Tuesday, March 27, 2007

YouTube, Viacom, AutoAdmit, and Ann Coulter--and, of course, the rankings

What do the Viacom/YouTube dispute, the brouhaha over AutoAdmit's content, and some of the back-and-forth on alternative rankings all have in common? From my point of view, it's a discussion about responsibility for one's actions. Here's some background.

AutoAdmit, which bills itself as "[t]he most prestigious law school discussion board in the world," is a collection of posts ranging from the insightful (well, theoretically, at least) to the disgusting. For a discussion about the latter, see WashingtonPost.com, Harsh Words Die Hard on the Web: Law Students Feel Lasting Effects of Anonymous Attacks. Last year, my actions, character, etc. were rehashed on both AutoAdmit and GreedyTexas.com, so I have an inkling of what it feels like to be e-mobbed. It didn't feel wonderful, but I blamed the people who posted on those sites and not the sites themselves.

Viacom and YouTube are in a dispute about what YouTube may or may not allow people to post on its website. (Here's one article discussing the dispute: Viacom's case against YouTube and Google: Site is not passive Web host digital copyright act protects.) Although it's my understanding that YouTube removes copyright protected work when it's notified of the copyright protection, the issue--best as I can tell--is that Viacom thinks that YouTube should be more proactive in monitoring postings on its site.

Ann Coulter. Ah, what can I say about her that won't be, well, just nasty and mean, which is certainly how I view her? At least I give her credit for being brave enough to attach her name to her opinions.

What do these issues have in common? The fact that, often, people blame the medium rather than the writer, and I don't understand why they do that. Certainly, the people who posted the ridiculous things on AutoAdmit have amply demonstrated their own character flaws and should be worried about their own careers, should their anonymity ever be pierced. (And is it really a surprise that so many people post anonymously on blogs to spew their venom, rather than demonstrate a willingness to take responsibility for what they post?) But is it Anthony Ciolli's fault that the people who abused the law students on AutoAdmit exhibited such a lack of judgment? (For what it's worth, he's resigned from AutoAdmit.)

Opinions are just that: opinions. Sure, there are judgment calls about what to allow and what not to allow--in newpapers, on TV, in movies, on websites. But why do people attack the decisions to allow/disallow the posts rather than focusing on the posts (and those who write the posts) themselves?

I've seen well-reasoned disagreements about topics like the use of SSRN downloads as alternative rankings. (For example, see Brian Leiter's No Ranking is Too Trivial to Spark Commentary from Folks with Time to Burn..., Doug Berman's hilarious last line in SSRN rankings and Leiter's (rank?) omission, and Ann Bartow's Eats, Shoots and Leaves-like post, Fuck, SSRN Rankings, as well as my own MoneyLaw post, We're number, uh, something?) Sure, we're (sigh) older and probably wiser than the authors of the AutoAdmit posts in question. (I think that I'm older than Ann Coulter, too, which is very depressing.) But I also think that the fact that we attach our names to our opinions reminds us that we take responsibility for what we say and that we know that our posts will be available for a long, long time.

It's really possible to disagree using humor and kindness, rather than with the elementary school response of "I know you are, but what am I?" (Apologies to PeeWee Herman.)

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