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Hot on the Web

Obnoxiousness and the 'Net

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 27, 2007
(Issue 2517, Linux on the Line)

From congressional members poking their noses where they don't belong to a new dating site for snobs, offensive behavior connected to the Internet hasn't been hard to find.

Nothing much more offensive than the government violating the law.

And in late March, the House Committee on Science and Technology's subcommittee on investigations and oversight demanded that Google explain why its Google Earth program was using old, pre-Katrina satellite imagery of New Orleans.

In one of the more laughable episodes in recent memory of Congress trying to shift blame, Brad Miller, a Democratic from North Carolina, accused Google of a "cover-up" of the Katrina damage. Not only that, but Miller demanded that Google explain how and why the older photos were being used.

What about that pesky First Amendment, Rep. Miller? For Congress to even hold hearings over what a private business is publishing was nothing short of an illegal act of intimidation.

Unfortunately, you can't sue Congress – not even for violating your rights.

But there is this: Rather than blasting Google for having old photos of New Orleans showing it in all its glory, how about Congress get off its lazy butt and find some money to restore New Orleans to that state? Shoot, just eliminate all those fat taxpayer-subsidized pensions for members of Congress and their staff members and we should have enough to make a dent in the post-Katrina recovery.

But if Google can't get Congress to quit bullying the private sector and focus on its own shortcomings, maybe Google can fine-tune its search parameters so that when one does a search for "censor" on Google, Miller's name comes up first ...

Dating for snobs

As if dating wasn't tough enough, now some rich white boy has started a dating site that only allows you to post a profile if you pass their "hotness" test. is a dating site for the beautiful people only – the physically plain, the normal among us need not apply.

Or if you do apply, be prepared to take another shot to the ego.

Here's the site's own introduction: "Attractive, fit singles like you deserve an above average dating pool and the leading online dating sites just don't meet that standard."

Yeah, that's not shallow, is it?

Who's to say the perfect spouse for you is exactly like you think he or she will be? And are we so shallow that only those with Hollywood looks are worth our time, our affection, our love?

The sad thing is that the sort of shallow Hal who would want to list a profile here probably wouldn't take the accusation of snobbery as an insult.

A right to be a jerk?

Finally, Tim O'Reilly, owner of the powerhouse tech publisher of the same name, and Jimmy Wales, founder of the Wikipedia community-maintained encyclopedia, have proposed a set of online behavior codes – only to be met with (fairly predictable) claims of "censorship."

First, what O'Reilly and Wales are proposing is a voluntary set of multiple content "ratings" that owners of forums and blogs could choose to adopt. So for example, if you adopted a family-friendly rating for your site, you would agree to remove postings that were obscene or contained profanity. You might also adopt a rating that would require your posters to register and identify themselves.

Seems common-sense enough, and I imagine the great majority of folks would support such a voluntary set of content ratings.

O'Reilly and Wales' proposal emphasizes the value in moving away from anonymous postings on forums and blogs.

What's sadly predictable is the response of many in the blog community who have labeled such proposals a form of "censorship." Of course, any voluntary code of behavior can hardly be considered censorship by the sane and sober.

Besides, if bloggers continue to willfully post and allow openly libelous statements to be posted, the courts will end up imposing a code of conduct – more than likely one a bit stricter than what O'Reilly and Wales are suggesting.

And juvenile whining that people have some fundamental "right" to post vile comments on other people's sites is unlikely to do much to sway mainstream opinion on the issue.