, natch):
A few hours later, however, an interesting comment popped up on the Reddit thread, from a user "fisherrider," who claimed to be a Facebook engineer taking responsibility for the situation. What's somewhat stunning is that when companies screw up something, you almost never get this level of honesty about the nature of what happened (especially directly from the person who screwed up):
Hey folks - so this is actually my fault. Literally, I'm the guy who accidentally blocked imgur for a brief period of time today. I'm really sorry.
Some background: I'm an engineer who works on the system we use for catching malicious URLs. In the process of dealing with a bad URL that our automated defenses didn't catch, I ran into a rare bug that caused us to incorrectly block some legitimate URLs for a brief time. Right after I figured that out and removed the bad data, I reworked the UI so no one will get bit by the same issue in the future.
As a form of apology that I'm sure is insufficient, here is a picture of my dog dressed up for the 4th of July: http://imgur.com/pR4mR
As some have noted, this really is a fantastic apology. It's not filtered through PR and actually seems to come from someone who sounds human -- which is pretty important in the midst of the Reddit faithful. But it should spread beyond just Reddit. When companies screw up, this is a pretty good lesson in how to respond. Admit to the screwup, be clear and honest about it, and explain what happened and what's been done to prevent it from happening again. And... don't let it near a PR person.