Category: Blogging

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Will the Blogosphere Affect the Miers Appointment?

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VCstats3.jpgThe blogosphere is erupting with reactions to Harriet Miers nomination. Will the blogosphere affect the confirmation? What kind of effect will it have?

My guess is that the blogosphere will play an important role. Many blogs have experienced an influx of traffic this week after the nomination was announced, such as The Volokh Conspiracy, which jumped from about 25,000 visits per day to over 40,000. [The image on the right is of The Volokh Conspiracy's visitor traffic over the past month.] These blogs are being read by those in all corners of government. They are thus influential in shaping the debate, especially among those in powerful positions. Blogs are also helpful in getting a read on what people very engaged in politics are thinking.

The confirmation hearings have largely become a meaningless ritual, where little about a nominee is revealed, where nominees merely dodge the tough questions and provide assurances that they won’t “legislate from the bench.” The more meaningful discussions are occuring in the blogosphere. Perhaps this is where Miers will be most thoroughly vetted and discussed.

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A Victory for Anonymous Blogging

anonymity2.jpgAnonymous bloggers received a great victory this week in a case decided by the Delaware Supreme Court — Doe v. Cahill (Oct. 5, 2005). The case involved John Doe, who anonymously posted on a blog statements about Patrick Cahill, a City Councilman of Smyrna, Delaware. Doe, in criticizing Cahill’s job performance, noted that Cahill had “obvious mental deterioration” and was “paranoid.” Cahill sued Doe for defamation.

Doe was anonymous, but his IP address could be linked to his postings, and Cahill sought to obtain Doe’s identity from Comcast, Doe’s ISP. Comcast notified Doe that Cahill was seeking his identity, and Doe immediately went to court to prevent the disclosure of his identity. The case reached the Delaware Supreme Court, which concluded that Cahill should not be permitted to obtain Doe’s identity.

The issues in this case are very important. Many of you comment here anonymously; and many comment anonymously on other blogs. Some have anonymous blogs, such as the person pretending to be Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers on a blog or the pseudonymous “Article III groupie,” who maintains the famous blog, Underneath Their Robes. EFF has produced a manual about how to blog anonymously.

What if your identity – and those of the Miers impersonator and Article III groupie — could readily be unmasked?

The First Amendment provides for a right to speak anonymously. It does so because without anonymity, people might be chilled in saying certain things. But what happens when anonymous speakers defame people or invade their privacy? Those injured people should be able to sue. This issue has been a difficult one for courts, which have tried to balance a person’s free speech rights to speak anonymously with the injured plaintiff’s rights to proceed with a lawsuit.

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Why Blogging Is Good

Blog1.jpgRecently, there have been many thoughtful discussions about whether blogging is a good activity for academics to be engaging in. I sure hope it is! Jack Balkin at Balkinization has a terrific post about blogging. He writes: “It has become increasingly obvious to me (and to many others as well) that some academic writing works perfectly well as a blog posting.”

A recent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Henry Farrell (political science, GW), a blogger at Crooked Timber, offers some fantastic observations. Here are a few nibbles (actually, more like a few bites, because it’s such a good essay):

Properly considered, the blogosphere represents the closest equivalent to the Republic of Letters that we have today. Academic blogs, like their 18th-century equivalent, are rife with feuds, displays of spleen, crotchets, fads, and nonsenses. As in the blogosphere more generally, there is a lot of dross. However, academic blogs also provide a carnival of ideas, a lively and exciting interchange of argument and debate that makes many scholarly conversations seem drab and desiccated in comparison. Over the next 10 years, blogs and bloglike forms of exchange are likely to transform how we think of ourselves as scholars. While blogging won’t replace academic publishing, it builds a space for serious conversation around and between the more considered articles and monographs that we write.

What advantages does blogging offer over the more traditional forms of academic communication? Blogging sacrifices some depth of thought — it’s difficult to state a complex thesis in the average blogpost — but provides in return a freedom and flexibility that normal academic publishing can’t match. Consider the length of time it takes to publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal. In many disciplines, a period of years between first draft and final publication is normal. More years may elapse before other academics begin to publish articles or books responding to the initial article. In contrast, a blog post is published immediately after the blogger hits the “publish” button. Responses can be expected in hours, both from those who comment on the blog (if the blog allows them) and from other bloggers, who may take up an idea and respond to it, extend it, or criticize it. Others may respond to those bloggers in turn, leading to a snowballing conversation distributed across many blogs. In the conventional time frame of academe, such a conversation would take place over several years, if at all. . . .

The essay wonderfully captures the positive influences blogging is having on the academy. More from Farrell’s essay:

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