Digg literally got a taste of its own medicine yesterday. The users that generate (or rather link to) content for Digg openly revolted against the website causing it at one point to collapse. It all started when a user posted a story to an 32-character encryption crack code used to circumvent the DRM restrictions of HD-DVDs. The industry instantly went into damage control and cited the DMCA and asked Digg to remove any links to stories that posted the encryption code. Digg, partly to avoid the legal ramifications and partly due to the fact that HD-DVD sponsors their Diggnation Show agreed and began removing stories and even banning users who had posted the stories.
The news got out pretty quickly and for a user-generated site to control the stories posted, it was the proverbial shit hitting the fan. Whether or not, Digg was right in removing the stories, the famed Digg mob took over and began inundating the incoming stories queue with the banned code either in the title or within the excerpt. Many of these stories hit the front page and at one point last night, the first two pages of the Digg front page had nothing but stories pointing to the code. The top stories in all categories pointed to the hex code [screenshots after the jump]. After hearing that Digg admins were furiously removing or even blocking entering the code, users got creative and posted the code in cryptic yet obvious ways such as photos on Flickr or citing that hex code as serial numbers of fake softwares. It was so big that the story hit the BBC and CNet early today.
The storm was quelled only after Kevin Rose, Digg’s founder reversed their stand and told users that they would no longer remove stories with the code:
But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.
This was by no means their first reaction as they justifiably tried to err on the side of the law but since their site is built on the premise of geek-law that thrives on subverting corporations and monopolistic intellectual property, they couldn’t anger their base any longer. Digg would have gone down eventually if what happened last night continued.
So what do we learn from this mess? Time’s Person of the Year – You – are stronger than ever. Regardless of what the law says, netizens are in a position to exert control over content that they wish to see out in the public. Although what the Digg mob did wasn’t completely right, I would still blame the highly restricting properties of the DMCA and DRM that lead to corporations to monopolistic control of generic content (why can’t we play our MP3s in all music players or any DVDs in any DVD player?) If businesses make it blatantly obvious that their interests are solely in maintaing monopoly even at the risk of pissing off their core customers, then such practices are bound to come back and haunt them.
I fail to understand that in the age of blogging and social media networking, did HD-DVD plan to sue every website that posted the encryption key? Is it even possible? Any information that gets out these days spreads virally and is virtually unstoppable. It is a bad age to have secrets in. Digg also erred in handling it the wrong way. They should have had a better understanding of their users and any hint at censoring would naturally get them riled up. Trying to stifle the stories only ended up inflaming them and spreading them more than it would have. Facebook experienced a similar storm earlier last year and had to make amends. It is all about guarding your users first and then considering other ramifications because for any social media site. If your users don’t exist, you don’t exist. It is a basic rule of social media that more you try to restrict information, the more it is going to spread. If you are smart enough, you just let it die and let it languish in the dark alleys of crackers and hackers.