Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

The Rutgers Atrocity

Posted: Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 10:45 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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clementiSome years ago a friend of mind walked off a plane at the Aberdeen airport and was arrested by a police officer.  He was taken to an office in town, where he was told he would be charged.  Waiting for him was a room full of people with party hats, bundles of balloons and a birthday cake.  It was a practical joke, arranged by a friend who was a lawyer.  One moral of this story is: beware of making friends with lawyers.

My friend tells this story with relish.  That’s what happens when a practical joke succeeds.  Suppose, however, that my friend had not guessed the nature of the joke from the start.  Suppose, seized with fear, he had a heart attack and died en route to his party.  The perpetrators would have been, I suspect, in legal peril.  They would certainly had been in moral peril.  Practical jokes are a perilous business.

I present that story because the most charitable view of what happened at Rutgers that I can even imagine is that it was a practical joke gone awry.  I am not saying that that is the right way to view it.  I am saying the most generous interpretation possible provides no moral absolution and shouldn’t constitute a legal defense.  In case you don’t know, here is the story from the Daily Caller:

Last week in New Jersey, Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate broadcast a live feed of him engaging in sexual acts with another man. The roommate, Dharun Ravi and a friend Molly Wei, both freshmen, are being charged with invasion of privacy. But many people are calling for the prosecutor to charge them with a hate crime, which would double the maximum possible sentence.

You can find another telling of the tragic tale at the Washington Post.

There are two questions here, and both need to be asked.  To ask the first one you have to leave aside the sex of the person with whom Mr. Clementi was involved.  What should we think of people who secretly filmed two legal adults having sexual relations in a bedroom and then broadcast it live over the internet?  We should think that this was an utterly atrocious invasion of privacy.  We should think it is a criminal act.  Apparently it is under New Jersey law.

Looking at it this way, we can see that this sort of thing threatens everyone’s privacy.  To invade someone’s privacy in this way, let alone to broadcast it, looks to me like the equivalent of rape.  In these times, we should all take that seriously.

The second question is whether it was a hate crime.  I gather that this would double the possible penalties in the case.  I have written in defense of hate crimes legislation at this blog.  My fellow conservatives have many objections to such laws, but none of them are germane here.  It is irrelevant what opinions Mr. Ravi or Ms. Wei might have about homosexuality.  What is relevant is what opinions they had about Mr. Clementi and what they were secretly viewing.  Here is something Mr. Ravi twittered.

Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.

Mr. Ravi thought that the sex of his roommate’s partner made his roommate more vulnerable, easier to victimize.  That is precisely the sort of thing one can take into account when judging the severity of a crime.  It is the sort of thing that is design to protect those persons who need the most protection.  In these times, any of us could end up in that category.

What happened to Mr. Clementi was an atrocity.  I expect that Mr. Ravi and Ms. Wei thought they were only playing a harmless joke.  They were nonetheless responsible for their actions, and holding people responsible is the whole point of criminal law.

Obama Stimulates South Dakota Broadband

Posted: Monday, July 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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We’re not following Finland in declaring broadband a fundamental human right, but we’re working on making universal access to the information superhighway a practical reality. On Friday, the Obama Administration announced an additional $800 million in stimulus dollars to boost 66 broadband projects nationwide.

Two South Dakota outfits get a piece of this broadband stimulus pie:

  1. Triotel Communications of Salem gets $12.3 million to lay fiber-optic cable (that’s the fast stuff) to homes in Canova, Alexandria, Emery, Farmer, Salem, and Spencer. Triotel says the project may benefit over 4000 people, just about 1000 businesses, and 100 community institutions. Interestingly, Triotel’s homepage features a banner link calling on us to oppose the FCC’s National Broadband Plan… apparently based on the plan’s setting rural braodband standards 25 times slower than national standards.
  2. Highmore-based Venture Communications gets $5.2 million (to be supplemented with $1.7M in private capital) to run fiber to homes and businesses in Cresbard, Faulkton, and Orient. Over 2000 people and dozens of businesses and institutions stand to get faster Internet.

Among neighboring states, Iowa is living highest off the broadband stimulus hog, winning $69.8 million for six broadband projects. On an entirely unrelated note, these stimulus grants are administered in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, headed by Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

But South Dakota’s $17.5 million is no sneezable sum. Iowa and Montana were our only neighbors to get more of this broadband stimulus, and most of Montana’s money is $15.5 million dedicated to building a fiber network everywhere on the Crow Reservation.

Of course, we all know that South Dakota’s reliance on federal money is bad, bad, bad. When will Kristi Noem go to Salem and Highmore and tell them to send this Executive Branch pork back to Washington? Hmmm… maybe she can get some support for that argument from Wisconsin Democrat and chair of House Appropriations David Obey, who wants to cut $602 million from the total $7.2 billion of stimulus dollars targeted at broadband to offset war costs.

The Press Is Us

Posted: Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 8:21 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Before the 2011 Legislature takes another swing at the Blog Control Acts, they’ll want to review the latest ruling from the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which agrees with me and Aaron Barlow that freedom of the press applies to blogs and websites just as well as the traditional press:

In a First Amendment case that had big implications for the future of online journalism, the New Hampshire Supreme Court said freedom of the press is a fundamental right that extends beyond newspapers and periodicals to any kind of publication that serves as a vehicle for information and opinion.

For the first time, New Hampshire’s high court set a precedent for deciding whether websites can be forced to release the identity of online commenters. It instructed lower courts to weigh the media’s right to protect sources more heavily than the plaintiff’s concerns in lawsuits over defamatory comments made online. Similar precedents have been set in other states [Ashley Smith, “Court Backs Website on Free Speech,” Nashua Telegraph, 2010.05.07].

The ruling addresses a case that covers exactly the situation South Dakota’s legislators wanted to regulate: a pseudonymous blog commenter accused a mortgage company president of fraud, and the company demanded the website identify the commenter. The high court’s ruling does not give nameless commenters free rein, but it does say the mortgage company doesn’t get free rein to prosecute perceived defamation. New Hampshire’s supremes have told the lower court to reconsider the case, this time viewing the website as a member of the press with full First Amendment right to protect the identity of its anonymous sources.

When the Founding Fathers used the word press, they weren’t thinking of professional reporters and publishers pretending to objectivity. They were thinking of pamphleteers and other rabble-rousers like Thomas Paine and Alexander Hamilton who got hold of a press and published their arguments.

If you’re reading this, you have a press at your fingertips. Just like government, the press is us. Use it wisely.

Daugaard for E-Government… but for Consumers or Citizens?

Posted: Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 6:58 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Seeing Dennis Daugaard is making a campaign stop at the Madison 9-12 meeting next week reminds me that I still need to finish reading his big economic plan (now nicely available in plain text as well as PDF). I’ve had some fun picking through some of the good, the same-old same-old, the stinky, the wrong, and the explosive parts of the plan.

Now I get to a part that I can’t help but give props to. Daugaard’s plan includes a plank on digital government, or e-government. Daugaard notes that Game Fish and Parks, the university system, and the state legislature are already making good use of the Internet.

…But too many of our interactions with the state are still paper-based and require a trip to a state office. I will inventory the most common interactions that people and businesses have with state government. The state will create “step-by-step” online portals to guide users to the correct website or state office. Ideally, users should be able to complete common interactions with state government entirely online.

Online services are significantly more convenient – they can be accessed at any time and from any place. They can also result in considerable cost savings – although they require an upfront investment, they will lead to increased efficiency [Daugaard campaign text, 2010].

I don’t think I can take seriously any candidate, from local auditor up to governor and president, who doesn’t recognize the urgent need to rewire government with the greatest information technology ever created.

My only quibble with the Daugaard proposal is that it appears to be stuck in the mindset that views government as a business and citizens as consumers. The Web is great for services like purchasing licenses, paying taxes, and reserving campsites. Improving and increasing such services online can indeed make government more efficient.

But we mustn’t (and Daugaard mustn’t) forget that government is not simply some office to which we pay money and from which we receive services. The government is us. Government is a system we design and participate in. The Internet increases our ability to participate in government on a regular basis, to act not simply as consumers but as engaged citizens.

So sure, more license tags online are great. Now, Mr. Daugaard, how about using the Internet to promote participatory budgeting, as they’ve done in Brazil, Germany, the UK, and even Iowa? How about inviting the public to handle legislative redistricting, as Ohio did last year? How about…

…but wait a minute. What am I doing using the Internet to give politicians ideas on how to engage citizens in government affairs? Aren’t the politicians supposed to come up with all the answers and then convince us to buy them? ;-)

p.s.: Mike Knutson hits on a related theme: Let’s think of the Internet not simply as a way to provide services to consumers, but a way to engage citizens in deliberation and decision-making.

FTC completes first “blog-ola” investigation

Posted: Monday, May 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm
By: Tim Gebhart
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Last December 1, blogs were explicitly brought within the scope of updated Federal Trade Commission guidelines on rules governing the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. The FTC last month quietly posted on its web site the “closing letter” of its first investigation involving blogs under the rules.

The FTC investigated whether the Ann Taylor Stores Corp. violated the law in connection with providing gifts to bloggers who the company expected would post about the company’s LOFT division. In its April 20 closing letter, the FTC staff said it had decided “not to recommend enforcement action at this time.”

The investigation stemmed from LOFT providing gifts to bloggers who attended a January 26 “Exclusive Blogger Preview!” of LOFT’s Summer 2010 collection. The invitation said bloggers attending would receive a special gift and be entered in a “mystery gift card drawing.” In smaller print, the invitation said any blog coverage had to appear within 24 hours and links had to be sent to LOFT to be eligible for gift cards ranging from $10 to $500. The FTC guidelines require bloggers who receive a free or discounted product or service in exchange for writing a review to disclose that fact.

According to reports, 31 bloggers attended the event and all received gift cards. According to the FTC, only a very small number of bloggers posted anything about the preview, and several of them disclosed that LOFT had provided them gifts. Also working in LOFT’s favor was that it adopted a written policy after the event that it will not issue gifts to any blogger without first telling the blogger they must disclose the gift on his or her blog. “The FTC staff expects that LOFT will both honor that written policy and take reasonable steps to monitor bloggers’ compliance with the obligation to disclose gifts they receive from LOFT,” the closing letter said.

In typical government fashion, the letter noted that the decision not to take further steps “is not to be construed as a determination that a violation may not have occurred, just as the pendency of an investigation should not be construed as a determination that a violation has occurred.” In other words, we’re not saying you did or didn’t violate the law but we’re watching you.

This is the first public disclosure of an investigation involving bloggers under the updated guidelines. Undoubtedly, it stemmed in part from mainstream and fashion press coverage before and after the event. Some of the coverage directly asked whether this violated the new regulations, almost inviting the FTC to investigate. Yet the letter also appears to support the FTC’s statement before the updated guidelines were adopted that it would pursue the advertisers, not individual bloggers.

Frankly, then, the closing letter shouldn’t prompt a new round of uproar in the blogging community. Still, the fact there was an investigation and a public letter on it indicates that blogs are on the FTC’s radar and that bloggers need to be cognizant of that fact. Moreover, corporations who see social media as a vehicle for advertising and endorsements better be putting policies in place and making sure they are following the regulations.

Tech-Trendy Towns: Where’s Madison?

Posted: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 9:57 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Madison markets itself as an Unexpected™ technology hub. We’ve got technocentric Dakota State University, the semi-shadowy but job-creating Bulldog Media, the now full Heartland Technology Center and a number of other new tech-oriented business.

Maybe folks in Madison are too busy actually working with technology to mess around with Facebook and other Web 2.0 distractions, but I continue to wonder, for all our native techno-wizardry, where’s our Web buzz?

I know Facebook isn’t a perfect proxy for all Web activity or real-world support, but it does capture some information about a subset of the population. I say subset, even though Tea economic development director Jenni White gushes to KELO that “everyone” is on Facebook. Not quite everyone… but the city of Tea created a Facebook page* and drew 397 fans in two months. If our economic development corporation, the LAIC, is anywhere on Facebook, I can’t find it. (Genuine open interaction with the public terrifies the LAIC.) Madison’s Chamber page has been up a little longer than the Tea page but has 130 fans, me included.

Update 10:46 CDT: The absence of Madison Facebook buzz is all the more striking in the context of this amazing statistic from Mike Knutson at Reimagine Rural: South Dakota has the highest percentage of population signed on to Facebook in the country, 31.1%! Knutson also points to other communities making good use of Facebook, like Oldham, whose page has 251 fans. That’s 68% of the population in the Oldham ZIP code. The Madison Chamber page’s friend–ZIPpop ratio: 1.5%.

Our radio station, KJAM, is doing a little better on fans, with 574. Its Amazing Madison website also gets some participation on its calendar of events.

Participation capacity remains absent from Madison’s other online venues. is still all top-down marketing… but it does offer a wonderful live view of Heartland’s new sign and the gas station at the edge of town.

Even at DSU, there is what feels to me like a surprising lack of online activity. Well, not in class: I see numerous students making constant use of Facebook (expect a subsequent study on the inverse relationship between in-class Facebook use and GPA). But I don’t see a lot of students or even profs doing much to establish prominent online presence. With some notable exceptions, From our President on down, we just don’t see much online activity.

Is this odd? Am I missing a great undercurrent of local Web activity? Or is techno-Madison strangely behind the times in terms of embracing and producing engaging Web content? If there are Madison Facebook pages and blogs and other online presences that put the lie to my hypothesis, let me know!

*Hyperlink Grouse du Jour: tea has a Facebook page, but I’ll be darned if anyone makes it easy to find. KELO commits that familiar sin of doing journalism about the Web and not including hyperlinks to the website discussed (Grrr!!!). The City of Tea, with more stake in driving traffic, flunks Web 101, too: on their city website, they say, “Join us on Facebook… Search Tea South Dakota.” Tea Webmaster, go like this:

<a href=”″>Join Us on Facebook!</a>

Weiland Facebook Boom (Hmmm…. What’s Missing from the News III)

Posted: Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 8:45 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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We’re working on a theme here…

Badlands Blue notes with satisfaction that Mr. Bendo, Sioux Falls landmark and drunk-driving victim, has a greater Facebook following than GOP gubernatorial candidate Dr. Scott Munsterman.

In that spirit, consider these numbers:

  • U.S. House candidate Dr. Kevin Weiland put his Facebook page up on Wednesday. At 09:00 CDT Saturday, he has 694 fans.
  • Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has two Facebook pages (Congresswoman and just plain Stephanie—the former is more in first person). The latter has been up for at least three and a half years and has 2435 fans. The former: since last year March, 684 fans.

Now Facebook fan growth isn’t linear, but I feel a table coming on:

Candidate Apparent Creation Date Fans 3/26 06:30 Fans per day 3/27/2010 Day Change Fans per Day
Kevin Weiland 3/24/2010 497 248.5 694 39.6% 228.2
Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin 3/1/2009 681 1.7 684 0.4% 1.7
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin 9/15/2006 2431 1.9 2435 0.2% 1.9
Chris Nelson 10/7/2009 741 4.4 740 -0.1% 4.3
Dr. R. Blake Curd 10/1/2009 975 5.5 975 0.0% 5.5
Kristi Noem 2/16/2010 1947 51.2 1954 0.4% 47.0

Kristi Noem bragged at the beginning of March about winning the “Facebook primary” with her quick fan accretion. Let’s see whether those numbers on both sides have any correlation with results in June.

Comment Nymity Catching on in SD Blogosphere

Posted: Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 8:50 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The Madville Times banned anonymous comments last May. I often consider lifting or lightening the ban to permit casual nameless comments back in the mix. However, my experience on the mudfest forums on KELO and that Sioux Falls paper and the occasional nameless snarkbites submitted here keep me thinking the costs of anonymous comments still outweigh the benefits.

Some other members of the South Dakota blogosphere are coming to a similar conclusion. A couple weeks ago, Mount Blogmore dean Kevin Woster announced a comment policy shift: anonymi can still leave comments, but they cannot issue personal attacks against others who go by name. It’s not an absolute policy, but it establishes the reasonable principle that if you want to criticize someone, you have to be willing to stake your own name to your criticism and accept the heat you might get in return.

Bob Newland at the Decorum Forum is quitting anonymi cold turkey: if a post is headed “Anonymous,” he now deletes it. But this is a ban more in form than substance: Newland is requiring each speaker adopt a username, but unverifiable pseudonyms are fine.

Meanwhile on the corporate side, Heartland Consumer Power District has adopted a blog to offer a mix of PR material and political commentary. Their comment policy: “Heartland reserves the right to delete any anonymous comments or those containing profanity or personal attacks.” They didn’t delete my first comment; I’ll try to keep it civil.

I’d love to claim a leadership role in encouraging blogs to move away from anonymity. But it’s just as likely that this shift is a response to the discussion aroused by the Blog Control Acts (House Bills 1277 and 1278) considered briefly by the South Dakota Legislature this winter. Or perhaps this shift is a result of the natural cultural evolution I suggested to Rep. Noel Hamiel as a superior response to discourse in this still-new medium than draconian and unconstitutional legislation.

So what’s your read of the state of the South Dakota blogosphere? Are the blogs moving toward a more civil and responsible role in democracy? Or is move to rein in comments akin to the closing of the frontier, an end of the Wild West days, with cowboys and saloon girls giving way to schoolmarms and church singalongs?

Blog Control Act Supporter Advocates Toothless Law?

Posted: Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 9:09 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Todd Epp, author of one half of the South Dakota Blog Control Acts, tells KELO that bloggers actually won’t have to comply with his HB 1277:

If passed, the bill would require bloggers, when asked, to turn over any information that would identify anonymous posters. That is, if they keep information like IP addresses or email accounts.

“If they don’t have it, they just tell the court, ‘I don’t have it.’ End of story. If they do have it, like anyone in a civil case that has evidence, they’re required to provide it,”Epp said [Shawn Neistadt, ” Proposal to Tame Anonymous, Hurtful Postings,”, 2010.02.12].

So a lawyer working very hard to help certain legislators pass a law tells us his law can be easily circumvented, by turning off or deleting our site stats.

This same lawyer tells a mainstream media outlet that the Internet is now a “mature” medium and should follow “similar rules” as the mainstream media (sounding familiar…). This mainstream media outlet interviews no one but this lawyer on this topic.

So to review: the other side’s lawyer is telling us the law his side wants won’t really affect us. The other side’s lawyer also gets special attention from the corporate media that stands to benefit from increased restrictions on its new media competitors.

Am I the only person feeling suspicious?

Meanwhile, Italy is backing away from some Internet restrictions. Italian legislator Alessio Butti recognizes that “Blogs with amateur videos, online newspapers, search engines and the online versions of magazines are free, and editorial responsibility does not fall on providers who host content generated by others.” An Italian judge ruled last year that IP addresses are “not sufficient to establish the identity of an infringer or liability of a defendant. (read more here… in Italian!).

Hey, if cannoli can kill the kolache bill, Italian legal thinking can help kill the Blog Control Acts.

American judges are also recognizing that even professional network administrators at a major university can’t provide sufficiently identifying information about users in its IP logs. Todd’s more right than he realizes: the courts won’t be able to get anyone to comply with HB 1277.

Maybe HB 1277 Pays for Bloggers After All

Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010 at 8:09 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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SDPB’s Dakota Midday hosted a fruitful discussion Wednesday of the Blog Control Acts, HB 1277 & HB 1278. Several thoughts occurred to me, including the alarming realization that HB 1277 might actually encourage blogs to permit scurrilous anonymous comments.

Defending this legislative intrusion on the judicial branch, bill sponsor Rep. Noel Hamiel (R-20/Mitchell) says his bills are just trying to elicit information from the Internet provider. He notes that HB 1277 puts the expense of that discovery process on the plaintiff, the person sufficiently aggrieved by some nasty comment to file suit and unmask the rascal.

Wait a minute… read that back to me:

Notwithstanding the safe harbor provisions of the federal Communications Decency Act, any person bringing an action for libel or slander under this chapter or under common law may name the online content provider as a defendant in such an action for the limited purpose of obtaining information about any unknown, anonymous, or pseudonymous person who has left or uploaded a defamatory comment, posting, message, photo, video, or other communication about another person. Any online content provider so named shall provide, within thirty days of service of the summons, at the expense of the person bringing the slander or libel action, any information, reasonably available and kept in the normal course of business, that assists in the identification and location of the unknown, anonymous, or pseudonymous person who left or uploaded the defamatory content [emphasis mine; text Noel Hamiel’s, HB 1277, Section 1].

Maybe I’ve gotten HB 1277 all wrong. I’ve been griping that HB 1277 forces bloggers to be unpaid speech cops. But if this bill passes, I open up the comment section and archive my IP logs, and then the moment someone posts a snark too far, boom! I get paid by the plaintiff for all the trouble I’ve gone through to maintain those records.

Dang—the websites that profit most from a rule like that could be the websites with the freest, most no-hold-barred comment sections that will draw exactly the most vitriolic, hyperbolic comments Hamiel is trying to tackle. Oops.

Looks like we file HB 1277 under “Law of Unintended Consequences.”