Today’s blog isn’t so much directly about fandom, but the ways in which I’ve recently seen a number of people (inside and outside of fandom) completely miss the boat on the way the internet works–in particular on issues of etiquette and privacy.
Unfortunately, there is no one “bible” on internet etiquette out there to follow; no international rules and regulations beyond those that evolve within the community of internet users through the years. But some of these things really shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out if you are at all familiar with technology and net culture–and have some small amount of common sense about you. They are also things which are worth contemplating from time to time, to determine if your personal expectations of privacy and etiquette can really be automatically expected to be followed by others–or are completely off the mark.
Public postings are exactly that: PUBLIC.
Sure, you can deter robots from spidering through your blog, livejournal, or website. But that doesn’t mean someone you didn’t “intend” to find your rantings about your evil housemates, your boss, or your pornographic Harry Potter fiction isn’t going to stumble upon it in some other fashion. Unless you lock them down through password protection, “friends lock” or other methods, your words, images and actions that you’ve chosen to share on the internet are there for anyone to see, read, and potentially respond to.
Indeed, some of the things people do that they think “protect” themselves may serve as only a greater incentive for the “wrong” audience to want to read on. Putting up a giant post-dated post or header on your blog proclaiming “THIS SITE IS FOR MY FRIENDS ONLY!” without actively locking it down as such? May only be more incentive for the nosy to click away. It’s like leaving an unlocked, hand-written diary out on a coffee table in a house you share with others. Maybe some people will be “polite” enough to ignore it’s there and not open it. But even if you put a sticky note on it saying “DO NOT OPEN”, you’re not doing all you should to guard your privacy.
Linking happens. Deal with it.
One of the primary features of the World Wide Web, since its earliest days, was The Link. An American webpage on, say, Pink Floyd might lead you to another website in Holland featuring a F.A.Q. about the band or discography; it might include a list of mailing lists around the world you could subscribe to to discuss the band; a directory of fan sites for other classic rock bands. A fan-fiction archive for Star Wars might include a “link page” where you could find more Star Wars fiction, information sites about the movies, etc.
Yet linking seems to remain one of those things people can get irrationally weird and protective about. Even while linking has long been one of the easiest and most direct ways for people within a specific community or sharing a common interest could find each other, some people get strangely obsessive over who does and doesn’t link to their sites and whether permission is required to do so. These people don’t seem to understand that linking does not equal stealing content, which is another matter entirely. In fandom, this has often come up in terms of fiction rec lists or sites such as FanWorksFinder–and critical reviews as well. Some have raised objections if their stories were included in a review that was less-than-favorable, claiming it to be “stealing their content”. But a story link is different from, say, taking an entire story out of an archive and publishing it on your own site without asking the author’s permission first (unless the author has given clear, blanket permission to “archive anywhere”).
A large number of blogs (just a sampling, there) have posted about linking etiquette in the blogosphere in the past, with it seemingly coming down to these general guidelines:
1. You don’t need permission to link to a blog, however, it’s generally considered good etiquette to remove a link if asked to do so. (Metafandom is a fannish example of a blog/newsletter which follows this practice–if a post is public, it’s fair game for linking unless the author has said in their post they don’t want it on MF, or ask to have it removed later on).
2. Stealing content without credit, or including information without a link back to where it came from, is bad. So is including links/content in a way that potentially steals revenue from the original blogger.
3. Reciprocal links can be nice but are not mandatory.
Seems like these rules should be easy enough to understand, but that’s not often the case. And coupled with some folks’ apparent misunderstanding of the public nature of un-protected blogs, this can lead to major wank. A recent example of this I witnessed was on the egullet forums–a somewhat elitist website for food and dining enthusiasts. Shola Olunloyo, a very popular “private chef” in the Philadelphia community and Pennsylvania subforum was running a blog on food which mysteriously disappeared, and then returned some time later under strict password protection. In the wank on the egullet forum that followed (posts on the subject mainly deleted by a forum moderator on 2/18/09), it appeared Shola did not like having his blog linked to by others, and then got upset over certain negative/potentially trolling comments that had been posted there.
Certainly, a blog (or any site) can become more trouble than it’s worth if one is constantly harassed or confronted by it, but this incident ended up coming across as someone being unfortunately unfamiliar with the way the internet works and then coming off with a bad case of “I’m taking my toys and going home” or flounce at the end of the day. If a person wanted to share their ideas about food and cooking without ever risking negative comments, comments could have been disabled entirely on the blog (or screened by an assistant to the blog, if the chef never wanted to even see them himself unless the comments were positive). If linking to the site was to be such a “no-no”, a disclaimer should have been clearly put on the site stating as much (and even then, cannot be completely expected to be followed)–just the arguments on egullet that followed showed that everyone’s apparent ideas of netiquette with regard to linking is different from each other. Or perhaps Shola should have simply started with a password-protected blog from the start, the only way to truly limit who had access to his site, as he apparently learned the hard way instead of avoiding certain unpleasantness from the start.
There are a lot more exampled of misconceptions of privacy on-line I can think of which I’ve seen in recent times: a fan-fiction author being outed after not protecting her fannish identity as separate from the “real life” one on Facebook; a chat session being copied on a public messageboard which some participants had believed would be private, which then lead to serious wank within the fandom. Almost every week there seems to be some kerfluffle in fandom related to privacy issues, sometime minor, sometimes major.
So I’m going to end this blog with a point towards Fan History’s Privacy Help Page. We’ve been wanked in the past about it for it being “laughable” and “impractical”; that to follow all the guidelines within would not allow one to participate in fandom at all. And such criticism is missing the point. The point is that one must constantly make thoughtful decisions when on the internet regarding one’s desire and needs for privacy vs. one’s desire to create and share in on-line communities. You can’t expect the millions of people out there on the net to all have the same “good intentions” as you do, nor the same ideas of what constitutes netiquette. One must be aware of the “risks” involved in one’s actions on-line, and make decisions on whether they feel comfortable with those risks. If you create a public blog, you must accept that people are, in fact, going to read it. And maybe disagree with you and what you say, and tell you such. If you post anything under pseudonym to “protect your privacy” but aren’t consistent in keeping your real life identity separate from your fannish one (or try to use your reputation or “standing” within the fannish community to improve your real life one, or vice-versa) eventually someone may “connect the dots” in a way that could have negative repercussions for you. These are the facts of life in the internet world of today, facts which, unfortunately, many only seem to realize from making embarrassing and potentially more hurtful mistakes.