The Difference Between Nuanced Discussion And The Evil Underbelly Of The Internet Is Apparently A Fine Line Indeed

from the may-depend-on-where-you-stand dept

We recently posted what I thought was an interesting essay by musician Erin McKeown on her reaction to seeing someone copy a song of hers, and have that other song become a "hit." We thought it was an interesting and nuanced exploration of some of the challenges of being a musician and thinking about copyright -- from both an emotional and logical perspective -- and thought it would make for an interesting discussion. And, in fact, it did make for an interesting discussion. With well over 100 comments, representing a variety of different viewpoints, there was a pretty deep dive into the myriad responses the piece brought out. Like pretty much any online discussion, some of the comments were more polite than others. But, when viewed on the whole, it struck me that the conversation was much more polite than most online discussions around copyright. In fact, what was interesting was that because the discussion was quite nuanced, most of our usual haters didn't take part. So we didn't have, for example, anyone calling me a slimy lying sociopath or a disgusting human being.

Some of the comments were pointed in their disagreement with Erin, but almost immediately others came in to defend her, and the overall discussion was quite interesting in my mind. And, yet, a bevy of the standard Techdirt critics took to Twitter to claim that Erin's article was proof positive that Techdirt was pure evil, hated artists and was the disgusting underbelly of the internet (a very close paraphrase of actual statements). I'm not going to link to any of these, because I don't mean to call out those people specifically. Similarly, there was a thread on a music site that was entitled "why does Techdirt hate musicians?" I suddenly had people tweeting at me, personally, about how I was somehow destroying music and why did I not want artists to get paid.

I honestly can't figure out why this was the response. First of all, we've regularly been attacked because (we're told) we never, ever post an article where we show sympathy for artists' difficult plight these days. So here was an article, from a musician, explaining her plight -- and we get attacked for that?!? Furthermore, I'm long since past the time when I could read all the comments on the site, but I do read a pretty large number of them, and the amount of hate and vitriol that has come from Techdirt haters (see above, for two very recent examples) is way, way, way, way beyond anything seen in that particular thread.

In fact, the further you read into the comments the more you realize it's a detailed and nuanced discussion on many important issues. People don't agree, but no one's calling each other a slimy lying sociopath or a disgusting human being. Yet, because a few commenters (not even the majority, as far as I can tell) disagree with Erin, all of Techdirt hates musicians? There were a few tweets and statements elsewhere saying that Techdirt hates it when artists make money. Of course, that's ridiculous. We regularly celebrate artists earning money -- sometimes lots of money. What we get nervous amount is when artists start making use of laws in ways that may actually do them more harm than good in the long term, by attacking their fans as if they were criminals, or when they seek to abuse laws that take away fundamental rights of others.

But, really, what was most amazing to me was how quick some of these people were to jump on the entire Techdirt community, because a few comments disagreed with one musician's opinion. They ignored everyone who came to her defense. They ignored the fact that we posted the story in the first place. They ignored all the people on other stories who attack Techdirt supporters in often extremely personal ways (I've been threatened with physical harm as well as seen multiple comments I won't repeat about my family). But most people -- myself included -- see those kinds of comments as part of the price you pay for having an open discussion. Some people are going to disagree and some will use different levels of speech, some more polite than others. To tar and feather everyone on the site because someone on it disagrees with your personal views is to suggest that every community online is a problem.

Is it that difficult to distinguish a nuanced conversations where not everyone agrees with each other... from the "dark underbelly" of the internet?

Filed Under: comments, copying, creativity, discussion, erin mckeown


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2012 @ 7:21pm

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on Apr 20th, 2012 @ 6:41pm

    Fully agreed.

    The regular stream of articles here demonizes or at least dehumanizes vast organisations and, by implication, their members. Governments, agencies, lawyers, lawmakers, and any artist who "doesn't quite get it." The consistent message is "we here are smarter than all these people, many of whom act like they do because they are at best ignorant and at worst evil."

    You can write the individual sentences with as much "nuance" as you like, but the holistic message is not very nuanced. Today there was an article posted about how copyright killed that guy from Men at Work. Now you can say "oh, well *I* didn't say that, some other guy did." But of all the articles that ran today and all the happenings that you could have reported on, you picked that one. And summarized it. And didn't really strongly disagree with it. Put together, that's endorsement. Even worse, it's deniable endorsement. So you can endorse the idea and deny doing so simultaneously.

    The extremism here in the articles breeds extremism in the comments, and while there are some good ideas in there, they're packaged in a way that really alienates the moderates (let alone the people who are kind of on the other side of the debate). Do you want to win these people over? If so, do you want to do it by persuasion or ridicule? Do you want to try to win them over or just beat the alternative ideas out of them? I don't know which one you think you're doing, but I can tell you what it looks like to outsiders.

    As for engaging with the "community" that's here, wouldn't CwF dictate more engagement from you rather than less? You're busy - the price of having a measure of fame. How is that different from any artist? Why were you silent on the McKeown article and the subsequent discussion? Do you really agree she was wronged? Do you think her response (a lawsuit) is appropriate or the most productive thing she could be doing?

    Were you silent because you were busy or because you agreed with the comments that she was out of line but didn't want to risk alienating McKeown personally? Or do you disagree with the comments and think a lawsuit is a perfectly appropriate course of action? With silence, it's impossible to tell and so readers will make whatever assumption they want, and not all of them may give you the benefit of the doubt.

    I once read a comment (here? Slashdot?) that said something close to "you know what's great about (people who work for) the RIAA? There is nothing bad that could happen to them that would possibly be too abusive or extreme." That is the kind of sentiment that you want to quash or marginalize if you want to actually change anything.

    If a post and a discussion here inspires a discussion elsewhere called "why does techdirt hate musicians" you can certainly ask "what is wrong with those people?!?" all you want. But it might be more productive to ask "what is it at techdirt that caused this in the first place?" especially because this is an environment you can directly influence and control.

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