June 30, 2008

Violet Blue "unpersoned" from Boing Boing ?

The Violet Blue / BoingBoing incident, where many posts mentioning popular sex writer Violet Blue were suddenly deleted from one of the biggest blogs around, has been garnering more and more notice in the relevant fan-bases. The strangest aspect is that it seemed to have happened out of the, err, blue.

"I've been racking my brain thinking of what issues I might've come down on the wrong side of," Blue told [the latimes.com writer] on the phone. "There's been no argument, there's been no disagreement, no flame war, none of the usual things."

Which makes it all very, very, odd. Generally when something like this happens, the parties involved know the general reason (... even if they don't agree on the specifics). And none of the obvious speculations fit (sex-related material? There's still plenty of that on Boing Boing. Copyright? No, doesn't seem to be an issue). The Boingers aren't talking, not even to newspaper inquiries per above. Which is another weird part of the story. That sort of behavior generally indicates a legal problem, but nobody can figure out what would apply here.

I dug around earlier, and the post removals definitely seem to be real and deliberate. That is, not only have the HTML article files disappeared, but someone seems to have gone into the article database and deleted the entries there, and then rebuilt the associated HTML article files (so that the previous-post and next-post links didn't show the now-deleted post). It's not clear when this happened - I couldn't find cached versions that narrowed down the timeframe enough.

I kept thinking this has got to be a bug, that somehow Violet Blue's website ended up on a spam blacklist by accident. But the stonewalling seen over the last few days makes that theory less and less likely.

People are now trying to sneak comments about the event into various Boing Boing threads, and obviously having those comments removed. You can just imagine what sort of post you'd find about all this on Boing Boing if it were someone not favored, instead of themselves ("Megasite erases hip sexy blogger, readers use The Internet to protest!"). Plus the supercilious apologism from certain quarters, is a sight to behold.

I have a saying: It's Always Different When It's You :-(

Update: Boing Boing speaks. WOW! Say it isn't so :-(. They really did wilfully and deliberately unperson her. It's all true: "Violet behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her.". I wish I could convey vocal tone, to underscore the sincerity of saying I am so disappointed.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in bogosphere | on June 30, 2008 11:55 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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They missed one, at least for the moment. There's a link to the now-missing "top sex memes by Violet Blue" down the page: http://www.boingboing.net/2006/12/howto-make-green-egg.html.

Posted by: Chris Edwards at July 1, 2008 02:53 AM

Perhaps they really like the name 'Violet Blue' and are thinking of expunging prior use from the history books?

Otherwise, I wonder if a meme has been propagating that the best bloggers are always careful to sanitise their comment logs and remove all traces of politically undesirable commenters - as this can have a negative impact on the blog and its ad-revenue potential.

I once had a load of my comments deleted from a blog because they weren't sufficiently on topic enough to add value to the original article. I gently pointed out how short-sighted this policy was. A year later, when the blogger was a tad wiser, they apologised to me and asked me to return and resume commenting. I rarely do.

Not saying it's relevant to Violet Blue, but some bloggers evidently treat comments as a parasitic growth to be tolerated or disposed of as they see fit - with zero repercussions.

This is what happens when you stop selling yourself to your audience and start selling your audience to advertisers.

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at July 1, 2008 04:36 AM

Crosbie says: "This is what happens when you stop selling yourself to your audience and start selling your audience to advertisers."

Which, of course, is the primary business model of all Web 2.0, and something which has gone for far too long without examination. It's also one of the reasons I recently decided to take ads off my blog (although, to be honest, if it were making me thousands per week I might have thought differently! :) )

So, first of all, caveat emptor: Cory is a friend. However, I have no idea of any of the why's, wherefores, and so on of this apparent-deletion. I'm as baffled by it as anyone else.

Seth, I think you hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that this is very, very odd. It's behaviour that's so far out of character for everyone at BB that I can't help but think something very, very difficult is going on. Legal? Could be - as you say, it bares the hallmarks of a legal issue. But Violet would know about that - unless Violet is lying, and I have no reason to think that's the case either.

So, while the facts are not clear, I'm not going to do much in the way of speculating. What I will do, though, is urge others not to speculate much either - because "speculation" in the blogging world often gets turned into "facts", which later prove to be anything but.

Posted by: Ian Betteridge at July 1, 2008 06:44 AM

No speculation? This is the very breath of imagination that progresses the arts and sciences.

What if VB has been discovered to be a precocious minor? Would this risk exposing BB to prosecution and harmful publicity in those states where minors are prohibited from online dialogue?

Alternatively, if VB was discovered to be a pariah or person sub judice, that might be another reason to expunge all speech. Perhaps unbeknownst to VB they have committed libel or slander?

I still fancy the idea that someone owns 'Violet Blue' as a trademark and upon a notice BB have removed all references as an overreactive precaution.

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at July 1, 2008 10:28 AM


I think BB have simply failed to notice that while selective 'unpublishing' of historically quite publishable comments may be within their power, but exercising that power doesn't do much for their reputation, not least their former audience's estimation of their integrity.

This is like photoshopping ex-partners out of one's family photos. Symptomatic of a worrying mental weakness.

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at July 1, 2008 01:04 PM

There is indeed a trademark. Violet Blue filed for a trademark on March 2, 2007. Then filed a case against a porn star using the same name later last year.

My guess this rubbed the BBers up the wrong way but in true High School 2.0 style, rather than call her out on the action, decided to make her an unperson. It's really quite pathetic behaviour at BB if that is the reason behind all this and I wouldn't be greatly surprised.

Posted by: Chris Edwards at July 1, 2008 03:24 PM

I thought that the BoingBoing post on this issue was rather tacky. "She done wrong", and leaving the "wrong" unspoken.

Frankly, BoingBoing does not eat its own dog food. The site looses credibility.

Posted by: Shelley at July 1, 2008 03:47 PM

One person is a tragedy. Or high drama, at the very least.

Two percent of Time Warner Cable's 7.9 million Internet customers is a statistic: About 150,000 people or more

At first reading, perhaps it might seem that I'm veering off-topic. But one of Seth's persistent themes has been the inequality of attention in the blogosphere.

So, it's worthwhile expressing my sentiments here: At the momemt, I have a great deal more sympathy —and interest— in the plight of some denizens of alt.food.barbecue.

But, in contrast with my own sympathy and interests, observe how very little attention, especially compared in a relative sense, that most others give to collateral road-kill in an arms race along the info expressway.

Violet Blue must be news to most people. But alt.support.diabetes just isn't news, I guess. Or maybe a 150,000 people are just a statistic.

Posted by: Steve at July 1, 2008 05:16 PM

This whole episode is so bizarre, but not really surprising considering BoingBoing's general childishness.

My prediction: today's BB post, or at least its 700+ comments, will be "unpublished" within a few days.

Posted by: Kevin Arthur at July 2, 2008 12:33 AM

"behaviour that's so far out of character for everyone at BB"

I always understood BB to be cliquish and hypocritical, so this episode is pretty much right in line with their character.

Posted by: Travis at July 2, 2008 08:47 PM
What I will do, though, is urge others not to speculate much either - because "speculation" in the blogging world often gets turned into "facts", which later prove to be anything but.

It's not the blogging world's fault that BoingBoing is now playing the "We can't say exactly why this person is awful, but trust us, she's super-totally awful" game. I mean, going through and deleting every single mention of a person? It's one of the few acts in the short history of blogs that actually deserves to be called Orwellian. And now they're just inviting speculation by not explaining why. No, they're under no legal obligation to do so, but their shock at anyone daring to question them on it is, to borrow a phrase from Xeni, a "pile of shit."

They're handling this precisely the wrong way, and any fallout is nobody's fault but theirs.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at July 5, 2008 10:50 AM

I'd bet it's for $$$ reasons. Either they've been advised to de-link her (perhaps some SEO suggested it to increase their page rank or avoid a drop by Google for some searches) or they are trying to get big name/big payout advertisers onboard who objected to that kind of content and made they remove it before paying. Now that I think about it, for the past six months there's been far less "adult" content/links on there?

Posted by: ck at July 5, 2008 11:12 AM