TCS Daily

Silencing a Hornet's Nest

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - May 3, 2006 12:00 AM

It seems like a lot of people are trying to shut up bloggers all of a sudden. It also doesn't seem to be working very well.

One example from last week was a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack against a blog, Aaron's CC, that seems to have irritated some cyber-jihadis. (We don't know for sure where the actual attackers are from, but the attacks originated in Saudi Arabia, and it seems pretty clear what they don't like about Aaron's blog.) Aaron's was shut down for a while, and some other blogs (including mine) were affected. Hosting Matters, the hosting service, reported:

"This morning at approximately 10:00 AM Eastern time, we noted a sudden abnormal surge in traffic to the network.

"Shortly thereafter, our upstreams confirmed that one of the servers within the network was the target of a massive DOS attack.

"We worked with the NOC and the upstreams to further identify the target and steps were taken to isolate that target from the rest of the network."

No big deal, really -- a few sites were down for a few hours, while Hosting Matters fixed the problem; the target site was down a bit longer, but is now back up with a mocking post reading "DDOS This, Jihadis!" -- and, no doubt, getting a lot more eyeballs than it got before the attack attracted the world's attention.

Meanwhile, Nashville blogger Bill Hobbs lost his job when a political consultant complained about his posting a Mohammed cartoon. Belmont University, fearing controversy, let him go, and some other Nashville bloggers thought the whole scandal was an effort by the political consultant to silence Hobbs, who had been supporting the Republican candidate for governor. If so, it didn't work very well, either for the Democrats or Belmont. The story attracted lots of attention, talk show host Hugh Hewitt -- hugely influential in the Christian circles that matter to Belmont University, a Baptist college -- criticized Belmont University for abandoning its principles as set out in Belmont's mission statement. And Hobbs, far from being silenced, is now going after the Tennessee Education Association, a bastion of Democratic Party support, hammer-and-tongs on his blog. I expect a lot more of that between now and the election, too -- he's got plenty of free time. Plus, the Republican candidate, a relative unknown, wound up getting a lot of attention and support from people unhappy about what happened to Hobbs.

And finally, an advertising agency that works with the Maine Office of Tourism is suing a blogger for criticizing its work. I agree with Ed Cone that this is likely to be a dreadful mistake:

"Even if the complaint has merit -- and from my superficial understanding of the case, at least parts of it are questionable -- is this a smart strategy for any company to take when confronted with a hostile blogger?

"A relatively unknown gadfly was irritating the agency and its client, the Maine Office of Tourism. Now Dutson is a cause celebre in the blogosphere, and his allegations about the agency and the tourism department are headed for very wide distribution.

"Already, the first Google page in a search for "Warren Kremer Paino Advertising " shows entries from the Maine Web Report, but not the agency's own homepage -- and I'd guess that Google front page is going to get uglier for WKP in the weeks ahead.

"The agency and its client look like bullies for trying to outspend and outlawyer an independent writer."

Plus, the story is getting attention from big outlets like the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Pajamas Media, and more (see the list here ) -- and you can bet that bloggers and journalists will be scrutinizing every aspect of the relationship between the Maine office of Tourism and Warren Kremo Paino Advertising for any hint of impropriety. And loads of people, like me, who haven't given the issue of Maine tourism, or Warren Kremo Paino Advertising a second thought in the past will now be downright negative on the both. (On the upside, it should generate publicity for the blogger in question, as well as for my new article on libel and the blogosphere, and for blogger-defense network the Media Bloggers Association.)

And that's the lesson in all of these cases. As bloggers get more powerful, lots of people are likely to be tempted to try to silence them. This, however, is likely to turn out badly -- like trying to stop hornets' buzzing by smacking their nest with a stick. In all cases, the people who don't like what the bloggers are saying should be responding with facts and arguments of their own, rather than trying to shut bloggers up. They'll catch on eventually, but I suspect that it will take a few painful stings before the lesson sinks in.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a TCS contributing editor and author of Army of Davids.


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