Carissa Snedeker could be excused in thinking that she should have no problems in expressing her political views in the blogosphere. The Democrat had created Blue Lyon a few years ago, but had recently begun blogging about her membership in a growing group of Hillary Clinton supporters who didn’t yet support Barack Obama. Much to her surprise, when she attempted to log into her account, Blogger — run now by Google — had locked her out, as Simon Owens reports at Bloggasm:
“At first I thought it was just this random thing with Blogger’s spam bots,” she told me in a phone interview. “I thought that perhaps in their looking across the blogger universe, that I got accidentally flagged somehow. Stuff like that happens.”
But a short time later Snedeker received an email from another blogger claiming that a number of anti-Obama blogs had been “hacked” that same night. After some digging it became apparent that several Blogspot accounts had been shut down because of similar spam issues, and nearly all of them had three things in common: Most were pro-Hillary Clinton blogs, all were anti-Barack Obama, and several were listed on justsaynodeal.com, an anti-Obama website.
A “Flag Blog” link sits at the very top of every free Blogspot account. If a person finds objectionable content on a Blogspot site or suspects it’s publishing spam, he or she can click on the link and it will send a notice to Google requesting “human review.”
I spoke to several of the bloggers who had accounts locked and every single one was convinced that it was Obama supporters who had flagged the blogs in some kind of concerted effort to silence them. But when I asked for specific evidence of this, most simply pointed out that only anti-Obama blogs were targeted — a fact that is certainly suspicious but not especially conclusive.
One would think that Google/Blogger would take care of its blogger customers better than this, but that would require an expectation of Google hiring people who know what they’re doing. A quick read of Blue Lyon shows that it’s obviously not a spam blog, but apparently no one at Google thought to check out the blog before they locked out Snedeker. The lesson here is simple: if you care about free speech, don’t get a free blog from Blogger.
There are a couple of other lessons here as well. If Snedeker, GeekLove, and the others experiencing the lockout are correct, some Barack Obama supporters have organized to shut down blog sites. I seriously doubt that the Obama campaign would be stupid enough to get involved in such an effort, but it does say something about his supporters. Filing false complaints to harass critics is close to dirty tricks, and going after free speech shows that to be a virtue that is at best underappreciated by the people involved in these attacks.
Finally, I’d like to recall a few years ago when the federal courts demanded that the Federal Election Commission take action to apply the BCRA to the Internet. A bipartisan coalition of bloggers, including myself, warned that even modest regulations that had sanctions against Internet writers could create a monstrous regulatory hurdle — one that could get invoked precisely by the same kind of specious and malicious complaints that Blogger received. Instead of just taking a few days to get the sites back, though, complaints to the FEC would have required us to hire lawyers and spend months to clear our names.
It doesn’t take much to attack free speech. All it requires is a regulatory mechanism manned by clueless bureaucrats, triggered by people who don’t value free political speech. Thankfully, that’s limited to Blogger …. for the moment.